best film:  The Dark Knight is the very rare collision of a top tier auteur working in the action genre or superhero subgenre. Christopher Nolan brings his penchant for big set pieces and parallel editing to the table behind the camera – but it is Heath Ledger in front of the camera who dazzles and owns. The closest competition here is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain from 2005.


best performance:  Heath Ledger is hypnotic as the Joker – and terrifying. In The Dark Knight, Ledger flat out commands the camera’s attention. The statement on method acting and Ledger’s drug use and subsequent death is definitely not a fun subject – but the display of acting genius here is undeniable. This is right up there with the best acting performances of the 2000s. That list of the best acting performances of the 2000s also includes Ledger’s work in Brokeback Mountain.


the talk leading up to The Dark Knight in 2008 was that Ledger taking on this role was a very bad idea. Jack Nicholson had already played the Joker in Tim Burton’s financially and artistically successful Batman film in 1989. The narrative turned sharply when the film was released, Ledger’s performance outstrips and outshines Jack and everything else around him – it feels seismic.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Tragically, Ledger died at age twenty-eight (28) with only five (5) movies in the archives. He would be easier to write off with just one masterful performance, but his one-two punch makes it impossible. He was going to be one of the great ones — and that career was cut short of course. But when you start adding up the actors that gave two of the finer performances of a decade (the 2000s in Ledger’s case) – the results, even if they are not what they could have been, are still a career that surpasses the brief body of works of a River Phoenix, James Dean or a John Cazale – all immensely gifted actors.


Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s poetically tragic Brokeback Mountain. Ledger spars with a very game Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. Ledger is has a nearly undecipherable accent – and certainly sounds and looks like a young Marlon Brando or Paul Newman.


directors worked with:  Ang Lee (1), Todd Haynes (1), Christopher Nolan (1), Terry Gilliam (1)


top five performances:

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Brokeback Mountain
  3. Monster’s Ball
  4. I’m Not There
  5. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Monster’s Ball (2001) is a fascinating film in terms of casting – Billy Bob Thornton is a budding star all of a sudden at the time, Halle Berry wins her Oscar, Puff Daddy is in a bit over his head … and Peter Boyle and Heath Ledger get plenty to chew on as Billy Bob’s son and father.


archiveable films:

2001- Monster’s Ball
2005- Brokeback Mountain
2007- I’m Not There
2008- The Dark Knight
2009- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus