There are two serious threats to Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight") at the Oscars, who did not receive Golden Globe nominations today: Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire") and Josh Brolin ("Milk"). If "Slumdog Millionaire" wins best picture at the Oscars, as many pundits believe, remember this: The top champ often claims an acting award. That means Patel, if nommed, must be taken seriously. In Brolin's case, he starred in the academy's best-pic champ of last year ("No Country for Old Men"), wasn't nommed, so he's got a big Oscar IOU. Also, Brolin just happens to be on a hot streak over all. He's got just the kind of momentum and cool factor that might tempt voters to pick him over Heath Ledger.
But a star with a mega-cool factor did make the Golden Globes lineup — Robert Downey Jr. ("Tropic Thunder") — who could also pose a serious challenge at the Oscars. What's fascinating about his run for these awards is the sharp contrast his personal story has to Heath Ledger's. In a sense, Downey is the anti-Ledger — he's a studly star who demonstrated serious acting promise when young, but didn't die tragically from drugs. In fact, he rallied in rehab spectacularly. Voters may find that a hopeful spin, especially considering this has been his break-out year with the surprise success of "Iron Man."
Another promising young stud who died tragically and got nominated at the Oscars (twice) didn't win despite having sentiment on his side: James Dean lost posthumous bids for "East of Eden" and "Giant." Spencer Tracy seemed like a shoo-in to win best actor at the Globes and Oscars when nommed posthumously for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," but lost. Peter Finch ("Network") won the Globe and Oscar posthumously, but he died immediately before those ceremonies. His loss was still weighing heavily upon their minds when voters were inking their ballots. In January, Heath Ledger will have been dead one year.
Photos: Paramount, Warner Bros.