In his brief career, Ledger made a lot of excellent films and, as happens, a fair amount of head scratchers. Here's a look back at The Best ... and The Rest. Terry Gilliam's new film, 'The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,' contains not only the fantastical contents of the notoriously unlucky writer-director's deranged mind, but also the final performance by the late, great Heath Ledger.
Though Ledger got his start in his native Australia, in popular TV shows like 'Home and Away' (which also gave Melissa George, Isla Fisher, and Guy Pearce early work), once he arrived in America, success came pretty fast. In his second American role, Ledger played son to Mel Gibson in 'The Patriot.' A lead role (and the adoration of young women) soon followed, with the postmodern 'A Knight's Tale,' but it was his co-starring turn in Marc Forster's gritty 'Monster's Ball' that made critics sit up and take notice.
Four years and five films later, Ledger's fearless and spot-on embodiment of closeted cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain' rocketed him to the top of Hollywood's A-List. Suddenly Ledger wasn't just a heartthrob with a few pictures under his tight leather belt. He was one of the finest actors of his generation. And just when it seemed like Ledger had gone as far as he could go, his stunningly unhinged Joker in Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' sent him even higher. Ledger's Joker mantra, 'Why so serious?' even became, for a while, something of a catch phrase.
But by the time that film came out, Ledger was already dead, the result of an accidental overdose of prescription medication. He died in New York on Jan. 22, 2008.
In his brief career, Ledger made a lot of excellent films and, as happens, a fair amount of head scratchers. Here's a look back at The Best ... and The Rest.
First, The Best.
Though Gilliam was able to finish his film by casting Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as alternate Ledgers, it's the real deal that brings the movie alive. Gilliam's whiz-bang steam punk gizmos are great, but it's Ledger that we can't take our eyes off.
If it weren't for The Joker, Ledger would be forever remembered for playing gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's Academy Award Winner, 'Brokeback Mountain.' It was Ledger's true breakout role, and an amazing whole body performance, as carefully contained as his Joker was unhinged.
Todd Haynes' 'I'm Not There,' a radical reinvention of the biopic form, featured several different actors playing versions of notoriously hard-to-pin-down folk legend Bob Dylan. In the movie, Ledger, opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg, plays an actor playing Dylan in the film within the film.
People either love or hate Catherine Hardwicke's ('Twilight') 'Lords of Dogtown.' Whichever side of the fence you may sit on, we can all agree that Ledger is the best thing in it.
Ledger's first time working with Terry Gilliam went a bit more smoothly than 'Imaginarium,' but produced less interesting results. Ledger and Matt Damon have great screen chemistry as the notorious tall-tale tellers, 'The Brothers Grimm.'
An intensely personal tale of recreational drug use gone awry, 'Candy' brought Ledger together with fellow beautiful Aussie, Abbie Cornish. They were good together, but it wasn't enough to save the movie.
When Ledger teamed up with filmmaker Brian Helgeland for 'A Knight's Tale,' the two struck gold. This time out, on 'The Order,' they struck more of a brick wall, with a dazzlingly unfocused, almost muddy movie. Ledger still holds the screen (he's never not held the screen), but can't keep the cracks of his paper thin character from showing.