Well, I finally saw the movie last night and, as today is my day off, have taken the hours necessary
to wade through this entire thread.
I rated the film excellent and enough has been written about why it deserves that ranking, so I won't gild the lily. But I've just got to respond to the general tenor of remarks (here and elsewhere) about Heath Ledger:
Ledger gave a very well-done, nicely nuanced performance. But to call it Oscar-worthy is a stretch. Like a few others, I truly believe that notion started as typical studio hype and gained credibility with most folk due to the actor's unfortunate death. To call it the best ever performance of a villain is simply hyperbole and to compare Jack Nicholson's Joker with Ledger's unfavorably is just wrong, IMO.
The Ledger Joker is the product of a combination of Mr. Ledger's own not-inconsiderable skills, a top-notch script and a certain directorial approach. Likewise, Nicholson's Joker was what was called for by Tim Burton. Had scripts and direction been more similar, I think most folks would be saying how Ledger didn't quite measure up to Nicholson's mark. My wife and I both thought that Ledger's performance owed a good deal to Nicholson's. In fact, at one point during the film, she leaned over to me and whispered, "He's not acting, he's channeling Nicholson!" And she's no Nicholson fan, btw.
(Slightly off-topic, whoever it was that said Nicholson's work for the last 25 years has consisted of "Look at me -- I'm ACTING" needs to go back and watch some of Nicholson's more serious films. Say, "The Pledge" or "About Schmidt.)
So in my book, Ledger did a better than competent job and his death is sad but all this Oscar talk is simple Hollywood mawkishness. And there's no way he touches Jack Nicholson's skill as an actor.
Still, damn good flick!