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Is 'The Dark Knight's' Heath Ledger doomed at the Oscars?

July 18, 2008 |  8:46 am

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!

(Warner Bros.)


The comments to this entry are closed.


i am an egyptian girl,the first time i knew heath ledger was two years ago when i saw one of his films,i liked his performance too much and began to search for any films or news related to him till i became a fan of him,i was shocked when i heard of his sudden death,it was too painful,but now i am really happy to know that he won the oscar,actually this award was honoured by being given to such a great actor,heath ledger is dead now,but i am sure he will still alive in my heart forever

Dark Knight was a movie that brought superhero flicks to a whole another level. Reason? Heath Ledger's Joker performance. As amazing as this Joker character was to watch on film I'm expecting Heath not to win an Oscar because, well, "superhero" is the only thing that will be seen by the voters. That shouldn't be the case. Like I said Dark Knight was like nothing seen before superhero-wise.

I am sorry, folks. But the Academy voters really need to weigh the contenders here. I am sorry Heath is gone - he showed a lot of promise. But so did James Dean, another iconic actor still praised to this day. I enjoyed the Dark Knight in the theater, Thursday 12am and what a show. But I simply cannot condone what will basically just be glorified patygoing for the other living, breathing nominees who work very hard to be considered as well. Can you imagine what is going through their heads with all this hullabaloo they're hearing? I mean, jeez, why bother even hoping or showing up, you chances are over before they began. If I were a best supporting actor nominee this year, I'd stay home because it seems like everyone already has their minds (or should I say, has had their minds) made up. I am rooting for Robert Downey - a true performer recovering from a youth of hard living and on a serious uptick. His comeback has been inspiring too.

The Dark Knight is in no way a popcorn flick. It has a deep message, is thought provocking and tells you a lot about the harsh realities of human nature. I know the fact that it is a "batman" movie is going to instantly convince most people its a popcorn movie, but I disagree, this was a work of art.

what make the dark knight different, that is because of Health, and what make the Oscar different, that is cause it always award the ones who do the best performance job in their teritorry in the past year, for this reason, i think Health as joker deserve one Oscar!!!

I think THe dark knight was truly mesmerizing! Heath Ledger did a phanomenal job. He desreves that oscar.! He took someone that was more a spiderman fan inot a batman obseesed girl!I I luv Heathy! He was an incrediable person, so sad that he died. May he rest in peace...

O'Neil, you are an idiot with an indiot's minority complex and are too dumb to understand what art is about, you small pretentious idiot without balls

Guys, the writer of this article isn't saying Ledger doesn't deserve an Oscar. He described his performance as being a "campy" villain, but I don't think he meant that Heath Ledger was being campy (the Joker has been known to be a campy villain in other Batman mediums). It reads as though he rather liked Ledger's performance.

This isn't saying Ledger doesn't deserve the Oscar. It's simply giving reasons why the Academy might not give it to him. Why the Academy might nominate him, but won't really give him one. And I hardly think he's saying it's because Ledger is dead. He spends a lot more time talking about how the Academy doesn't like the role he played. The Academy is on such a snobby run that they don't even connect with audiences anymore.

Outside of Juno did very many people even go off and see the best picture nominees? I'd never even HEARD of "There Will Be Blood" until the nominations were announced. Atonement? What was that? Sure, Independent Film buffs might know about them... but it's unlikely anyone outside of that niche will. Since when was it about making sure popularity couldn't stand a chance? What about just nominating good films for categories? If movies outside of the Independent Niche could be nominated years ago... why not now? Come on, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fugitive, and Star Wars were all nominated for Best Picture... and they deserved a nod. They were fine films. If these movies came out now... they'd be ignored for either being too popular or making too much money.

Here's what we need to remember.

1.Hollywood and actors are all about fashion and fads: diets, adopted babies, religions, etc. Mr. O'Neil points out that last year two blood-thirsty characters won. This year it will be out of style.

2. Hollywood and actors can't get past their absurd notion of "character acting." I know what they mean when they say it, but what does that REALLY mean? Forest Gump wasn't a "character?" Ray Charles? Is it the make-up?

How could they possibly consider Ledger's Joker "character" up against such "serious characters" as whatever Leo is doing or Sean is playing. They're "serious actors."

3. The Academy Awards has the same problem as the MLB All-Star game, they just get there in different ways. The All-Star game is pure popularity contest in which players are NOT examined in relation to others. This explains Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek: they have to be there because they're a Yankee and Red Sox (sorry East Coast, it's true). The Oscars are a popularity contest in which ROLES are compared to each other. Taken on it's own, it doesn't matter that Ledger is wearing creepy make-up and scars. He is terrifying. But compared to the serious roles of other stars, he is a comic book character. The end result is a Jeter-like roles being nominated because "they're supposed to" to give the Oscars "credibility."

Call it what they will, they are all character actors, technical definitions aside. As another poster pointed out, the Oscars are detestable. Hollywood took 38 years for a black man to get either 1. get a quality role (not the case) or 2. be recognized for accomplished acting(bing, bing, bing, winner!). It also took time to turn Martin Scorsese into Susan Lucci. And now they are going to deny a man the award because he's dead? Nice. Classy. Oscar.

I thinkt that Heath Ledger, NO MATTER WHAT TYPE OF FILM GETS NOMINATED BY THE ACADEMY should get the boest actor because #1. He was acting, and #2. He did the best job of it this year than I have ever seen anyone even try to act...Especially since this type of character waht the total opposite of what and who he his family, and co-workers said. Heath ledger is a great actor, I knew that for sure, before. That performance in this film proved I was all-along...right about his acting abilities to make a character seam so real...and haunt one later after thev's seen the film.

Jack Nicolson was good, but you still could tell it was him. He always does good playing pyscos. But, Heath Ledger was so stunning, so different. This was a performance for a great actor. Because of many politics, favors Oscars always have, people don't really care about it anymore anyway. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe defined Hollywood and now Heath ledger regardless of what Oscar says.

To Sean Murray:
See a shrink..!!

Heath Ledger played the role like nobody would ever do. I think he does deserve the Oscar, not out of sympathy, but out original talent.

You cant compare Jack and Heath's roles as The Joker. Recent Batman movies have been somewhat childish... good movies, but definately have no reality base to them. Jack played his role perfect for the type of movie it was meant to be. In "The Dark Knight", the director was aiming to make the movie have a strong base in reality... at least as real as a man in make up and another dressed like a bat can be... not to mention the guy missing half his face. So for this type of movie, Heath does an amazing job... it doesnt matter how hard I looked, or listened... I could not tell that it was Heath Ledger.

It is rare to see an actor BECOME his role on film. Most movies you see, its the actor playing this guy or that girl. But on the rare occassion you get a performance that is absolutely stunning. I believe that Heath Ledger absolutely deserves a nomination for Best Actor in a Lead Role. Not only that, he should win unless someone else delivers an even more memorable performance this year... not likely, but possible.

I dont think someone deserves a prestigious award like an Oscar just because they died. A tribute at the oscars... yes. Some sort of achievement award... sure. An Oscar for dieing... no. But I think Heath would have won the Oscar if he was alive, so I believe he deserves it now that he is gone.

Thanks for giving me one of the greatest performances I have ever seen Heath. I will never forget you for it.

ok there something i wanna get straight here. i dont wanna sounfd like one of those people who saw the movie just for Heath, cuz' for me that was not the case,BUT. Heath did make the movie what it was. It wouldnt had as much action, and excitement, without him. The others and actresses did good to, but he should get an oscar bacause he did carry that movie.

anyone who saw the dark khight like myself would know that Heath should definetly get an oscar or maybe even a few for his great job in the Dark Knight. I have known and loved Heath for a long time, always been a huge fan, and when he died i was so mad and sad. But thats beyond the point here im sayin anyone who actually saw the movie knows that he did a great job. Jack no offense SUCKED when he did the joker. And when i went to see the Dark Knight, i felt like the joker that you pictured when you read the comics was right there in front of you. Everything that he said was so witty, and the things that he did. He played the part of the joker well, and i dont care what anyone says, he should get an oscar. Because you know that he would have got one if he was alive. He worked extremly hard on that movie. So why would it matter if he was dead or if he was alive? nobody wanted Heath to die, hes HOT and extremly talented, but if there was a movie that he could have went out with, this was the one, he went out with a BANG! i have faith in him that he will win an award for his role. Plus all the other movies so far this year have been sucking and i dont really see anyome else taking that award away from him. Beg to differ? then SUCK IT!

Tom, your analysis ignores the crucial fact that when James Dean and Spencer Tracy died the world (and I'll include the Academy as being part of the world, even though i have my doubts) wasn’t full of morons who think that dying young/suddenly or getting some disease automatically elevates you to saintly status and makes people think you were 50 times more talented than you actually were/are (ladies and gentleman, Robert Urich and Ann Jillian!)

That phenomenon will be multiplied umpteen times in the case of Heath Ledger, because he was already “moody” and “brooding”, but now everyone thinks he was some sort of tortured artist instead of an idiot who couldn’t even take PRESCRIPTION drugs correctly, and the role of the Joker was obviously a look into the darkness of his soul.

Bet the house on Heath.

WOW, call me an idiot, say I lived under a rock for the last 12 months, I had no idea he was dead!!!! man I felt like an idiot at the movie theater, when the end of the movie hit, I was like "hell yeah dude, the joker didnt die, hell be in the next batman movie" and all my friends gave me this look like I was fuckin' crazy. I know, see Im a manicly depressed person, I useally* sleep from 7-8am to 9-10pm, and never leave my house let alone to go see a movie, and I would have never gone to see the movie if my best friend and cousin hadnt kidnapped me from my house to see it. and I have to say after they told me he was dead I was completely in shock, it totaly pissed me off. I liked the joker a hell of alot more in the "Dark Knight" than I did batman, I mean he was so sick and twisted, yet totaly wicked and cool, he was my darkest dream and my best joke roled into one and the performance left me in awe, well fastforward to right now and I find out that thers a debate on him getting an oscar, and I say this, FUCK YEAH< GIVE IT TO HIM. I only wish that Heath was alive to do another infamous role as the joker.

~the man without a life

i can't believe that you'd call the performance campy. it was not tongue-in-cheek. it was not ironic. ledger's joker was nihlistic, insane, sociopathic, and terrifying. weren't you all about sweeney todd last year? that's campy and cartoonish. ledger's joker was reminiscent of real-life sociopaths and brought to my mind de niro in taxi driver, nicholson in the shining, and a clockwork orange.

I really didn't know much about ledger except about all the talk about "brokeback mountain" and still i never had the chance to watch it. I don't really like Batman movies. BUT with the commercials and all the hype about the movie something just intrigued me to go. I kept repeating i have to go. "it looks really good from it's pre-reviews ans so on" When Heath passed away something intrigued me to learn more about him and so i followed up with his death months after. I looked at all the movies he's made and played a role in and i actually remember almost all of them i say to myself "OOOO that was him" "what a loss to Hollywood" On openin day i went to watch the film not for batman but for the joker that everyone was talking about... I couldn't believe how GREAT the movie itslef was but HEATH HE JUST TOTALLY MADE ALL THAT MUCH A GREAT FILM!!!!! he was amazing in this film. He played different characteristics from going to being scary comical and sarcastic.... I really feel sad because i can not believe sucha a great star has fallen but i know he won't be gone because he will live through his movies and his daughter, Matilda, whom he loved very much. HEATH LEDGER YOU WERE AWSUM AND WHETHER YOU HAD BEEN WITH US TODAY OR NOT YOU SOOOOO DESERVE THAT OSCAR BECAUSE YOU WERE UNBELIEVABLY GREAT!!! GOOD JOB HEATH!!!!!! R.I.

I'm surprised not to find a comparison of Ledger and Deep. Both brilliant actors. Both previously robbed of a well-deserving Oscar. If history repeats itself, Ledger will be nominated and fall short of the win. We love them both none the less. We praise and award them with our attention and well wishes.

Ok whoever is writing this is a retard it does not matter what the role is as long as the acting is amazing its true there are not a lot of flashy villains who win or nominated but that is because the drama filled roles have more chances to show more skill full actors but heath as the joker o my I have NEVER SEEN A BETTER PREFORMANCE and I have continued studying drama for 5years now out of university what experience do u have heath ledger all the way!

He should WIN!!!!!
his performance is just amazing!
doesnt matter that he is dead!!!!!!!
what difference does it make?
his family and friends will appreciate the award just as much!!!
the oscars are won for outstanding performances;
and that should be the only justdge!
not whether the person is dead or alive!

Heath Ledger's performance was awesome in a chilling way...even if he didnt pass on I would say the same thing. He deserves an Oscar.

Heath Ledger really put his talent to full blast for me in this flim. I've read on several posts currently a heated debate over whether or no he should run for "best supporting actor" or not. To me, the Joker sold The Black Knight. He did a fantastic job at portraying the joker, he had an incredible way of getting inside your head and making you think. By the end of the movie I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, waiting for something else. I say, he is very deserving of an Oscar, and if he doesn't receive one, i will be deeply dissapointed in all of films' fans.





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