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What's the best Oscars strategy for Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight'?

July 19, 2008 |  4:53 pm

OK, now that legions of moviegoers are shrieking "Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!" after seeing Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight," which category should he enter: lead or supporting?

That's a tricky Oscar question. On one hand you might think Heath Ledger should go supporting because, technically speaking, "The Dark Knight" is a film about Batman. But come on, Heath Ledger has the big, flashy role — he's the chief force bearing down on all of the terrifying action — and it's his spooktacular performance that moviegoers are storming theaters to see.


A good analogy might be Forest Whitaker, who recently won best actor in "Last King of Scotland." James McAvoy actually had the main role, as measured by the most dialogue and screen time, but his performance as a good doctor was dwarfed, crushed and left trembling in the shadow of his monstrous patient.

The same was true for Denzel Washington, who won best actor for "Training Day." He had less screen time than costar Ethan Hawke, but Hawke was so overwhelmed by Washington's performance as a ferocious, corrupt cop that he dutifully ducked into the supporting race and let Washington go lead.

Sometimes it's the size of the role, emotionally speaking, that determines whether it should be defined as lead or supporting. Sure, Anthony Hopkins only appeared in 22 minutes of "The Silence of the Lambs," but he won best actor because he gobbled up the scenery, the screen and everything else as Hannibal the Cannibal. Academy members didn't dare to deny him an Oscar statuette for dessert.

Heath Ledger's role in "The Dark Knight" is very similar to Hopkins' in "Lambs," come to think of it — so creepy that it continues to haunt moviegoers long after they flee theaters, terrified.

However, in terms of traditional category placement, Heath Ledger may have the best shot to win in supporting. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker in "Batman" in 1989, he was nominated in supporting at the Golden Globes (then was snubbed by Oscar voters, strangely).

And traditionally, that's where the cartoonishly crazy roles are put — Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast," James Coburn in "Affliction." And speaking of Coburn, that reminds us of another aspect of the supporting race that may apply to Heath Ledger: If he wins an Oscar in February for "The Dark Knight," it will largely be because Academy voters want to salute an impressive, if brief, career that included a past Oscar nomination ("Brokeback Mountain").

That qualifies Ledger as a perfect candidate for a veteran achievement award, which is the unofficial nickname of the supporting-actor category when it goes to the likes of Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine," Martin Landau in "Ed Wood" or Jack Palance in "City Slickers."

But, wait! Maybe it doesn't matter what category Heath Ledger lands in, since some Oscarologists believe he's doomed at the Academy Awards where only one star has ever won from the grave — READ MORE - CLICK HERE!

Photo: Warner Bros.