5. Christian Bale for Empire of the Sun
Everyone knows and respects Christian Bale these days as the modern Batman and one of the most versatile, yet high strung actors of his generation.
His method of acting completely immerses himself into his roles sometimes vastly changing his appearance completing the transformation.
Bale was only 13 when he was cast over 4,000 other children for this leading role in Spielberg’s film about a child surviving a Chinese confinement camp in World War II.
Bale should owe a debt of gratitude to Amy Irving, Spielberg’s wife at the time and Bale’s costar in the TV movie “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna” who recommended Bale for the role.
What is remarkable in his performance is the range of emotion and transformation going from privileged youngster to someone just trying to survive.
Initially, the young Bale was too reserved in some of his scenes and Spielberg had to coax more emotion from him, but eventually, he left nothing off the table and gave it all onscreen which was remarkable especially at his young age.
The compassion you feel for his character having to ensure the hardships of war and isolation from people his own age are compelling.
4. Tom Hanks for Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg won his 2nd Academy Award for Best Director in 1998 for his World War II drama entailing the rescue efforts of a company of soldiers during and after “D-Day”. The fact that “Saving Private Ryan” did not also win Best Picture left everyone scratching their heads and is still a huge upset.
Tom Hanks plays Captain Miller, who leads a company of men to find one private who has received a ticket “home” after it was discovered several of his brothers had also been recently killed in the war.
Aside from the technical perfection and authenticity of the film, especially the Normandy invasion sequence at the beginning of the film, the acting throughout the stellar ensemble cast was glorious.
Hanks really had a remarkable run in the 1990s, winning back to back Academy Awards for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” and also making “Apollo 13” and this film.
His portrayal as Captain Miller is another Spielberg reluctant hero who basically does what he is told to do in order to survive. He does not reveal much to his subordinates and chooses to keep certain personal details, including his former occupation before the war, to himself. This makes him more mysterious and a better commanding officer.
Only in moments with his 2nd in command (Tom Sizemore) is the more personal side to his character revealed and we get to know more about the man under the helmet.
The details of Hanks’ performance do not go unnoticed whether it is his hands shaking while in the midst of a battle, or his calm, yet intense demeanor when he is barking out orders to his team.
3. Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
At what point does saying “Another great performance by Daniel-Day Lewis” become cliché?
Most likely the most accomplished, versatile and intense actor working today, Lewis is completely believable as the Republican 16th president of the United States during one of the most critical times in U.S. history as well as his presidency.
Lewis had originally declined the role sending a letter to Spielberg explaining his decision. It has been said fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio finally convinced him to take the role.
There are not enough words to describe Lewis’s performance as Lincoln other than to say breathtaking, astonishing and a complete transformation.
His performance was also immeasurably enhanced by the addition of Lincoln’s noted high pitched voice which added another distinct element. Lewis had mailed Spielberg a cassette recording of the voice once Lewis felt he had mastered it.
On his portrayal of Lincoln, Lewis said “I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met. And that’s, I think, probably the effect that Lincoln has on most people that take the time to discover him… I wish he had stayed [with me] forever.”
2. Liam Neeson for Schindler’s List
The year 1993 should go down as the most memorable of Steven Spielberg’s career. Not only did his film win Best Picture and Spielberg himself won Best Director, he also directed this small film about dinosaurs which broke box office records and redefined visual effects and started yet another franchise.
Being Jewish himself, Spielberg felt compelled to tell some tale of the Holocaust at some point in his career. He originally offered Roman Polanski the opportunity to direct. Polanski declined saying the story was too personal. Ironic since Polanski directed “The Pianist” only a few years later.
Liam Neeson’s role of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist and former member of the Nazi party who is credited for saving the lives of more than 1,200 Jews in World War II was extremely challenging for Neeson, especially considering the subject matter.
Neeson was able to move and convince us Schindler’s actions were humanitarian and a ray of hope and light in this darkest hour of humankind. His treatment of the Jews as actual people with feelings and not property was also compelling and a testament to this great actor’s abilities.
Neeson was able to show Schindler as compassionate as well as smart-minded in one of my personal favorite films of all time.
1. Harrison Ford for Raiders of the Lost Ark
It’s probably a good thing Tom Selleck was busy and committed to “Magnum P.I.” in 1980 and was not available to shoot this weird story about a professor turned archaeologist and his pursuit of the famed religious relic, “The Ark of the Covenant”.
Ford firmly established himself as a leading man with his completely perfect personification of the modern-day action hero. He was funny, charming, witty, debonair, but also strong, smart, swashbuckling, and handsome.
Men wanted to be him to participate in his international adventures and women wanted to be with his suave demeanor.
Not many Hollywood actors would have been able to give the character such life and physical presence as Ford did with this character. He fully embodied what it meant to carry a film of this type through both comedy, action and supernatural elements that completely redefined the action genre.
It remains as the greatest action movie of all time.
Honorable mentions for this list include:
11. Henry Thomas for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
12. Sean Connery for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
13. Eric Bana for Munich
14. Djimon Hounsou for Amistad
15. Goldie Hawn for The Sugarland Express
Last but definitely not the least, we don’t have Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in The Schindler’s List here as I set the rule of one performance per film, his villain is one of the most memorable in cinema history, let’s have that.
Author Bio: Andy Kubica is a life-long cinephile. Having spend time as a video store manager, movie theater manager and the first DVD buyer for a former rental chain he now spends every waking moment reducing his film “bucket list”.