Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Best Supporting Performance (Male), 2008

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (232 points/32 votes)

“At nearly every awards show this year, The Dark Knight writer/director Christopher Nolan has accepted the supporting actor honor for Heath Ledger, who arguably played the scariest superhero-movie villain ever in his final complete performance. It's hard not to tense up the moment Nolan begins to speak, because Ledger's turn as the Joker has been so endlessly buzzed about analyzed that it would be impossible for Nolan to do the performance and its reputation justice in a mere 30 seconds. But just because it's difficult to express the effect Ledger's work has had on filmgoers doesn't mean we should stop thinking about the miracle that the late actor achieved.

“Ledger's Joker appears in the first sequence of The Dark Knight, unmasking to reveal his creepy facial profile after a bank robbery that only a character named for his tricks could be clever enough to think up. The moment achieves an eerie quality mainly because the viewer already knows of the actor's untimely real-life fate. When we all first saw the movie last July amidst unbelievable hype, this shot of the character's messily made-up grimace, accompanied by the film's score lingering to a momentary crescendo, dramatically forced all of our lofty expectations for the performance to come rushing to the forefront of our thoughts.

“When the Joker re-enters the picture to perform his now-infamous pencil trick, exterior prior knowledge is not as much a factor, though it remains an undercurrent throughout The Dark Knight. This is because Ledger commands the following scenes so fully. As is the case with all great performances, you forget you're watching acting, which is a true testament to Ledger's work given the aforementioned baggage. Then there's the fact that he's playing an infamous comic-book character that had rarely before (if ever) transcended cartoonishness.

“What was the method to Ledger's madness? It's hard to say for sure, but I would suggest that it was his unrelenting emotional authenticity. Some would dismiss the notion before even allowing me to explain myself because, after all, the Joker is by all accounts off in his own world. But the Joker feels just as real as any of the maddest criminals you've ever heard of: he's pathological, conniving, and—more than anything else—unbelievably smart. It may be difficult to call the character human—and I'm not sure we should—but his emotions are so evil it seems that only a human could be capable of them. Just because said emotions are foreign and insane does not mean they don't exist. Ledger somehow taps into these and makes the viewer confront them, a deeply unsettling and altogether fascinating experience. It becomes very clear who's good and who's evil in the movie. And it's in this very conflict that The Dark Knight finds much of its thematic substance on the nature of justice.

“Through it all, Ledger's Joker works superiorly well even if trivialized as the mere comic book character the performance transcends. The actor's mannerisms make for just plain good drama and shock-value. He's never unwilling to go for broke, just like the character. An unforgettable scene in which the Joker blows up a hospital is haunting in all kinds of ways, not the least of which is how Leger appears nearly possessed. If we peel back the layers, we realize that the reason he makes such an impression is the aforementioned way he confronts a universally-feared unknown. Hannibal Lecter seems charming and relatable by comparison. While some speculate Ledger's seemingly impenetrable commitment to his craft may have contributed to his ultimate demise, his performance in The Dark Knight stands alone as one of the best in cinema's history and typifies everything we loved about him as an actor. ~ Danny Baldwin

“Immediately following the announcement last January of his sudden death at age 28, the previously subdued Oscar buzz about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight became a ubiquitous clamor. Not surprisingly, by the time the film was released worldwide in July, the rumble had reached a fever pitch and the first ever Oscar win for the celebrated young actor appeared to be all but in the bag. Even Ledger's co-star Christian Bale helped arouse obnoxiously anxious fanboys in the days before The Dark Knight opened: ‘He completely immersed himself. He stayed under. When he was the Joker, he was the Joker throughout — absolute commitment to that. He portrayed him in a way that has not been portrayed before — this kind of anarchic, punk, A Clockwork Orange approach to it — and Heath's done such a damn good job.’

“Finding someone who thinks otherwise after seeing The Dark Knight is nearly impossible. Ledger made Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker seem uncomplicated and almost clownishly charming, which isn't a knock on Nicholson so much as it is an acknowledgement that Ledger took the iconic character into a realm that few had imagined possible, if they had imagined it at all. In recent weeks, a group of reverent fans has even developed a petition calling for Warner Bros. to retire the The Joker forever, thus preventing any other actor from portraying the character on screen again.

“Whether they are actually successful may not matter, since Ledger was so chillingly unforgettable in the role that even the most courageous actors may think twice before auditioning for the part in a future sequel. Somehow, Ledger was able to construct a thoroughly monstrous villain improbably imbued with humanizing elements. Not only was it arguably the best performance of his career, but it may have been the best on-screen performance of 2008, period – lead role or supporting role, male or female.

“But that's not really an important or even interesting point to consider, because doing so might distract from the reality that we have lost this incredibly talented actor forever. According to Christopher Nolan, before his death Ledger only saw the prologue of The Dark Knight, which happens to be a frightful introduction to his character. It was one of the best opening scenes in what many considered to be one of the best movies of the year, and therein lies a tragic metaphor: in The Dark Knight, we saw one of the best early performances in what many considered to be one of the most promising careers in Hollywood." ~ Daniel Getahun

“Heath Ledger had balls. Not only did he face the pressure of portraying an esteemed and storied villain -- he also had to take on the legacy of Jack Nicholson. Attempting to inhabit the Joker in the face of fanatical and skeptical comic-book enthusiasts requires more than cojones. It also demands chops, which Ledger somewhere dredged up in spades, as if unearthed from a sinister place.

"There's much that's memorable in Ledger's oddly beautiful portrayal. His reckless bursts of energy, his ever-changing mood. His song-like vocal stylings, his perpetual dry mouth. His disarming wit, his nightmarish cackle, his shocking pencil trick. Yet everything about the wild, larger-than-life Joker seems confidently grounded by an intelligent, if broken mind. There's no doubt that Ledger's having the time of his life, exploring the physicality of evil, while delivering juicy quips and soliloquies. More thrilling, though, is that the fun transfers to the viewer. We revel in the blackness and embrace his cool demeanor. And when the Joker disappears for extended stretches of the movie, we long for his return.

"The fact that Ledger delivers this career-defining turn in what has become his penultimate film only makes the news that much more tragic. He appeared to be coming into his own as an actor with notable roles in Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There, while continuing to pursue challenging projects like the upcoming Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Bittersweet as it is, his performance in The Dark Knight establishes a new acting benchmark for bad guys in movies for years to come, in comic-book films or otherwise. Jack Nicholson will continue to embody Jake Gittes, Jack Torrance and R.P. McMurphy. For now, the clown belongs to Heath Ledger.” ~ Patrick Williamson

Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading (98/17)
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder (92/15)
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road (64/11)
Brendan Gleeson, In Bruges (60/11)

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Andrew Dignan said...

32 out of a potential 37 mentions, and a win by 134 points? That's what some people might call a mandate.

Was pleased my #1 over-all Mathieu Amalric placed in the top 10 but I'm confused as to how Brendan Gleeson (who's fantastic in the film btw) is supporting for In Bruges. Isn't the film arguably his story? It's certainly his crisis of conscience that's propelling the action. That said, big ups to whoever voted w/ me for Ralph Fiennes for the same film. All due respect to Heath, but his was my favorite sociopath performance of the year.

Paul C. said...

I went for Gleeson in supporting largely because I wanted to include him somewhere. His role was sort of borderline, and since I found this category slightly less competitive than lead, I placed him here (prominently, I might add).

And I dug Fiennes too, but my favorite non-Ledger psycho performance of this year was one for which I was the only vote- Brady Corbet in Funny Games. Seriously, I don't think I want to see that guy in a movie ever again- that's how much he made my skin crawl.

Oh well, at least I had some company in voting for Roger Allam.

Lucas said...


I'm arguing that Ledger is a lead in TDK. The story is about him, the action revolves around him, he's the only only one on the fucking poster.

I left him off my ballot entirely. I'm completely with you on Amalric. He's fantastic.

Paul C. said...

Amalric just missed my ballot, the reason being that, awesome though he was, he was more or less the same kind of awesome that he was in Kings and Queen and My Sex Life... Or How I Got Into An Argument. With the arguable exception of Gleeson, I went either with established performers who showed me something new (Ledger, Bill Irwin), or people who were new to me but made a big impression.

Paul C. said...

Also Lucas, there were many posters for TDK. Some featured Joker, some Batman. Hell, there were even the ones that featured Harvey Dent. So it's not like WB's marketing team was leaning completely on Ledger to sell this thing. I suppose a case could be made that he's a "featured co-lead", in the words of Rob Brydon, but Ledger's "ownership" of the movie has more to do with audience impact than playing the central role in the story.

Lucas said...

oh a Tristam Shandy reference, nice.

Maybe so, but that's the main marketing image. He's the reason people watched. To me, it felt like a co-lead the whole way, and he just didn't do enough to make me lead ballot.

Really he was caught in-between two categories: too big to be supporting. Not big enough of a role to beat out other true leads.

Or maybe he's the best thing in the film and the film is just not good enough.

Kza said...

I'm arguing that Ledger is a lead in TDK. The story is about him, the action revolves around him, he's the only only one on the fucking poster.

Todd Alcott would disagree with you on that.


Kza said...

Correction: Actually, Alcott does consider Ledger to be a lead, but doesn't consider him to be the protagonist, which is what I was getting from your post (and most of us conflate "lead" with protagonist anyway, and usually, rightfully so.)

Jeff McMahon said...

Yeesh, I could have given Allam my award for worst supporting actor (although it's not his fault as much as it was the Brothers W).

I thought In Bruges was about the Farrell character's crisis - he's the one who caused the inciting incident, who everybody's either trying to kill or protect, etc.

Lucas said...

I have no problem with a lead being an antagonist.

At what point is Ledger supporting? It's his show all the way.

Bryan Whitefield said...

This is a foregone conclusion I will be happy to see happen. Ledger's performance was head and shoulders above anything else in terms of acting this year - even Mickey Rourke's Ram. No disrespect to P.S.Hoffman, but I still maintain that Ledger should already have a statue for creating and making us believe in a closeted gay cowboy. You can't exactly do research on that one.

James said...

It's terribly sad that Ledger's upcoming Oscar win will essentially amount to the lifetime achivement award he wasn't around long enough to get.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who threw Malkovich's work in Burn After Reading a vote. I laughed every time he showed up on screen, even before he spoke.

Kza said...

I guess it depends on what one means by "supporting". I kinda think the antagonist, by definition, supports the protagonist, and so I'm comfortable with Ledger in this category.

By this same ticket, I think Anthony Hopkins should've been Best Supporting as well for Silence.