By Danny King
By the time Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 The Dark Knight was finally seen by critics and audiences, talk of a posthumous Oscar reached a fever pitch. Naturally, the inclination to compare Ledger's work to past posthumous landmarks proved tempting, and many lists were compiled in the name of tracing the timeline of great posthumous performances.
Sadly, the recent passing of a series of notable performers -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker -- has again brought this on-screen occurrence to the fore. However, rather than merely rehashing a list with legendary performances that are already written in stone, the following list of 10 actors restricts its focus to the past several years, ideally making room for posthumous work both from major leading performers (like a Hoffman) and less-headline-friendly character actors.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man, et al.)
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman appeared in two new films at this year's Sundance Film Festival: A Most Wanted Man, director Anton Corbijn's John le Carré adaptation, and God's Pocket, the feature-directing debut of Mad Men star John Slattery. Both films will arrive in U.S. theaters soon (God's Pocket on May 9, A Most Wanted Man on July 25), but for those still feeling the effects of Hoffman's passing, it's a comfort to know that his work in the next two Hunger Games films remains on the horizon.
James Gandolfini (Enough Said, The Drop)
In the fall of 2013, Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said was released to universal acclaim, with James Gandolfini's recent death undoubtedly adding resonance and feeling to the movie's romantic coupling (Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays his sparring partner). His performance was so beloved, in fact, that there were brief predictions of a posthumous Oscar nomination. While that didn't materialize, the work still speaks for itself: In the words of the Voice's Stephanie Zacharek, "Gandolfini's charisma isn't something turned on at will, but a radio vibe that radiates from deep within. ... Part of what Gandolfini does here, of course, is acting; but sometimes acting is an intensification of just being." Gandolfini's posthumous film work continues later this year with the release of The Drop.
Paul Walker (Hours, Brick Mansions, Fast & Furious 7)
Less than a month after Paul Walker's sudden death in November 2013, Eric Heisserer's Hurricane Katrina drama Hours was released. The film is notable for requiring a more commanding dramatic presence from the normally low-key Walker. The Voice's Alan Scherstuhl writes the following of the film: "The late Paul Walker practiced the kind of manly American acting that often doesn't look like acting at all. ... Now ... Walker is starring in a film that demands the opposite of him. For once, he shows his work." Walker's posthumous output continued with the April 2014 release of Brick Mansions (a film whose vision of racial harmony takes full advantage of Walker's nice-guy persona) and will conclude with the planned 2015 release of Fast & Furious 7.
Cory Monteith (All the Wrong Reasons, McCanick)
Following his death in July 2013, two films featuring Cory Monteith premiered: Gia Milani's All the Wrong Reasons, which has thus far only been screened in Canada, and Josh C. Waller's McCanick, for which Monteith received several positive notices. The Voice's Inkoo Kang wrote that the film's main character, played by David Morse, "only comes to life when he's face-to-face with [Monteith's character]."
Roy Scheider (Iron Cross)
Almost two years after Roy Scheider's death in February 2008, Joshua Newton's Iron Cross, starring Scheider as a retired New York cop, received a one-week theatrical run for Oscar qualification. Nothing ever came of that, and though the film received mostly negative reviews, Scheider's work was typically well-received: For L.A. Weekly, Tim Grierson writes that the actor brought a "haunted gravitas" to his role.