4. Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain
Yes, I hear you clamoring for The Joker, but here’s some context for this up-for-debate choice… I have loved Heath Ledger since I was 12 years old. I rented 10 Things About You enough times from the video store that my parents finally gave in and bought the darn thing. I had a beta fish in high school named Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein of Gelderland (Ledger’s character’s fake jousting name in A Knight’s Tale). My first full-length (yet to be optioned) script had a lead written specifically for him (what mad dreams teenage girls weave). When Brokeback Mountain came out in theaters, I dragged my mother far upstate (or at least somewhere beyond our native New Hampshire seacoast) in the middle of New England winter to see the tale of two Midwestern cowboys finding love in an unexpected place. Suffice it to write, I was floored. I had never seen a performance as subtle, as nuanced, before and from someone I clearly, most probably overly, admired.
I remember reading somewhere around that time a piece in which either Ledger or a writer said that Ledger’s performance as Ennis Del Mar came from his mouth, that all of his acting attention and ability focused on his mouth and the rest came from that. And you can find it in Ennis and even in Ledger’s later, more lauded performance of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Ennis is a man from a conservative Americana background, close-lipped about his opinions let alone his actual feelings. You see that struggle in Ledger’s jaw every time he has words to speak, and crumble when it hits anything on his emotions for Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). Ledger’s performance is heartbreaking, heart-wrenching and love-affirming.