Don't get carried away with all of the Oscar buzz for Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" that you see in USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, everywhere. Remember: Only one star has won an Oscar from the grave (Peter Finch, "Network") and roles like the Joker are rarely even nominated.
Maybe this next Oscars factoid may help to put things in more clear perspective. After the beloved Spencer Tracy died in 1967 after giving a dynamic, heartfelt performance in best picture nominee "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," he was widely expected to win best actor, but lost to Rod Steiger ("In the Heat of the Night"). However, Tracy's de facto widow Katharine Hepburn won best actress for a rather tame turn with little screen time in "Dinner."
Bottom line: Oscar voters wanted to bestow a hug after losing Tracy, yes — but they just didn't want to hug the dead guy.
When Peter Finch passed away, the situation was very different from Tracy's and Ledger's. The latter stars died more than six months before the Oscarcast. Finch died from a heart attack just two weeks before the Golden Globes while he was actively campaigning to stop that juggernaut Robert DeNiro ("Taxi Driver"), who'd swept the film-critics' awards. Oscar and Globe voters were still stunned by Finch's loss when they inked their ballots and they couldn't resist checking off his name.
Heath Ledger bears a striking similarity to James Dean. Both were heartthrob thespians whose promising careers were cut short by tragedy. Dean had two posthumous Oscar nominations. The first — for "East of Eden" — came nearly half a year after Dean died in a car wreck. The next year he was nommed for "Giant" and he lost both times.
When Oscar nominations come out next January, Heath Ledger will have been dead for a year. Given all of the Oscar hubbub he's generating now, I'm sure he'll be on that list of contenders, but can he really win?
Oscar voters aren't wild about campy villain roles in popcorn flicks like "Dark Knight." The only time one got nominated was Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice in "Dick Tracy" (1990). Jack Nicholson's widely celebrated Joker in "Batman" (1989) — the same role now played by Heath Ledger — was nominated for a Golden Globe, but not an Oscar, which is odd considering how nuts academy members are for Jack. (Nicholson holds the records for most nominations and wins among male actors.)
And Oscar voters don't usually like villainous roles unless the actor rides to victory atop a best-picture sweep like Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs."
But — wait — that old trend may be changing. Just this past year we saw the trophies for best actor and supporting actor go to stars portraying bloodthirsty monsters: Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem.
And maybe the whole world, even Hollywood, is different today than it was when those other posthumous Oscar examples occurred. If so, then maybe this joker can get the last laugh. Especially if he holds an ole Oscar I.O.U. from academy members. Does he? (READ MORE, CLICK HERE ). If he does have a serious hope of prevailing, then which category should he enter, lead or supporting? Read more about that great debate — CLICK HERE!