The Joke’s On Leonard Maltin

December 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm (Movies and TV)

Monday, Australia awarded Heath Ledger a posthumous Best Actor award. Yesterday, The Washington DC Area Film Critics’ Association named Heath Ledger Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Dark Knight.” Should we see this trend continue in the coming weeks (as I am betting it will), the joke will be on Leonard Maltin.

Leonard Maltin, respected film critic, is the guy who believed on July 17 that Heath Ledger has little chance of winning an Oscar for his turn as The Joker.  I disagreed then. I disagree now. Here’s why.

  1. Academy voters, demographically, have a majority of white males over 55…men who would have been contemporaries of James Dean (a cult hero who was passed over not once, but TWICE for posthumous Oscars) and who may recognize Heath Ledger as this generation’s James Dean and feel a sense of nostalgia toward Ledger.
  2. A challenge for the Oscars each year is to remain relevant in a situation with declining viewership. They are aiming for a younger audience because they walk a strange tightrope between wanting viewers but honoring films which many times have not been seen by most of the public. Nominating Heath Ledger would almost certainly cause younger viewers to watch the Oscars.
  3. Straight up, dead or alive…I can count on a single hand the number of actors capable of occupying the same role as Jack Nicholson, and kicking Nicholson’s ass. Not easy by any stretch. (And yes, of COURSE Johnny Depp is on that list.)
  4. The villain created by Heath Ledger in “Dark Knight” is almost certainly the first true Post-9/11 movie villain. Chaos for chaos’ sake. Even Javier Bardem flipped a coin to see who he killed…the Joker is indescriminate because it’s the chaos that counts, and that is why he is terrifying even as we laugh at The Pencil Trick. It’s original, yet a kind of fear we can all relate to right now.
  5. The “Dark Knight” did come from a comic book, but…when you look at most Oscar films and the qualities they share (dark/disturbing, realism, deeper themes that make you think), you have to admit that the “Dark Knight” occupies the same territory.
  6. Plain and simple: cult movement. Heath Ledger is who The People want to win. In an economy like ours, the entertainment industry is aching for our money and therefore, may pay some attention to what the masses have to say on the matter.

To be fair, Maltin is a film historian who is basing his opinion on past trends and statistics: there have only ever been three posthumous Oscar nominations ever (two of those being, you guessed it….James Dean…who didn’t win), and only one win, and that was Peter Finch, who died in the middle of Oscar season between his nomination and the vote. Ledger differs from these two in terms of his body of work overall, and in terms of this role, which some could argue played a part in his untimely death due to the extreme toll method acting took on a nice guy, playing a monster like The Joker. 

One of the factors in my Oscar Prediction System has to do with the number of other awards received, and according to that factor, so far, it’s Ledger: 2, Maltin: zilch.  LennyMalt is part of the same crew who was sure an action/fantasy would never win Best Picture, even though “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was the best movie of 2003.

Another of my factors has to do with number of times an actor has previously been passed over.  In Ledger’s case, that’s once, for “Brokeback Mountain”…but…he died. He’ll never get another chance, and he was brilliant. In my opinion, that changes things.

Warner Brothers clearly agrees with me, seeing as it has earmarked “Dark Knight” for re-release on January 23, otherwise known as the day after Oscar nominations are announced.

I say, stop being so serious. Give Ledger his damned statue already.



  1. Keith said,

    Hey, I hope he wins, too…but he was no James Dean. Dean is an icon; Ledger was a teen star who ended up being a pretty good actor. If we have a James Dean, maybe it’s Depp or Downey…but not Ledger. And I say that as a fan.

  2. flyingheidigirl said,

    Fair enough. I think for a lot of people the association between Ledger and Dean will be there, deserved or not, because they were both just beginning to achieve greatness in their careers when they died. I agree w/Downey-Depp as far as abilities are concerned (and please LORD don’t let anything happen to either, early!!!) but I think the association is moreso because of the shockingly early death at the beginning of a serious career.

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