It's been five years since we got the bad news. Heath Ledger's passing was one of the most surprising and upsetting celebrity deaths of recent years, because unlike other troubled performers who died too young, Heath always seemed to have it together.
The news broke during the Sundance Film Festival of 2008, casting a dark pall over the festivities as industry insiders and fans collectively mourned one of the most talented actors of his generation. There was a sense that we had been robbed — of maybe a dozen or more great performances that we would now never see from the charismatic actor. We always think talented young stars are "gone too soon" but with Heath, there was truly a sense that he was just hitting his prime. His first Oscar win would be posthumous.
Even so, Heath left us with a handful of unforgettable screen performances in his much-too-short career. Here are the 5 best.
5. A Knight's Tale
What might have been just a silly kiddie flick with anachronistic music and dancing is made totally watchable with Heath's charisma. He's a peasant pretending to be a knight and romancing a lady of nobility played by Shannyn Sossamon. It's the rare movie that gives us Heath Ledger both dancing and jousting, and it's a nice reminder of Heath's lighter side when he is typically remembered for his broodier perfrormances.
Heath's Best Scene: This one, in which Heath and company dance to David Bowie just like people really did back in the 14th century.
4. I'm Not There
Heath plays Robbie Clark, an actor playing a Bob Dylan-like figure whose romance with Charlotte Gainsbourg is chronicled through Dylan's music, both in its ups and its downs. It co-starred his real-life wife Michelle Williams as they were going through their own marital problems.
Heath's Best Scene: This one, a montage of Heath and Charlotte's characters falling for each other, which makes falling in love with Heath Ledger look seriously appealing.
3. 10 Things I Hate About You
Is it possible to go back and give the casting director of this teen romcom a huge bonus? Or at least a gourmet cookie? In addition to a breakout performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 10 Things I Hate About You was America's introduction to the charms of Heath Ledger.
Heath's Best Scene: This one, in which Heath serenades Julia Stiles with "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" during soccer practice (and while eventually evading the cops). Not only did he earn Julia's affection, but he came a star in our eyes, too.
2. Brokeback Mountain
One of the best love stories of the past decade has Heath as a rancher, ashamed of his affair with Jake Gyllenhaal, leading him to play it straight with Michelle Williams instead. Heath got a real-life love out of the film too, as he married and had a daughter with Michelle — as well as his first Oscar nod for this role.
Heath's Best Scene: Um, they're all pretty great. But this one, in which Jack and Ennis are reunited, runs the gamut of emotions as Ennis embraces his "friend," has to fight the urge to kiss him, and then goes for it anyway. Following an intense moment of passion he comes back to his senses and has to awkwardly introduce Jack to his wife.
1. The Dark Knight
Who's surprised to see this at the top of the list? No one? Good. Heath's posthumous Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor was no sympathy trophy. He undoubtedly would have won for this role regardless, as he stepped into a role that had already been made iconic by other actors such as Jack Nicholson and gave it a remarkable new twist. His maniac Joker is one of the scariest screen villains ever, all thaks to the way Heath chose to play the part.
Heath's Best Scene: There are so many! They're all so good! This one, in which The Joker teases about his backstory, featuring his infamous "Why so serious?" monologue, may be the best. But we're also partial to the one where he visits Harvey Dent in the hospital dressed as a deranged nurse (right before blowing the hospital up).
What's your favorite Heath Ledger performance?