Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Heath Ledger's Golden Globe Win Matters

Before I start with my dime-store philosophy on Hollywood, I have a confession to make. I haven't watched an award show in years. I don't remember which I stopped watching first, the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes, but I haven't listened to a gushing speech full of self-love in quite a while. Though it may not have been the self-aggrandizing nature of the award shows that drove me away. I seem to recall a fairly disturbing moment during one Golden Globes in which Jim Carrey bent over, grabbed both butt cheeks and had an Ace Ventura moment on stage in which he literally talked out of his ass; I know this is the normal mode of the Hollywood horde, but I didn't need to see it portrayed so graphically. So when award season approaches I generally ignore the whole thing. But this year I have kept an ear out for the nominations for one reason only; Heath Ledger. I knew when I watched "The Dark Knight" that Ledger's performance as The Joker went far above and beyond just portraying a comic-book villain. Any thought in my head that Ledger's work in the film was over-hyped was laid to rest almost immediately. His performance was stunning. But almost from the get-go everyone downplayed the idea of Ledger getting any posthumous awards. Comic book movies just don't win Oscars the pundits said and normally they're right. Just look at the movies, and actors, that were nominated for the Golden Globes. You have the yearly Holocaust film ("The Reader") starring an angsty actress who isn't going to stop making heavy dramas until she wins her Academy Award (Kate Winslet this time). In fact the awards were littered with nominations for movies I had never heard of-- you know, the dramas that are released, not coincidentally, just in time for award consideration. Some may be very good, I'm thinking Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" here, while others don't interest me at all, like "Revolutionary Road" (Winslet's other attempt at an Oscar this year), another "serious" film about the quite desperation of the suburbs. What did the suburbs ever do to these people? The point is, there are award-winning-vehicles for the Academy Awards and you seldom see action movies or comedies ever end up as a player in the game. Therefore it really is reasonable to see "The Dark Knight" as a long-shot in any of the award categories. Really, a movie about Batman? Getting an Oscar? But a funny thing happened. Christopher Nolan created a a grown-up fantasy that is surprisingly relevant and smart. More remarkably, it seems as if some of the Hollywood elite noticed. I admit, I like making fun of Hollywood when I can. It is the most self-congratulatory industry in the world. Not only do these people make gross amounts of money as actors, they also get to spend a great deal of time patting themselves on the back during award season. Apparently making $20 million for a few month's work isn't thanks enough. But at the same time I do recognize how much I enjoy the products that this industry puts out. I stand in line to watch movies like "The Dark Knight" and I appreciate that it's there for my enjoyment. I know it isn't always fun for actors to be stalked by the paparazzi, though I suspect the paychecks ease the pain considerably. But when a talented actor like Ledger dies, it's hard not to pause and wonder if the job they do takes a harder toll on them than we realize. Granted, one doesn't have to be an actor/rockstar/model to have a substance abuse problem; usually just being alive is enough to drive some of us to drink. And still, after watching Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" it's easy to believe that he gave a lot of himself to that role. It would have been so easy for Ledger to turn in a Jack Sparrow like interpretation of the character or take a dash of Jack Nicholson's Joker and embellish that-- but he didn't. And that is what makes Ledger's Golden Globe win mean something. He didn't win because he picked a showpiece role specifically chosen as an Academy Award winning vehicle. He didn't win because he died-- therefore garnering the sympathy vote. (Brandon Lee's role in "The Crow" could be compared to Ledger's as could his premature death, but Lee wasn't considered for an award because, while he was good, I don't believe his performance rose above the genre to the extent that it would have needed to be noticed by the award committees) In the end, Ledger was nominated, and won, a Golden Globe because he was exceptional. I also like that Ledger won the award for reasons beyond what I have stated so far. I love that a comic-book movie finds itself smack-dab in the middle of all the heavy (and pretentious IMO) dramas that make up the usual Hollywood award-season fare. I love that a great performance can shine through all the clutter and change expectations about what an "award winning" movie looks like. And I hope, I really hope, that I'm not deluding myself into an unrealistic expectation about Ledger's chance for an Academy Award nomination. But if he does get a nod, it will raise my opinion of Hollywood. A little.

9 comments:

Carl V. said...

I was very happy that he won and I hope to at the very least see him garner and Oscar nomination. It would give me something to bother watching for.

Must admit though, I was happy to see Slumdog Millionaire get honored. I'm a fan of Danny Boyle and enjoy the variety of stuff he puts out there.

SQT said...

I'm going to have to check out "Slumdog Millionaire." Sometimes it's the small ones that are the best.

T.D. Newton said...

Amen. And I don't use that word loosely.

Then again, we'll see how much Hollywood has loosened up against non-pretentious dramas when it comes time for the 2010 award shows.

I never watch them, honestly, because I only like when celebrities and pop culture icons get made fun of (like on The Soup), but I have heard that the Grammy awards are pretty much a parody these days. Seriously, when Amy Winehouse gets a Grammy, you know something has gone awry.

Back on topic, I loved The Dark Knight because it both had action and it made me think along the way. Most superhero movies go straight for the gut/gusto with punch after explosion, rarely tackling the "what is good and evil?" concept that makes their mythology so interesting.

Batman is a great vehicle for it because he's such a dark character to begin with; not quite sane due to childhood trauma but, in my opinion, making lemonade as best he can with his billions. I always liked Michael Keaton's Batman the most, but I think these newer portrayals of his dark side by Christian Bale are steadily taking over the #1 slot.

daydream said...

You know, I like serious movies, dramas and love/human tragedies, even if they are produced to get golden statuettes, which is a stupid reason really. For one it is a great experience, if done right and quite a well to work with, if you are a writer.

Comic book movies have been a bit on the special effects side and some quite the disaster to watch. Envision "Cat Woman", "Batman Foever" [the one with Poison Icy, *shudder*] and "Electra". But I find that "Dark Knight" is a movie that has the quality of a drama movie capsuled inside a great fantasy, where the concepts we keep talking about as good and evil, hesitation between choice. Amidst all the cool action, I as a viewer got a sense that there was more to it than playing around in battle armor.

"Dark Knight" is definitely going to go down in history and Heath Ledger blowed me away with that kind of performance. I think he went in clinical depression after staying in character for so long. You know how actors have to embrace the character before they play, well from what I have scavenged around the net, Heath took that to a whole new plain and his acting shows. This Jocker becomes my favorite. Even though this might sound superficial, I wish they had included Harley Quinn too...

SQT said...

T.D.

Yeah, the award shows are often so political that there isn't a lot of attention paid to quality or common sense. I guess this year's nominations have been full of the same B.S. if you believe the entertainment press. Lots of actors have been rumored to have been "blacklisted" if they don't play the game according to guild rules. (Variety had an article saying that a bunch of actors who didn't vote a certain way regarding a union issue were blacklisted from the Oscars-- don't know what's true though) I guess Ledger gets a pass because he died. I hate to think that's the only reason he might get a nomination but I suppose sometimes quality gets recognized unintentionally-- in Hollywood at least. (I worked there and have more than a little bit of cynicism regarding the town-- does it show ;)

Dzydream

I admit, I don't favor heavy dramas but some Oscar movies are really good. Last year's "No Country for Old Men" had me glued to my seat. But the "vehicle" movies seem contrived to me. I think the holocaust is a worthy subject for exploration, but they all do seem to pop up right at award time. This year alone you saw "The Reader," "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," "Defiance," and "Valkyrie." When you look at past Oscar winners you see a lot of holocaust films, "The Pianist," "Saving Private Ryan," "Shindler's List" and on and on. A lot of these are great movies but I still feel slightly manipulated by Hollywood because it is such a go-to subject for "serious" drama.

furiousBall said...

it definitely does matter, that was one of the top ten roles in film ever as far as i am concerned. it was magic every time he was on the screen, and i'm the last to coop someone else's misery to give me something to talk about. perfectly deserved.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana and I just watched The Dark Knight Sunday night and we both liked it. I agree that Ledger's performance in that was something special. It really left an impression and he definitely deserves kudos. So sad about his young death.

Smirking Revenge said...

I couldn't agree more. You took the words right out of my mouth.

And in response to the "vehicle" movies Chuck Lorre who is exec producer for the Big Bang Theory which is one of my fave shows had a great vanity card last night about Oscar time. http://www.chucklorre.com/index.php?p=235 Its good for a giggle or two if you didn't catch it.

Smirking Revenge said...

Oops, spoilers are present for anyone who hasn't seen Milk, The Reader, Doubt Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Defiance, The Wrestler, The Changeling, Gran Torino, Benjamin Button, or Rachel Getting Married. Just thought I should warn.