It’s fitting that “Nobody knows anything” got dropped as a banner slogan around here, because this year everybody knows at least one thing: Heath Ledger will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Done deal. Fait accompli.

In a season when we’ll be stressing over all kinds of votes, one race is a virtual certainty. The same as last year when we began chanting that Cate Blanchett was guaranteed to be nominated (twice). The same way we knew that Javier Bardem would be nominated, and the strength of that role gave us solid confidence to say he’d ride the crest of that early acclaim all the way to Kodak stage. We only needed to see that performance once to know it would be next to impossible to top. It hardly mattered what movies or roles were yet to come, because there was simply no doubt. We said it last summer and stuck to our guns (and our only regret was not betting tons of money on it).

It’s time to stop waffling and step up with the same confidence this year. It’s pretty amazing to me that there are holdouts who still have reservations and misgivings about Heath Ledger even being nominated. I’m ready to take a stand and say he’s not only sure to be Oscar-nominated — he’ll win it.

Peter Finch, Spencer Tracy, and James Dean. You’ll be hearing those names propped up a lot over the next few months, as proof of many a theory. But while many experienced handicappers are busy pulling up parallel posthumous Oscar circumstances from 30 or even 50 years ago, at Awards Daily we’ll try hard to base our forecasts on data that’s not 5 decades old. Sure, it’s cute to trot out trivia about how passing away sure didn’t do much to enhance James Dean’s chances of winning, but I think we can do better than that type of old-timey Farmer’s Almanac frost-watching, don’t you?¬† Let’s look at the facts and see how close we can come to nailing this category down, after the cut.

You want some stats? Fine, but remember, in unusual cases like this, precedents are pretty flimsy pieces of the puzzle. Tracy, Dean and Finch represent such rare circumstances, isn’t that a somewhat paltry sample size on which to base a so-called “Oscar rule”? (Especially since those scant historical precursors played out with totally opposite results. (d’oh!) So what we’ll try to do in this analysis is objectively examine each posthumous nomination as a individual event — and in the process try to restore a little dignity to a situation that deserves more respect than it’s lately been given.

I mention respect, because if you read some of the superficial comparisons being made between the few actors who sadly fall into the small group of “posthumous” nominees, it almost seems as if the Oscar forecasters are failing to notice who’s better — instead placing their bets on arbitrary measurements of who’s deader.

Thus, you’ll have read many places that Peter Finch won merely because he died suddenly in the middle of the Oscar campaign, and therefore the shock of his passing was still fresh in voter’s minds as they tearfully filled out their ballots. Meanwhile, James Dean had the misfortune to be nominated for Giant nearly 20 months after his tragic car crash. So the hypothesis you’ve been hearing is that everybody had already stopped mourning his loss — so he lost. (…Seriously?)

This bizarre focus on the posthumous nominees as having nothing more in common — or having no other differentiation — than being deceased is incredibly shallow and more than a little macabre.¬† The Departed was 2 years ago, folks. Being departed or un-departed isn’t going to be a relevant factor this year. What’s relevant is the quality of the performance and the substance of the role — and that’s as true this year as it was in 1976 or 1956, as it rightfully should be, in any year before or since.

But for the sake of pinning it down more securely, let’s take a look at the posthumous nominations people keep disinterring to prove their morbid point, and see if we can’t bury this issue once and for all, so our Oscar anxieties can relax and rest in peace.

1968 – Spencer Tracy

Easiest to dismiss for lack of relevance is Spencer Tracy’s failure to win in spite of the boost some (wrongly) assume he was expected to get for being dead.¬† I say, Put down that scythe, and let’s look for another more logical reason. For one thing, Tracy was already ensconced in the Pantheon of Oscar history as a two-time winner. But more importantly: how about weighing the impact of the performance itself? in 1968, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was the movie about mixed race your great-grandma could handle. And its Oscar was appropriately awarded to the Grande Dame who fit that demographic.

I’d further contend that the mere fact a piece of preachy pablum like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was nominated for any Oscar at all should indicate that Academy voters have grown up since then. If you want to use 40-year-old factoids to predict current events, then why not look back 4 decades for data to predict this year’s presidential election? 1968, when a hotly contested primary season resulted in racist segregationist George Wallace receiving 13% of the vote in the general election. (What’s that you say? Times have certainly changed? My point exactly.)

Because meanwhile, in that same year, The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were reflecting a new level of Oscar maturity. A new generation of young turks were storming the Hollywood gates. Amist the social turmoil of 1968, a truly groundbreaking movie like In the Heat of the Night must’ve hit audiences with the raw intensity of a stern slap in the face.

So let’s be real. Spencer Tracy didn’t lose in 1968 because he wasn’t there to make a speech (put in those terms, the very suggestion that this is how voters were thinking is somewhat repulsive, isn’t it?) Nope, Tracy lost because Rod Steiger blew the roof off the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. The two performances were different as… black and white. Nothing to do with being deceased or alive — Steiger’s was simply the best performance. (In fact, not to be cruel, but Tracy’s was probably the weakest and least memorable role of the 5 nominees)

See where we’re headed? If you’re still reading you’ll be seeing a trend in this analysis, and it goes like this: The Oscar for Best Performance goes to… the best performance! Radical concept, I know, but stick with me.

1955-1956 – James Dean

The biggest mistake so many Oscar predictors are making this year is by assuming someone would get a morbid Oscar bump on the basis of their tragic death. On the other side of the cointoss, there are others who seem to believe that not being around to pick up your statue is the reason the posthumous nominees usually lose. They’ll cite James Dean’s defeat when he was nominated for East of Eden (which was basically another method-riff on the same role he played in Rebel Without a Cause). But they fail to mention the other more important factor: who else was nominated.

This stuff is easy to look up. At the Oscar ceremony in 1956, Marty won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor. Personally I don’t think Marty hasn’t aged well (for that matter, neither has East of Eden) but in 1955 it was apparently a massively popular juggernaut.¬† So there you have it: Ernest Borgnine’s Marty compared to the glorified supporting role Dean played in East of Eden. Context. Not that you have any clue about the climate of that year from most Oscar soothsayers. All we get is, “See? Dean died and all he got was this crummy nomination. He didn’t win a thing for that car accident.”

Likewise the following year, March 1957 (a full 19 months after James Dean’s death) he was up against Giant co-star, Rock Hudson (vote split much?) in a role that would probably be shunted to the supporting category nowadays. Meanwhile, in a majestically dynamic and film-dominating performance (onscreen virtually every minute of the movie), Yul Brynner took home the Oscar for best actor, while ‘The King and I’ won a royal total of 5. (Also taking home 5 Oscars that night, Best Picture winner, Around the World in – Ack! – 80 Days.)

(“But Prof. Ryan, what about The Searchers? How many nominations for John Ford’s greatest film?” Silly imaginary student, what’s the Comanche word for “nada”? See me after class though. I’m liking this professor fantasy.)

1976 – Peter Finch

Finally (yay!), let’s look at the one instance in which a posthumous nomination actually prevailed and took home the prize.¬† Most Oscar experts like to call a shakeup to their little theories, “an exception to the rule.”¬† I’d propose that Peter Finch’s win is a validation of the rule: The rule of “on a level playing field, the Best Performance usually wins.”

In 1976, Finch was up against Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (seriously?), and Giancarlo Giannini for Pasqualino Settebellezze (yeah, right, as if). Toss those two to the bottom of the list, they never had a chance. Also nominated was Finch’s co-star, William Holden — who, although he was the ostensible male “lead” in Network, had nowhere near the central gravitas of Finch’s character. Not to mention the fact that he lacked any defining Wow! lines as impactful as, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not fucken gonna take it anymore!”

Wait, was there a “fucken” in that quote? Nope, I must be getting some F-word overflow bleeding through from the only performance that could’ve beat Finch in ’76. DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Now you’re all gloating and saying. “How’s that theory holding up now, Ryan? Best always wins, you say?” ok, I did say that, but it’s only fair to look at the larger Network vs Taxi Driver dicotomy in this zeitgeist equation.¬† Network, 10 nominations, 4 wins.¬† Taxi Driver, 4 nominations, went home empty handed.

Taxi Driver must’ve been like the There Will Be Blood of 1976. It was a movie too frightfully explosive to ignore — but at the same time, nobody knew exactly what to make of it.¬† My god, Scorsese didn’t even get a nomination! Who was this crazy Italian kid and why is he splattering brains all over the red carpet? (I know, now you’re saying, “A kid? Marty was 34!” yeah, I mean young compared to all the 50-year-old directors who were nominated that year, as well as Ingmar Bergman who was 110 already. Marty was young in the sense that his pubes weren’t gray.)

2008 – Heath Ledger

ok, settle down. Let’s bring this back to current 2008 relevance, shall we? It’s hard as hell to be trying to predict who’s gonna be nominated in the middle of July.¬† So how about if we match Heath Ledger up against some actual factual nominees from the past 5 years? (Who wants lists?! I do, I do!)

  • 2003 Ken Watanabe – The Last Samurai
  • 2004 Alan Alda – The Aviator
  • 2005 Paul Giamatti – Cinderella Man
  • 2006 Eddie Murphy – Dreamgirls
  • 2007 Philip Seymour Hoffman – Charlie Wilson’s War
  • 2008 Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

Who wins that contest? Is there really any doubt?

“Hey, no fair!” you’re all saying. “You picked some really weak contenders!” ok ok, stop you’re whining. I’m just saying, if those other 5 can get nominated then we know for certain Heath Ledger’s VIP slot is reserved, right? You want to see a real horse race, then how about lining up the Best Supporting Actor winners from the past 5 years:

  • 2003 Tim Robbins – Mystic River
  • 2004 Morgan Freeman – Million Dollar Baby
  • 2005 George Clooney – Syriana
  • 2006 Alan Arkin – Little Miss Sunshine
  • 2007 Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
  • 2008 Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

Happy now? Now I’ll ask you again, which performance among these Oscar winners is the supporting role of the decade? A lot of you will say Javier Bardem. Be that way. Personally, I’d have to go with Mr. Ledger.

No matter what alternate reality you inhabit, we have no idea who Heath Ledger will actually be up against.¬† But that hasn’t stopped people all over the web from guessing their asses off. The lists we find on some very reputable Oscar predictor sites (you know, the ones who make lists before they see all the movies) all seem to agree these actors are in the running:

  • Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
  • James Brolin – Milk
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt
  • Liev Schreiber – Defiance
  • Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon
  • Mark Strong – Body of Lies
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road
  • Demian Bichir – Guerrilla
  • Jason Butler Harner – The Exchange
  • Viggo Mortensen – Appaloosa

Those names are the best early blind guesses, and they’re roughly arranged (by me) in order of likelihood. I’d add Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road. (a name that I believe is an Awards Daily exclusive at this point [or maybe it’s not], but trust me. You’ll see.)

It’s pretty amazing to me that there are still holdouts who have reservations and misgivings about Heath Ledger being nominated. Or if they concede he’ll be nominated, they’ll try to cover their butts with reasons why he’s unlikely to win.¬† Oscar predicting sites across the web are discovering you can’t spell Heath Ledger without “hedge.”

That’s an understandable excuse. After all, except for Heath Ledger, we haven’t seen any of these performances. Maybe there’s another actor on that list who’ll make us forget all about the Joker.¬† We don’t know, and I can’t fairly ask you to guess.

But I can ask you something else, and I want you to think hard about one more hypothetical situation, ok? Please imagine this scenario a few months from now: When his name is read from the envelope next February, which of those 10 actors will receive an enormously emotional standing ovation?¬† Which friend’s acceptance speech for this history-shattering winner will make it hard for you to swallow for a few minutes? Which actor’s name being shouted out will make your eyes wet up and grab you deep in your chest, while you hug a pillow or take a swig from your Oscar-bash drink?

Think about that, visualize that moment, and then tell me Heath Ledger isn’t winning his Oscar this year.

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  • I can’t really argue with any of it.

    Heath was incredible.

  • You’re the first to dig your way out of the Giant Pile of Rationale, Loyal Mehnart.

    You should win some sort of award yourself. 😎

  • Sam Juliano

    A long but admittedly fascinating comparative discourse. And a great final pencil sketch to boot! I would say that Bardem and Ledger are about equal, but they TOWER over those other unremarkable performances.

    As far as Finch winning over De Niro in 76, you know what? Finch deserved to win, and it has nothing as all to do with the fact that he passed on of a heart attack. Yeah, the voters may have been influenced by the sad event, but let’s just say in this solitary instance they may have voted for him for the wrong reason. The end result though is that the best performance won, a multi-level tour de force of acting by a most distinguished British actor who deserved at least one major Oscar for his great career. Hence, I say he edges out DeNiro as far as who really served to win.

    Ryan, I have read close to nothing about Ledger not getting nominated, and little more than that about his winning. If we were betting men, we might be able to win ourselves an island in Tahiti. But no bookie would grant us an action here.

  • People tend to toss around the word “lock” quite a bit but Heath has this as locked up as humanly possible.

    The real conversation starter is whether or not TDK has the goods to secure a BP spot.

  • Tyler J. Pratt

    Great article, but there is a few mistakes.

    Peter Finch’s turn in Network was originally placed as a Supporting role until he bitched and insisted it be placed as lead despite the fact that he had only a bit more screen time than Ned Beatty who was nominated for his extended cameo.
    At the time of the 76 oscars many believed the race was down to William Holden, Robert DeNiro and believe it or not Sylvester Stallone ( Remember at the time he was hailed as the next Brando). Finch’s win was a shocking one that was not widely expected.

    Also, from your supporting actor list of this year, where did you get Mark Strong from ? I havent heard his name anywhere at all this year. And Michael Shannon has been in many predictions line up, most notably The Awards Circuit for months now.

    Great Article though

  • I could direct your attention to some well-known columns that have ventured to cast doubt on Ledger’s prospects, Sam — but I’m not interested in ripping up anybody else’s assertions specifically.

    Hopefully those corners of darkness will be seeing some sense lit up in the coming weeks as the TDK cacophony mellows out, but there was enough pish-poshing going on that I wanted to write something in rebuttal.

    (yeah, I know this thing got long. I was planning to use fewer examples until I got so fond of every shred of evidence, it was hard to trim it down.)

    True, the time to have made any bets with long odds was weeks ago. We missed the boat — the boat to Tahiti.

  • Thanks for raising a question about Shannon and Strong, Tyler. I actually live in cozy bubble and like to believe the half dozen sites I check out are the only sites that need surveillance 😉

    The inclusion of Michael Shannon and Mark Strong rests entirely on my impressions of how juicy both roles are, based on the source novels. I know there’s another former oscar-winner guy some are saying is the likely supporting standout in Body of Lies, but from the script and novel, I don’t see that happening.

  • Sam Juliano

    Ryan, this was an exceptional piece; the length here worked in its favor.

    How about a small hamlet in the Falklands? Do we have a remote chance?

  • Dominik

    Hmmm, early buzz might kill Heath Ledgers chances..?

  • RRA is a dog chasing cars, and wouldn’t know what to do if he caught one

    GREAT article Ryan. Good job in making a case as to why Ledger will not only score a nom, but may even win.

  • Thanks for the fast feedback guys. I’ve already fixed a few problems.

    Dominik, if I thought that, I’d be dialing back the hype knob — but too many others would just crank it back up.

    This time last year we were already anointing Javier Bardem, and while there were the usual nerves in February (Hal Holbrook, sneaky old coot ;-), all the precursor awards were just too much to ignore.

    I think it would be hard to justify backlash against Heath, under the circumstances.

    (btw, thanks to jennybee for the tip to the illustration that ends the column.)

  • Patrick

    Great article Ryan. I truly hope you are right because Heath Ledger absolutely deserves the oscar. I have some questions though. Do you think the fact that it’s a comic book villain will hurt his chances? What about awarding two villain performances two years in a row in the same category? I understand both seem like silly questions, but you never know how the academy will vote.

  • great post ryan.. i believe heath definitely has a great change in winning the oscar.. well if alan arkin can win this thing.. hell heath ledger should win

  • Sasha Stone

    Great article, I am not sure I believe that this is a Javier Bardem type of situation. And here’s why: Oscar wins are about boosting careers, most of the time, and they are about acknowledging living legends who have been ignored. You might think it’s repulsive that people are there to see who wins accept their award but they do because that’s part of the whole deal. Also, much of the Oscar race has to do with the winner’s walk (I think I will function this part into a post at some point today). The winner’s walk is an essential part of the Oscar race; Javier and Josh Brolin appeared everywhere so that people could see charming and likable they were. Ditto for Marion Cotillard. She had to be out there showing herself off or she would have lost that race. Julie Christie, by contrast, did very little public appearances.

    Helen Mirren, major, exhaustive winner’s walk. Yes, there are the moments when a Marcia Gay Harden wins over a Kate Hudson or a Tilda Swinton seems to come out of nowhere and win. But those are usually for “discovered” roles of “deserving” actors that no one shouted from the rooftops about in July that they would win. An Oscar campaign is a fluid, evolving thing. Moments matter. Early hype can and has and could and will kill promising actors. Dark Knight isn’t No Country for Old Men – it isn’t headed to win Best Picture, think of your Oscar voters. I am going to say that 20% of them will vote for Heath when all is said and done.

  • RRA has a Disapearing Pencil Trick – Its called a POCKET

    So is a Ledger nomination a guarantee at this point?

  • tootpadu

    What’s with the two other posthumous male nominations that don’t appear in your interesting post, Ralph Richardson and Massimo Troisi ?

    Don’t you think they might’ve furthered your point ?

  • Ok, I like the fact that you acknowledge how different all the posthumous nominees were (a refreshing change), but I still say it’s unfair and insulting to other actors to be crowning Ledger when it’s only July.

    Ledger would not be getting this much buzz had he lived. I’m sorry but I’m not buying that argument. He would be getting SOME buzz but far more people would have the guts to ask the rest of us to WAIT. I do believe he’ll be nominated because it’s the kind of part the Academy eats up nowadays, but saying he’s automatically going to win is taking it too far. At least wait until December, for God’s sake.

    And you know what? Right now, Ledger is not my pick for Best Supporting Actor. My pick is Gary Oldman. The Joker is the kind of role actors adore. They get to throw in all the tricks they’ve been saving because the operatic nature of the character calls for it. That’s not meant to dismiss Ledger’s stellar work in any way but personally I’m more impressed by performances that require a lot more emotional baggage. Oldman brought heart and soul to a character that most actors would phone in because they’d rather get the paycheck and get out as quickly as possible. That impresses me more (On a side note, as much as I loved Javier Bardem last year, my pick was Casey Affleck for the same exact reasons given. He had the bigger challenge.)

    Meanwhile there are two other supporting performances that blew me away whom I would nominate in a hearbeat: Brendan Gleeson for In Bruges and David Strathairn for My Blueberry Nights. And in both cases, especially Strathairn (best alcoholic I’ve seen in years), they stole the show. So that’s four already and it isn’t even prestige season. Who am I to say that Ledger will and should win? Or Oldman? Or Gleeson? Or Strathairn?

    As for Peter Finch, yes he gave a remarkable performance, but again, it’s not as hard to play a constantly barking lunatic as it is to play a man quietly descending into madness. Taxi Driver may have been the TWBB of 1976 but even TWBB went home with two Oscars, including Best Actor as we all know. The other competition may not have been special besides Holden but there is no doubt in my mind that De Niro would’ve won had it not been for Finch’s sudden death.

    The fact is that Ledger still gave said performance in a summer blockbuster. That wouldn’t EXCLUDE him were he still with us (look at Depp for Pirates) but that still wouldn’t make him a lock in the middle of the goddamn summer. Face it. It’s because he’s dead.

    EDIT: Sasha raises a good point. We have to remember that the Oscars are rarely about honoring the best. They are, indeed, career boosters. Plus it’s hard to deny the importance of pre-Oscar public appearances. Even my favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis, benefitted because he’s so charming and humble (and yes, there was his SAG dedication to Heath.) After all, is there another reason why Roberto Begnini as an Oscar and the publicity-shy Edward Norton doesn’t?

  • Sam Juliano

    OK Noah, I’ll make sure to give you a call before I make any decisions to enroll my kids in acting schools. So you think DeNiro’s performance was better than Finch’s— a position most serious critics have not supported. No problem, but please don’t preach. We don’t need YOU to tell us about acting.

    And that nastily-conveyed argument that Ledger is getting all the praise (“it’s the middle of the goddam summer” etc.) because he’s dead is the height of idiocy, which flies in the face of every serious film scholar and critic’s reviews of the film.

    I see you woke up this morning with quite an attitude. Do us a favor: spare us! And, excuse me so much for voicing an OPINIOn on this thread, maybe I should call you for official permission next time.

  • I never said he’s getting all the praise because he’s dead. Don’t put words in my mouth. I said he wouldn’t be getting this much BUZZ. It’s a brilliant performance, I’ll happily acknowledge that, but do you honestly believe that everybody in the country would be saying “Give him an Oscar right now!” had he lived? I don’t. I guess that makes me a heartless idiot.

    I love the fact that you’re telling me about being mean-spirited when your post was far more bitter and dismissive than mine. You have your opinion, I respect that, is it too much to ask that you respect mine?

    Pot calling the kettle black.

  • Sam Juliano

    I posted this morning in the spirit of enthusiasm and agreement, not to mention appreciation.

    Your post was indignant and in the spirit of disagreement, with some pointed barbs.

    The pot is in your possession.

    Sasha’s piece was thorough, objective and fair-minded, and I also enjoyed it. Yours went in the other direction.

  • Free

    I totally agree, Ryan (but really, how often do I disagree with you?). I was seriously just about to compare Heath’s chances with Javier’s. We knew back in may, just based off of word of mouth from Cannes, that Javier would win. Nevermind a nomination, it’s his. Done.

    With Heath, it feels the same. THE standout performance in a miraculous film, a villain that will haunt your dreams with every gesture and bit of dialogue he states. The only difference is that Heath’s film does have the uphill battle of being a superhero movie. But then again, it seems everyone agrees that this film defies those obstacles and showcases how those type of films can be just as smart as the rest.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone having reservations about him winning. It is early after all. But the idea he won’t get nominated seems highly unlikely to me. It reminds me of people who were sure No Country wouldn’t get nominated (not win, nominated) because of its ending. And look how that turned out.

  • Well that’s how I feel. Take it or leave it. I liked Sasha’s post as well and I appreciate the way in which she made her points. But that’s not who I am. I genuinely think there is something macabre and unfair about Heath’s Oscar buzz and I apologize if that makes me a little annoyed.

    Still, you didn’t have to jump down my throat like I’m some barbarian who doesn’t understand acting. But whatever. Let’s move on.

  • Free

    Oh and one other thing, in a sort of unrelated topic. I’ve always felt (and still feel) that while GIANT was not a perfect film, James Dean was perfect in it. He definitely deserved his nomination, but had he been in the Supporting Actor category, I think he would have won.

  • Sam Juliano

    OK, fair enough.

  • RichardA

    Has there been an Oscar nominee that has passed away and lost?
    There’s Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story (i think). Anyone else?

  • Sam Juliano

    Indeed, Richard.

    MATSIMO TROISI of the Italian film IL POSTINO, was nominated for Best Actor in 1995 postumously. He lost to Nicholas Cage for LEAVING LAS VEGAS. There could be others, I am not sure.

  • I have a theory about everyone’s reservations about Heath only getting buzz because he’s dead. In a way, I think they’re right. Don’t slaughter me. Just hear me out.

    Heath’s performance in TDK was electrifying. It is no more electrifying because of his death. It is one of the best performances of the decade. The Joker is perhaps on his way to being one of the most iconic villain in film history.

    I have to point out that there was buzz around Heath’s performance BEFORE his death. The buzz only got a hell of a lot louder after his death. There’s reason for that. Death is so much harder on the living. We’re alive. We want to campaign for him, because he isn’t here to do that himself. Or knowing Heath not do that himself. We want this for him because death makes us realise what we had and what we’ve lost. We’re in pain and one way to get around that pain is to focus on something fun like an Oscar race, instead of having to wallow in the agony of losing such a bright young man.

    If Heath had been alive we may have passed on his chance at a nomination not because he wasn’t brilliant but because we would have thought Heath will be around to pull out another great performance, but just not in a superhero movie. He would have been around to play by our Oscar rules and perform by our conventional wisdom of what an Oscar worthy role is “supposed” to look it.

    It was the same with Brokeback. Sorry Heath, they passed on giving you an Oscar not because you weren’t brilliant but because you were kissing boys and dammit you’ll be around for years to come and your next Oscar worthy role won’t have any of that stuff.

    But Heath isn’t here anymore. So, we are not noticing him because he’s simply dead, but because his death has made us see how brilliant he was. And our efforts to get him a nomination is our way of showing ourselves that his life wasn’t a waste and his efforts for TDK were not in vain.

    The Oscar buzz is no less valid because of his death. There just seems to be more urgency about it because he’s gone.

  • jennybee

    Great article. I think the strongest argument against his winning (he IS getting nominated, I just can’t see that not happening given the trifecta of critical praise, popularity/sentimentality, and mind-blowing box office) is the one Sasha brought up about the career-boosting function of award shows. More than at the Oscars, I’ve seen that happen to beloved, acclaimed and now ended TV series over and over at the Emmies, Golden Globes, etc. Every now and then a show that’s over gets the big one, but so often they are moving on to the future. I do think Ledger is a lock for a nomination and favored to win, but it’s early. I can easily see, though, someone else winning the vast majority of the critical awards, and Ledger still winning the Oscar. I almost might prefer that, actually. If we have an endless parade of post-humous acceptance speeches from his family, director, friends, Michelle, it kind of robs the poignancy of the Oscar moment. That’s the only thing that can really damage his buzz at this point, just overkill.

  • that is a good way of looking at it satire flower.. we all wish oscar voters could just choose nominees and winners just for the reason the actor/actress gave a great performance and not for any other reason (oscar walk, old age, lose on previous more deserving role, or sadly death, and any other reason)

  • Bebe

    Heath was brilliant in the movie and it would be an awesome and deserved nomination, but I have to warn you, adorable Ryan, declaring that nominations are in the bag can set off the Academy’s independent streak, i.e. they bristle at being told who to nominate.

  • Kevin Arnold

    Yeah, I’m confused why you left off posthumous nominees Ralph Richardson (for “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”) and Massimo Troisi (for “Il Postino”).

  • Pierre de Plume

    Wow, what a spirited debate we’ve got going here. First, Ryan, I enjoyed your piece and you may very well be right — but I’m not willing to bet that Ledger will be nominated, not yet at least. One thing that Oscar has taught us (and Sasha and Bebe have reminded us) is that “in the bag” sometimes falls out of the bag (Rosalind Russell, Angela Lansbury, Lauren Bacall, Brokeback Mountain come to mind).

    I also agree that some — but certainly not all — of Ledger’s Oscar buzz has intensified because of his death. I think one of the controlling factors surrounding his Oscarability, so to speak, has more to do with the circumstances of his death rather than his demise itself. Details of Ledger’s alleged drug use and the murky details that came out immediately after he died may turn off some Oscar voters.

    If my memory is correct, Peter Finch died shortly before the Oscars, which means many voters checked his name on their ballots while he was still alive. Because of this, I don’t believe the “posthumous” label really applies to Finch. My impression of Steiger’s win is that he gave a good performance, was in a film that had “Oscar” written on it, largely because of its themes, and because he was considered overdue because of his work in The Pawnbroker. Tracy didn’t win, I believe, because it was a lot more convenient to voters to vote for Hepburn — who was very much alive and part of the legendary Tracy-Hepburn team.

    Ledger may very well get a nomination — he certainly deserves it. If he does, I feel it would be an uphill climb for him to win.

    One thing in his favor, though, since he’s not around to campaign, is that sites such as this could have an impact on the voters.

    I don’t mean to burst any bubbles, Ryan and all you Heath believers. I’m being cautious.

  • Pierre de Plume

    I’d better clarify my comments about Peter Finch (above). He apparently died on 1/14/77, while the Oscars happened that year on March 29th. This would suggest that his win (but maybe not his nomination) was indeed posthumous.

  • Ethan Guild

    Good points. The best point over this last few years is this:

    If Johnny Depp is nominated for Pirates of the Caribbean there’s no way Ledger isn’t. Sealed deal.

    And then there’s this: the box office is going to top off around at least $500 million. If Kate Winslet in what was arguably one of her worst performances, gets nominated just by the sheer popularity of the film she was in…the same happens for Heath.

  • [I’ll repost this comment in this topic too, just to make sure everybody sees it]:


    All the rotten luck. Just as I posted my personal feelings about the Heath Ledger issue this morning — my net connection totally fried. It’s taken me 3 hours to get back online.

    I was about to add a disclaimer this morning before the breakdown occurred. (Net breakdown, that is. Though, yeah, possibly mental too.)

    I have a bad habit of rewriting my posts after they’re already online. Usually I’m pretty quick and slick with that, but this morning chaos reigned.

    I’m standing by my position that I think it’ll have to be some kind of miraculously Olivier-caliber performance to beat Heath this year — but I want to absolutely make clear that this is my own opinion, and nobody else’s official position.

    hey, I might even be changing my own mind later in the year. As a Democrat, I reserve that right.

    But it’s been bothering me to read that Heath Ledger has no chance because he’s no longer with us. If people on other sites are so quick to dismiss his chances, I feel like it’s ok for me to be quick to counter those dismissals.

    If I’m wrong, we have the new site slogan to provide me with an ego-buffer: The trick is not minding.


  • Daniel

    It’s not that I think he can’t win, it’s that I’m aware it’s only July. With 5 months left in the year, who knows what could happen?

  • RichardA

    This is my last word on what I’m about to say. When I post my opinions, it is my opinion and i’m not speaking for anyone else. When someone else posts an opinion, i take it that they’re not speaking for anyone else either. Even if they happen to mention “we” somewhere.

    I’m only saying this because I sense that a lot of posters are being bullied and are essentially left to constantly remind everyone that it’s their own opinion and recite “the trick is not minding” all the time. I just feel bad about that.

    Just be nice you guys.

  • Joshua

    This is a great article and alot of great points came from it. While we do not determine the nominees in the end, we do have a great way of buzzing about future oscar nominees/winners. Look at last year with Javier Bardem. So let’s hope all this pays off. I really want to see Ledger’s name read for Best Supporting Actor come this Janurary 2009.

    As for the whole Peter Finch thing, I agree with Pierre. Finch died not that far away from the oscars. Some people had to have had submitted their ballots before his sudden death. And please don’t say that Finch almost had the same amount of time as Ned Beatty in the film. I personally think his win was very much deserved. And c’mon, this is 1976 we are talking about. The academy didn’t know what to think of Taxi Driver like Ryan said. Today they probably would’ve given it to De Niro. Whether Finch was truly supporting, who gives a shit. The fact is that he was nominated for leading, and he was the best out of the group. My two cents.

  • Of all the people who don’t know anything, I have to count myself as one of the people who knows the very least. All I have to rely on is my gut feeling and personal passion, and if I have to start putting a lid on either one of those, I probably wouldn’t be having much fun — and I wouldn’t be doing any of this.

    So although I totally 100% agree with everything Sasha has said about how the Oscar process can seem to be one long kissy-face pageant culminating in 3000 people getting the satisfaction of thinking they’ve helped give somebody a “career boost” (er, like Marisa Tomei got? 😉 ) — I also have to believe that if the Oscars want to be more than a private televised party that fewer and fewer people give a damn about each year, then it might be considered valuable to provide some more moments like last year when Jon Stewart gave Marketa Irglova a chance to finish her acceptance speech.

    Moments like those are what make the Oscars come alive for millions of movielovers. Not the sight of somebody winning a statuette that she immediately declares she’s handing over to the guy who’s in it for his 15%. Sorry, I love Tilda Swinton, and have no argument with her winning. But what does it mean to award someone the Oscar and then to see her instantly re-gift it to her agent on stage? There was nothing moving or emotionally uplifting about that to me.

    If the sole purpose of winning an Oscar is to put a spit shine on somebody’s rising star, then someone needs to sit down and have a serious chat with Halle Berry — and 2 dozen other recent winners.

    And if nobody thinks the Kodak theater audience standing in appreciation with a heartfelt ovation as Michelle Williams (or Christian Bale, or Christopher Nolan) accepts Heath Ledger’s award would be among the finest Oscar moments ever, then maybe people need to reconsider their definition of “show-biz.”

    Brando wasn’t expected to accept his Oscar and neither was George C. Scott. But their performances were what made those movies great — and they won the honors that they richly deserved. Oscar voters have proven before that (despite what many may think) Hollywood is bigger than a crass back-patter club. I believe this year they’ll prove it once more.

    Every word of this comment is my own very personal opinion, and it won’t hurt my feelings a bit if nobody agrees.

  • Kevin Arnold, tootpadu, and others: thanks for reminding me of major gaps in my movie knowledge. What I wrote was largely off the top of my head, and the specifics I mention are there because I knew where to begin to look them up.

    The names you bring up were left off because I didn’t know about them. But really, had I done some research, did anybody really need me rambling on for another 5 paragraphs? 😎

  • S.T. Stevens

    I’m not going to argue much with Ryan much on Ledger’s chances. As of now (very key phrase) he’s about as close to a lock as you can get, and he has to be the heavy favorite for the win.

    But I’ve got a bone to pick about Peter Finch. In my mind, he was the third best of the lead actor nominees that year. He was probably the most Oscar-friendly, but as far as actual quality goes I think both DeNiro and Holden were better. I’m not alone on Holden, as I’ve heard a good number of critics and Hollywood insiders, most notably Barry Levinson and Robert Osbourne, say they would have given the Oscar to Holden if they’d had a vote. Sure, Finch got to be a lot more showy and had the best lines, but credit for that goes to Paddy Cheyefsky’s perfect script, not Finch. Holden was a lot more subtle and really was tasked with the responsibility of holding the film together.

    As for DeNiro, I think he definitely had to work the hardest out of all three. In Network, the movie begins and in the first scene Howard Beale announces he’s going to commit suicide on the air. You are basically told in the script right from the get-go that he’s crazy. With Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, DeNiro has to show every gradual step he takes towards madness, and he brings a lot more nuance to Bickle than Finch did to Beale.

  • bebe, I know, I have a problem of tone 😉 Much of how I phrase things is in a voice that often comes across way too… adamant. This is usually a side-effect of me trying to convince myself that I’m good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone it, people don’t entirely hate me.

    I’ve never fully grasped the fact that anyone reads a word I write — much less Academy-type people — and I always assume even the group of friends who congregate here roll their eyes a lot at things I spout off about.

    Dear Academy, It’s me, Ryan. Are you listening? I’m a chump. Ask anybody. If you’re ever gonna pay attention to something I’m pushing for, please don’t let it be this. Let it be for a couple of Vanity Fair Party tickets or something. Don’t let a mook like me irritate you and screw up something really important.

  • davidpnyc

    A very convincing argument, Ryan (not that I needed any convincing). It’s easy to conceive that once Heath is nominated – and he WILL be nominated – and his peers are filling out their final Oscar ballots that they will want to acknowledge both an incredible performance as well as a promising career cut far too short. That’s not to say Ledger will win simply because of his tragic passing but in spite of it, because I believe he would have been nominated and won even if he hadn’t died. Heath Ledger’s Oscar will be no sympathy prize, but a truly deserved award.

  • Free

    I do think it’s true that the Oscar voters don’t like to be told what to do, but
    A) I doubt they read AwardsDaily. . .daily.
    B) How often have they deviated from the consensus, even when it’s been early? Sure, Julie Christie didn’t win Actress, Brokeback didn’t win BP, etc. But there have been plenty of times when people called races way earlier than now and have been right. I seem to recall Julia Roberts being declared the winner for Erin Brockovich just based off of early buzz alone. Not to mention, Gladiator held its buzz all the way through awards season, as did No Country for Old Men (along with Bardem).

    I think it’s fine to be safe, but hey, when you’re too damn good to ignore, you’re just too damn good. Find me a supporting performance later in the year that tops Heath’s, and if they deserve it, hand it over. But, you know, good luck with that.

  • Sam Juliano

    S.T. Stevens:

    I completely disagree with you on the De Niro-Finch comparison, even though I have been a huge DeNiro fan through my life and especially love his work in RAGING BULL, GODFATHER PART TWO, MEAN STREETS, THE MISSION, THE KING OF COMEDY and GOOD FELLAS. And his performances as a sociopath in TAXI DRIVER is surely ONE of the best of 1976, agreed there.

    What the TAXI DRIVER performance lacks is emotional resonance, as the character, despite the stark metamorphosis, is one-dimensional in the critical dramatic and narrative segments. Finch gave a warm, nuanced, penetrating and multi-leveled performances that deftly wove affection, mental deterioration and tongue-in-cheek satire in a completely winning way. Danny Peary does agree with you though, S.T. In his book “Alternate Oscars” the critic/film scholar took away Finch’s Oscar and gave it to De Niro.

  • Daniel

    Wow, that was a great article, Ryan! I think you’re definitely right about everything you said. I was never really a fan of Heath – until I saw him as the Joker. One of my favorite performances in the history of supporting actors.

  • Good article Ryan.

    But I’m not convinced. He gave a great performance, but we have no idea how the Academy will vote on this one. For all we know, there are one or two performances that are utterly mind blowing.

    Honestly, the only thing I’m convinced on is that if the other supporting performances aren’t as good then it’s highly likely that heath will get a nod and win. There’s just not enough evidence to conclude that he has this thing locked up. It’ll be a great way to highlight his once promising career. But, I can’t jump on the bandwagon yet.

  • bebe

    Ryan, you are the AWESOMEST! I love reading your stuff and absorb every morsel! Everything you write is alive, and I hope you keep doing it as long as you can reach a keyboard! I can relate with the adamant thing, though. If you wonder about that, ask me about 9/11 some time. You’ll forever wish you hadn’t. 🙂 xoxoxo

  • Ryan, let me join the long list of believers: I agree 100% that Heath will be nominated (for supporting actor); but my cowardly self will stop right there. Why? I still think it’s possible that someone who is *long* due for recognition (e.g., someone like Max Von Sydow; not necessarily him because I’m not sure which films he has coming out, but that type of figure) might end up being nominated, and we might be confronted with a major showdown.

    Critics awards might set the stage for a win and I do see Ledger getting the bulk of those to ensure a nomination at least. But man…as much as I want to throw caution to the wind, I’m not ready to. Especially since the Academy failed to award Heath for his greatest work in “Brokeback Mountain.”

  • Sam Potter

    Jeez, isn’t there anything else to talk about besides The Dark Knight? Awards Daily is usually pretty varied, but now it’s becoming the Gotham Daily. It was an amazing movie, but can we take a look at some of the other stuff coming out?

  • Sam Potter

    Oh, you did, haha. My bad. Maybe I ought to read the entire post next time. Sorry!

  • Marcie

    Watching Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker made me really respect actors like him, after the art and not just the fame, and made me sad for the loss of him, and longing for the future of young men to entertain me, as was his job and want to do. I am deeply sad for his daughter and ex girlfriend. Its hard to lose the one you love.

  • Casey F.

    Absolutely no way would Peter Finch have won if he didnt die. His role wasnt even a lead. De Niro’s Travis Bickle is imo the best lead performance of all time and Finch wouldn’t have stood a chance in a just world if he didnt die

  • sonnymoscoso

    Oscar wins are about boosting carrers??? …. specially in the supporting actor/actress categroy??
    ok… lets see..
    in the the last 12 years… Cuba Gooding Jr, Chris Cooper, Tim Robins, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherin Zeta Johnes, Jennifer Hudson… GREAAT BOOST…

    Heath will be nominated and will win, im a man of my word

  • baby boy

    tru sonny, but um sasha has a point.. you have to think of the oscar voters… people who pinpoint acting in select “good” movies… i can totally see why they would never put Dark Night up for antyhing which anyone knows it will hurt Ledger alot… However im human enough to have my own opinion..

    Anyone who honestly has seen this movie should be in awe of his acting… think of the way he transformed from a jouster and a gay cowboy and other MELLOW parts.. to someone as complex as the joker… and he jsut simply nailed it..

    if i had a say… 100 percent ledger for the win

  • DBibby

    There are no locks or safe bets in July. Not for a win anyway. Let’s put him as the early favourite and see how the rest of the year shapes up.

  • Good Ole Boy

    There is a huge distinction in believing that Heath will win and being 100 percent certain he will win. When you are at the point of 100 percent certainty, you’ve crossed the threshold of mere belief. You are now at the point of flat out knowledge. Essentially, you know, without a doubt, that Heath will get nominated and win. However, with mere belief, there is a degree of doubt, which separates it from actual knowledge. The reasonable person might truly believe that Heath will win, without being fully certain of a win. However, any person that is completely certain he’ll win based on so-so evidence, has probably left the realm of reason and entered the realm of fanaticism. No disrespect. But most of you guys sound like crazed sports fans when you talk about Ledger’s chances of winning an Oscar. There is no reason here; it’s just unbridled madness.

  • Rawlinson

    Good Ole Boy is making a lot of sense. There’s far too much ‘certainty’ going on here. Especially when most of the Oscar bait films have yet to be released. What happens if (For example) Micheal Sheen gives an amazing performance? You’d have an equally respected actor, who would get a huge career boost, playing a real person, in a ‘serious’ film, that the older Academy members could take to easier than a comic book movie. Would Ledger seem such a sure thing then? Also, I remember when people here were calling Atonement as a certain for lots of nominations earlier this year. I remember Dreamgirls being called a definite best picture/director nominee last year. I remember some people being certain that there was no way Scorsese would win for The Departed. I also remember Brokeback Mountain being a certainty to win best picture. There are no absolutes when it comes to the Oscars. If the ceremony was being held next week then Ledger would probably win it. By the time next year comes around, and the other big films have come into the picture, it’s not so certain.

  • “I remember when people here were calling Atonement as a certain for lots of nominations earlier this year.”

    Atonement received 14 BAFTA nominations, 7 Golden Globe nominations (more than any other film), and 7 Oscar nominations (surpassed only by No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, with 8 each).

    Relax guys. I expect Heath Ledger to go the distance, but I never said I swear it on my grandfather’s grave.

  • Pierre de Plume

    One thing’s for sure — if Ledger does win the Oscar, I’ll be first in line to offer congratulations to He Who Predicted It.

  • Spock

    “What’s relevant is the quality of the performance and the substance of the role — and that’s as true this year as it was in 1976 or 1956, as it rightfully should be, in any year before or since.“

    “The Oscar for Best Performance goes to… the best performance! Radical concept, I know, but stick with me.

    Do you know anything about the Oscars????????

    “…as well as Ingmar Bergman who was 110 already. ”

    There’s really no need to be so classless.

    This is one of the worst “articles” I’ve ever read.

  • Good Ole Boy


    Take it easy. The Ingmar Bergman thing was a joke. He was really like 200 at the time. He actually beat Death in chess 5 times.

  • colby

    i just wanted to point out this little nugget…it pissed me off, and i couldn’t help but want to share…she doesn’t get it


  • Friedl

    Great article, Ryan. Rambling and mad. Love it.

    Except that you know better than to say the Oscar goes to the best performance. (Tilda Sweatin’ / Cate Blanchett, anyone? Loved Tilda, really did, but there was no-one NO-ONe better than Cate. Of course, in this case, look at the vehicle: Hugely loved movie, not winning anything else – Tilda. Alienating and disliked movie – Cate. That is why I predicted Tilda, even tho I knew Cate would be best (although I hadn’t seen I’m Not There at that point, and had just seen MC)).

    Point is – there are many other factors determining who wins. Quality is but one of them, and not the biggest of them. Politics much? You disprove your own assertion that the best performance will win by pointing out the not-exactly-wow quailty of recent winners. You’re telling me George Clooney won because he was the best supporting actor of the year? I laugh.

    Your analysis of the past posthumous nominees/winners was also, sorry to say, certainly slanted in favour of the point you were trying to make.

    But great post anyway. I loved it. I skipped dinner for it.

    & again I’m the last person on this freaking thread…

    tiny bit lonely down here.

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