LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Heath Ledger’s action movie villain The Joker is getting the last laugh over Hollywood.
The Australian actor’s best supporting actor Oscar nomination on Thursday came exactly a year after he died of an accidental prescription-drug overdose and was a rare exception to the rule that Oscar voters overlook action hero movies.
Not only did Ledger help the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” become the biggest movie since “Titanic,” but he also picked up a slew of awards for his chilling but compelling role as The Joker.
Thursday’s Oscar nomination put Ledger in line for only the second posthumous Academy Award to be handed out to an actor. Peter Finch won for 1976’s “Network” about two months after he suffered a fatal heart attack, aged 60.
“Oscar voters are notorious snobs who turn up their noses at superhero movies. This may be popcorn, but it is gourmet popcorn,” said Tom O’Neil, a columnist for awards Web site www.TheEnvelope.com.
The 28-year-old actor died five months before the July release of “The Dark Knight,” which went on to sell $977 million worth of tickets at the worldwide box office. Critics heaped praise on Ledger’s performance, and the Oscar buzz quickly followed.
Back then, “Entertainment Tonight” movie critic Leonard Maltin was one of many who saw the Oscar talk as wish fulfillment fueled by the Internet.
But now, Maltin says Ledger’s Joker simply took root. “The performance had staying power in people’s minds. It resonated with them and as they weighed the other performances of the year, it stood out.”
In recent weeks, Ledger has won Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards, and been nominated for upcoming awards by the Screen Actors Guild and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
But Maltin said an Oscar win next month for Ledger as best supporting actor was no shoo-in. “Traditionally that is the toughest race because there are so many great supporting performances, often more so than in leading roles.”
Ledger’s rivals for the award on February 22 are: Josh Brolin for “Milk,” Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder,” Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Doubt” and Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road.”
Ledger’s parents in Australia have described the recent recognition for their son as a bitter sweet, emotional rollercoaster. They said his awards will likely go to his daughter Matilda, 3, who is being raised by her mother, Ledger’s former girlfriend and “Brokeback Mountain” co-star Michelle Williams.
Never an A-list star despite his Oscar nomination for playing a reluctant gay cowboy in the 2005 movie “Brokeback Mountain”, Ledger came to global attention in 2001 as the jousting young squire in action-romance “A Knight’s Tale”.
He went on to win critical acclaim for smaller parts in “Monster’s Ball” and the Bob Dylan movie “I’m Not There”.
O’Neil attributed the year-long outpouring of grief over his death to the actor’s “mysterious allure” and his romantic hero status with both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
“The same thing that kept him from being an A-list star when he was alive is what makes him so compelling as a deceased star. He was an enigma but he seemed such a decent guy, who was a loving dad and had a genuine talent.
“People have romantic yearnings for him that can now never be fulfilled,” O’Neil said.
Editing by David Storey