I'm not a betting woman, but if I were I'd say the only safe bet Oscar night is that Heath Ledger, who died a year ago, will take supporting-actor honors for his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" and become the second actor, after Peter Finch ("Network"), to receive a posthumous Academy Award.
He won't win because he died too tragically and too soon. He won't win because Oscar passed over his performance as Ennis Del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain." He will win because he delivered the finest of all the fine performances in his category (the others are Josh Brolin in "Milk," Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thimder," Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt" and Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road").
Argue my case, you demand? A superhero movie is only as good as its villain is bad, as as the Joker, Ledger created a character of such extreme malevolence and instability as we've never before seen. Jack Nicholson plays the Joker with anarchic glee; Ledger plays him as a deep well of evil, a psychotic challenge to good guys Harvey Dent (Aron Eckhardt) and Batman (Christian Bale) who can't best him because his Joker keeps changing the rules of the game. King Lear had a pathological need of being loved, the Joker has a patholgical need of being feared -- it's his lifeblood, his drug. I like what Roger Ebert says here, although I don't agree that there's anything self-pitying about Ledger's Joker.
From the anachronistic fun of "A Knight's Tale" to the horror of "The Dark Knight," Ledger, who passed at 28, was supremely gifted. I always liked the way he seemed to speak through his mouth rather than with it, as though he were withholding something he didn't want the audience to see. Your thoughts on his Joker? Your favorite Ledger performance? Here were my thoughts a year ago), before I saw "The Dark Knight."