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Friday, July 04, 2008 

Why So...Villainous???

It's hard to believe that the last time Bat-Mania gripped this country in such a way was almost 20 years ago. On June 23, 1989 Tim Burton's whacked-out vision of Bob Kane’s most culturally significant creation opened in theaters with Michael Keaton as eccentric billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne/caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. By the time the BATMAN movie and the multitude of subsequent marketing tie-ins (everything from toys, t-shirts, the Skidz pants, MTV's Batmobile giveaway and anything else you can think of) had taken the world by storm, I had ingested nearly everything I could get my 13-year old hands on in the year and a half prior since learning the film was being put into production, including the campy albeit still entertaining ‘60s Adam West/Burt Ward television series. As it turns out, it was an excellent time to kick my comic collecting into full gear. '87-'89, whether intentional or not, turned out to be the most creative and influential years in the Batman mythos as I had ever experienced as a collector of any single comic book character. Beginning with BATMAN: YEAR ONE (Batman issues 404-407, written by Frank Miller and is the work that inspired me to go back and find individual issues of '86's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, also by Miller) in '87, followed by the Alan Moore (V FOR VENDETTA) Joker "origin" story/graphic novel THE KILLING JOKE, The Joker murdering the second Robin, Jason Todd, in '88's A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (Batman issues 426-428) and finally Grant Morrison's (HELLBLAZER, which was adapted and became the Keanu Reeves vehicle, CONSTANTINE) ARKHAM ASYLUM.



As a nearly lifelong fan of all things Batman, never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that a movie this mature with such a great cast of acting talent featuring these characters would ever be made or that someone would care enough or be able to give such a great portrayal of Bats' most famous nemesis that it would potentially garner attention from the Academy. But right now, that's the buzz. And honestly, it comes as no surprise. Ever since I first saw stills of Heath Ledger in his rained-on, wind-streaked Joker makeup and especially after I heard his voice in the first THE DARK KNIGHT teaser trailer, I had the utmost confidence (confidence Christopher Nolan rightfully earned with BATMAN BEGINS) that Ledger (who I am not ashamed to admit won me over in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) would commit himself to the type of performance that would make moviegoers all but forget Jack Nicholson's hammy and over-the-top performance and finally portray the Joker correctly; as the psychopathic murderer and violent sociopath that I remembered from his appearances in the comics I named above that I loved so well. The more footage I see and the more word-of-mouth I hear from people who have been lucky enough to see advanced screenings, the more my suspicions are confirmed. There are those that say the odds are against him. They cite that only one actor has ever won an Oscar posthumously (Peter Finch, Best Actor in 1976 for NETWORK) and conventional wisdom says that the Academy generally doesn't award actors who are playing the "bad guy." That may have been the case in the past but in my lifetime, that stance has significantly, substantially and obviously softened. Here are five notable winners who weren't exactly sympathetic or heroic yet still took home that golden statuette:

BEST ACTOR – 1991 – ANTHONY HOPKINS, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (dir. Jonathan Demme)


Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector (Anthony Hopkins) mentally breaks down FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster): "You know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube."


BEST ACTOR – 2001 – DENZEL WASHINGTON, TRAINING DAY (dir. Antoine Fuqua)


Crooked cop Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) shows his rookie partner, Jake (Ethan Hawke) the ropes on his first day: "You lucky..If I ain't have more pressing business I'd cut your fuckin' dick off and stick it right up that little funky ass of yours, bitch!"


BEST ACTOR – 2006 – FOREST WHITAKER, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (dir. Kevin McDonald)


Director Kevin McDonald talks about casting Forest Whitaker as reviled and brutal dictator Idi Amin: ”He actually said to me, 'You don't think I can be angry enough, do you?'"


BEST ACTOR – 2007 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)


Ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) finally enters the relgiously fanatical Paul Sunday’s (Paul Dano) church to seek “salvation”: “I am a sinner. I AM A SINNER. I’m sorry, Lord.”


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 2007 – JAVIER BARDEM, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)


Unsettling hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) creepily toys with a potential victim, a small gas station owner (Gene Jones): "What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss? Call it. Just call it. You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair.”

Of course, I’m reserving final judgment until I actually see THE DARK KNIGHT on July 18 but I’d say Heath Ledger has more of a shot at Oscar gold than people seem to think.