Oscar watchers dampen award hype for Ledger's Joker

Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:59pm EDT
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By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the new Batman movie "The Dark Night" began screenings last month before its U.S. debut on Friday, some moviegoers saw Heath Ledger as an instant Oscar candidate as the deranged villain, The Joker.

But Oscar watchers and veteran critics say the joke may be on fans creating mostly Internet-based buzz because an Academy Award for the Australian actor, who died of an accidental drug overdose in January, would be a rare event.

Only one actor has won an Oscar after death, Peter Finch for 1976's "Network."

"Dark Knight" is the type of comic book, action adventure that Oscar voters generally do not favor and there are many movies to see later this year, the experts said.

Still, Ledger's critically hailed performance may bring a nomination for the U.S. film industry's top award, to be presented next on February 22, 2009.

"All this Oscar talk is a phenomenon of the Internet age that I like to call 'a wish-fulfillment rumor.' If people say it often enough, they think it will happen," said Leonard Maltin, film critic for TV program "Entertainment Tonight."

"That's not to say it might not happen," he said, citing a "great performance" by Ledger. "But I assure you that the people who are spreading all this are neither Oscar voters nor (Hollywood) movers and shakers."

Tom O'Neil, a columnist for award-watching Web site The Envelope.com, said "it really looks good" for a nomination but was "a long shot" to win.   Continued...

<p>Heath Ledger stars as The Joker in the action drama &ldquo;The Dark Knight.' REUTERS/Warner Bros./Handout</p>