Before the Golden Globes ceremony, it was brought up on NBCChicago.com that it was odd that The Dark Knight didn't receive additional nominations aside from the recognition for Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. Now that the Academy Awards nominations have come out and The Dark Knight has a sturdy eight nominations, it is time to revisit the previous article and go into why the number of nominations even matters at all.
There have been over seventy posthumous Oscar nominations across in the history of the awards but only seven of these were for acting. Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Massimo Troisi in Il Postino, Jeanne Engels in The Letter, Peter Finch in Network and James Dean in Giant and East of Eden are the only actors before Ledger to receive posthumous acting nominations. The films Tracy, Finch and Dean performed in shortly before their deaths almost all belong to a group of high quality films that are generally regarded as superior to even most Oscar-nominated movies.
As for the five American films on the list, four of them earned a combined eight Oscars from a very respectable thirty four nominations and their critical acclaim did not end with their respective Oscar ceremonies. Three of the four films were listed among the Top 100 American films of all time in the American Film Institute's original 100 Years 100 Films list and a pair of the films even found places on the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, a list of movies and filmed artifacts that are deemed important enough to be preserved for future generations.
The other American film with a posthumous acting nomination, The Letter, had only one nomination and of the seven films it is arguably the least critically notable of the group.
While a film's greatness is not necessarily determined by placement on lists or the number of Oscar nominations it gets, had Ledger received The Dark Knight's only nomination, as was the case with the Golden Globes, it would either have been an example of a break in Academy tradition or a suggestion that it may have been an inappropriately awarded nomination.
Taking a step back for a moment, to be frank, as plenty of acting Oscars have been distributed to living actors for performances that within a few years became essentially forgettable, it does seem like a lot of fuss is being made over a performance many consider would have been a lock for an Oscar nomination even if Ledger had not passed away.
The important matter here, though, is not the nomination itself but the hope of protecting Ledger's legacy. In comparison to films like Network and Giant, which earned a total of ten nominations each including multiple acting nods, The Dark Knight and Ledger alike would have been distinctly separated from most of the pack if it only received a solitary acting nomination. With the company Ledger holds with this nomination, it is essentially imperative for his legacy's sake that the nomination is not seen as a deviation from the Academy's standards.
Additionally, as tragic as his death was, it would be an even more unfortunate to think the viewing public placed his legacy into a film that was only good because of his devotion and otherwise not noteworthy. The Dark Knight boasts a very impressive list of nominations, though, and from the recognized make-up artists, sound designers, and others, the list of nominees shows the diligent work of many not only contributed to a well produced final product but also demonstrates a number of deserving and committed artists helped support and strengthen how audiences ultimately saw and interpreted Ledger's performance.
Now that the nominations are out, regardless of who receives the award in the end, Ledger's legacy as a very talented and unique actor is slightly more secured in the chronicles of American cinema history thanks to all eight of The Dark Knight's Academy Award nominations.