best film:  The answer to the question of Gary Oldman’s best film is still Oliver Stone’s greatest example of phantasmagoria – 1991’s JFK. But, Mank (2020) aids Oldman’s cause and it is in the mix (along with The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) just below JFK. Sid and Nancy is also much more than just Gary Oldman levitating – as far as an acting performance is concerned – and it is that. This is Alex Cox’s finest hour behind the camera with the splashes of graffiti and garbage art, a tinge of surrealism (including the happy ending) – this is also impressive early Roger Deakins as well as cinematographer.


best performance:  Much like the section above, Gary Oldman added Mank to his resume past the age of sixty (60) to give cinephiles more to debate and ponder for this category, but Sid and Nancy still reigns as Oldman’s best single performance. Oldman shed weight to play the emaciated, malnourished junkie. This is just Oldman’s third overall film role and second meaty performance (after Mike Leigh’s Meantime). Oldman’s Sid Vicious is both a fascinating love story – and watching a downward spiral of a life – sort of documenting the swirling around the toilet. Oldman throws himself into the role, losing his temper in one scene, nearly catatonic the next, sweating from addiction and then blowing that authentic snot bubble while flailing on the floor of the graffiti-laden subway.


Gary Oldman as The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986).


stylistic innovations/traits:  Gary Oldman is best known as one of cinema history’s great examples of acting range, accent aptitude, and just all around sort of skin-walker abilities. To go from Sid and Nancy to True Romance to Darkest Hour is astonishing. He was born in 1958 and is a member of the unofficial Brit Pack crew that emerged in the 1980s  (the group includes fellow Meantime player Tim Roth and the great Daniel Day-Lewis). Oldman is menacing in Meantime. He looks and sounds like an ex-convict they got off the street to be in a movie – not an actor. He and Roth have bad skin and no makeup. Mike Leigh gave them space to act and create real characters.  Like Ralph Fiennes, Oldman has portrayed screen villains often and brilliantly (Bram Stroker’s Dracula, True Romance, his two Luc Besson archiveable films). Oldman belongs in the Paul Muni lineage – Meryl Streep is another comparison – these actors would make entire career playing various historical characters in biopics – all with different accents. Oldman is expressive – often deliciously over the top (again a great match for Besson) – so much so that his steady straightforward work as Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is such a nice changeup for his career.


Oldman as Drexl Spivey in the Tony Scott directed and Quentin Tarantino written True Romance (1993). Oldman is in just two scenes and the cast is star studded – but he certainly leaves his mark.


directors worked with:  Christopher Nolan (3), Luc Besson (2), Joe Wright (2), Mike Leigh (1), Oliver Stone (1), Francis Ford Coppola (1), Tony Scott (1), Alfonso Cuarón (1), David Fincher (1)


David Fincher’s Mank is dense (flashback heavy), witty (double entendres aplenty), and highly literate (discussions ranging from Upton Sinclair to Hitler). Oldman sublimely delivers the tennis match dialogue. The drunk, genius, Quixote vomit speech may just be Oldman’s apex as an actor.  After decades of getting overlooked by the Oscars, Oldman’s Mank (here) made for his third nomination in ten (10) years – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011 and Darkest Hour in 2017 are the other two.


top five performances:

  1. Sid and Nancy
  2. Mank
  3. Darkest Hour
  4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  5. True Romance


archiveable films

1983- Meantime
1986- Sid and Nancy
1990- State of Grace
1991- JFK
1992- Bram Stroker’s Dracula
1993- True Romance
1994- The Professional
1997- The Fifth Element
2000- The Contender
2004- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
2005- Batman Begins
2008- The Dark Knight
2011- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
2011- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
2012- The Dark Knight Rises
2017- Darkest Hour
2020- Mank
2021- The Woman in the Window