Critic's Picks: Gary Oldman's 10 Best Performances

7:00 AM 11/16/2017

by Stephen Dalton

THR film critic Stephen Dalton ranks the 'Darkest Hour' star’s best work, including his Oscar-nominated Le Carre hero as well as turns as Sid Vicious and Lee Harvey Oswald.

True Romance, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Batman Begins - Split - Photofest - H 2017
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    'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

    Oldman earned his only Oscar nomination to date for his deep-frozen, elegantly minimal performance as Cold War spymaster George Smiley in Thomas Alfredson’s stylishly bleak John le Carre adaptation. Oldman painstakingly chose the correct spectacles for Smiley, purposely gained weight and borrowed some subtle mannerisms from Alec Guinness, who first played the character on television in 1979.

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    'Sid and Nancy'

    In preparation to play doomed Sex Pistols bass guitarist Sid Vicious for director Alex Cox and cinematographer Roger Deakins, Oldman starved himself to the point of collapse and even wore a necklace that once belonged to the tragic junkie rocker. Oldman would later dismiss this early big-screen outing but it still features one of his most raw, committed, high-voltage performances.

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    'Prick Up Your Ears'

    The 29-year-old Oldman made an early career breakthrough as controversial gay playwright Joe Orton in this tragicomic biopic, directed by Stephen Frears and scripted by Alan Bennett. Oldman’s mischievous screen magnetism is a good match for Orton, a sexually rapacious working-class rebel who charmed his way to fame and infamy in Swinging London.

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    'The Firm'

    First shown on BBC television in the U.K., director Alan Clarke’s gritty longform drama features Oldman in fearsome form as Clive “Bex” Bissell, a well-spoken London real estate agent with a secret life as leader of a violent football gang. In one of his final small-screen roles, Oldman shared an uncompromising intensity with Clarke that created a memorably controversial cult classic.

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    'The Professional'

    Oldman began a fruitful working partnership with French director Luc Besson on this revenge thriller with Pygmalion overtones that features Natalie Portman’s big screen debut. Pushing Besson’s overblown comic-book aesthetic to the limit, Oldman shamelessly chomps through the scenery in his role as sharp-suited, drug-addicted, murderously corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield. A guilty pleasure.

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    'Batman Begins', 'The Dark Knight', 'The Dark Knight Rises'

    In his recurring role as police commissioner Jim Gordon, Oldman relishes the chance to play a rare straight hero after a career-long run of homicidal misfits and inhuman monsters. For once, Oldman is the understated moral center of the story, a worldly-wise everyman who stands between Christian Bale’s psychologically scarred crime fighter and his villainous foes.

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    Oliver Stone’s powerhouse all-star speculation on the mother of all conspiracy theories hinges on Oldman’s performance as alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Having laid the groundwork with extensive research trips to Dallas and New Orleans, the chameleonic Oldman disappears into the role, capturing Oswald’s nervy manner and wiry physicality with uncanny accuracy.

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    'Bram Stoker's Dracula'

    Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning reinvention of the original Dracula story is an operatic feast of horror clichés and sensual excess. Playing the original vampster as a kind of undead rock star, Oldman models a succession of dandyish outfits while wrapping his tongue around a thick hammy soup of Central European vowels. Not his most subtle work, but enjoyably gothic.

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    'The Fifth Element'

    Oldman has claimed he only agreed to play the villain in Luc Besson’s $90 million bubblegum sci-fi blockbuster as a personal favor to Besson for producing his own directing debut, the gritty personal drama Nil by Mouth. Even so, his comically evil turn is pretty much the best thing in the film, an inspired blend of Bugs Bunny and Adolf Hitler.

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    'True Romance'

    Based on an early Tarantino screenplay, director Tony Scott’s deluxe pulp-noir thriller features a broad ensemble cast of major stars, many in extended cameos. Oldman accepted the role of Drexl Spivey as soon as Scott explained the character is a white pimp who thinks he is black. He still cites this bizarre, audacious, dreadlocked performance as a personal favorite.