By Dan Mecca
In honor of the late Heath Ledger, his acclaimed body of work and recent Oscar win, here’s a list of the man’s best performances on screen. The actor gave us, in around 10 years, the kind of work most performers could not provide in a lifetime. He was justly acknowledged tonight for this, and this list intends to further remember perhaps the best actor of his generation.
10 Things I Hate About You -Lite stuff done right. Ledger’s the best part of this impossibly enjoyable tween dramedy inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”
Candy – Talk about life imitating art. Ledger plays an enabling-drug addict in this star-crossed love story about two young idealists use dreams disintegrate into the needles they stick in their arms
The Top 5
5. I’m Not There
Embodying the least noble, and most destructive, parts of Bob Dylan in this experimental “biopic,” Ledger’s turn as an up-and-coming actor/musician struggling with fame, drugs and fidelity is hard to watch. The best scenes in the film occurs when Ledger’s on screen, whether it involve him trying to be honest with his wife, ignore his fame or attempting to keep his composure as he fights for the custody of his children. Perhaps the best scene of the film comes when Ledger’s Robbie has sex with his estranged ex-wife for the last time, Robbie sitting on the carpet of the family room that was once theirs as she walks out, leaving him alone with his regrets. Heartbreaking to say the least.
4. Lords of Dogtown
Overlooked to a near criminal extent, this film chronicles the early evolution of skateboarding in Southern California, picking up narratively where the incredible documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys left off. Ledger steals every scene he’s in (they are precious few mind you), playing Skip Engblom, local co-founder of the Zephyr Surf Shop and the owner of the Zephyr skate team (a.k.a. the Z-Boys, who are portrayed above by the likes of Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk). Ledger makes the real-life person his own character on screen, sporting a ridiculous accent and a sacrificial dynamism as the Z-Boys gain fame that push them out of Skip’s control. The leader responds with more bottles of liquor and cigarettes, turning his business failures in on himself. The character becomes perhaps the most sympathetic in the film, which is saying a lot when considering Ledger’s short amount of screen time.
3. Brokeback Mountain
Got Ledger his first Oscar nod, playing Ennis Del Mar, a homosexual as repressed as any film character in recent memory. All of that repression gathers in Ledger’s face, which gradually disintegrates with age and missed opportunities as the film rolls on. A performance that recalls the best from Marlon Brando (On The Waterfront) and Laurence Olivier (Hamlet). It’s one thing to be recognized by the Academy; it’s a much more greater accomplishment to rise above the Academy with a performance that people remember for years to come.
2. Monster’s Ball
The role that made people turn around and reconsider there initial comments on Ledger’s acting abilities, easily convinced that he was just a pretty face. Watch this thing, especially the first half hour, which is comprised primarily of Ledger’s Sonny struggling with his lack of prejudice, a trait his father (played by Billy Bob Thornton) and grandfather (a incredible swan-song performance by Peter Boyle) are defined by.Watching his character devolve is brutal; one of those honest portraits you cannot turn your eyes away from, even when the film’s final credits roll.
1. The Dark Knight
One of the most memorable performances of the last 10 years, Ledger’s embodiment of The Joker made everyone forget about that Nicholson guy’s try at it over 20 years ago. On top of that, he made a comic book character incite real fear, and thought, into viewers young and old, educated on comics or not. The definition and premiere example method acting, it is a crying shame this had to be Ledger’s last fully-completed performance (he may still make an appearance in Terry Gilliam’s forthcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). However, what a performance to go out on. As epic as James Dean final turn in Giant (arguably his best performance) or Peter Finch’s in Network. Ledger will transcend time with this performance, and hopefully inspire 10 more Heath Ledger-caliber actors for future generations to admire.
What do you think about this list? Did Heath have performances that deserve to be recognized more than the 5 on display?