July 11, 2008 / 8:39 AM / 11 years ago

Oscar buzz mounts for late Heath Ledger

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Actor Heath Ledger won rave reviews from Australian critics on Friday for his final performance as the Joker in the new Batman movie, fuelling speculation of a rare posthumous Oscar.

Heath Ledger stars as The Joker in the action drama “The Dark Knight.” REUTERS/Warner Bros./Handout

Australian film critics said the late actor was “manically mesmerizing” and overshadowed everyone else in “The Dark Knight” that was previewed in Sydney on Thursday ahead of the movie’s world premiere in New York on July 14.

“Hypnotic farewell from the Joker,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald critic Garry Maddox, saying the film was a reminder of the brilliance of the 28-year-old actor who died in his Manhattan apartment in January of an accidental prescription drug overdose.

“And who knows? The campaign for a posthumous Oscar nomination that has started overseas might just gather momentum when ‘The Dark Knight’ opens next week.”

The Australian newspaper’s critic David Stratton said Ledger’s performance of “an unforgettable, genuinely creepy, villain” was a cross between Marlon Brando and James Cagney with a touch of Edward G. Robinson thrown in.

The Daily Telegraph’s film editor Vicky Roach said there was a morbid intensity to the interest in Ledger’s final performance but his “triumph in creating one of the most memorable villains in recent cinematic history should be celebrated.”

Ledger’s eerie performance as the Joker has already won him plaudits from international critics and co-stars, making him an unlikely forerunner to posthumously win the Academy Award for best supporting actor next February.

Ledger was nominated in 2006 for an Oscar for best actor for his role as a brooding gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain.”

“If there’s a movement to get him the first posthumous (acting) Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976’s “Network,” sign me up,” wrote Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers.

Finch, who was born in England but raised in Australia, died of a heart attack aged 60 during the voting period for the Oscars and remains the only actor to win the award posthumously although Oscars have been awarded posthumously to several non-actors.

Co-star Christian Bale, who plays Batman, was quoted by Contactmusic as saying: “I do think that Heath has created an iconic villain that will stand for the ages, and of course, I would love to see him get an award.

But history is not on Ledger’s side. Five other actors nominated posthumously for Oscars were not successful.

James Dean was nominated twice after his death for a best actor Oscar and Spencer Tracy, Massimo Troisi, Ralph Richardson and Jeanne Eagels also missed out on posthumous awards.

Residents of Ledger’s home town of Perth in Western Australian have found their own way to ensure his legacy lives on, naming a theatre in his honor for his commitment to acting.

At a naming ceremony last week, state premier for Western Australia Alan Carpenter said the $87 million, 575-seat theatre was a fitting tribute as Ledger was always supportive of other young actors.

“Heath Ledger was totally dedicated to the craft of being an actor and that’s what made him successful,” Carpenter told local reporters. “I think what we’re doing is continuing that support for young people who want to make a career in the arts and acting, stage and in film, whatever it happens to be.”

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