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Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger?

When Heath Ledger played the Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and won a posthumous Oscar a year later, his take on the green-haired, clown-faced Batman supervillain set a garishly high bar for anyone who dared to play the character after him. 

Then Joaquin Phoenix colored his hair, slapped on some face paint and perfected a maniacal cackle. It’s not exactly the cinematic equivalent of “Hold my beer” but pretty close.

When the 92nd Academy Awards goes down Sunday night (ABC, 8 EST/5 PST), Phoenix is expected to win the best actor Oscar for “Joker” – and the only person who may be able to stop him is a Caped Crusader crashing through the Dolby Theatre roof. If victorious, it’ll be only the second time in history two actors have scored an Academy Award playing the same character: “The Godfather” star Marlon Brando took best actor in 1973 for Mafia boss Vito Corleone, the role that garnered Robert De Niro a supporting actor trophy two years later for “The Godfather: Part II.”

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The heavyweight debate about the best Don Corleone is for another time. More of the moment is who will history view as the best Joker of them all: Ledger, whose legend has lived on far past his fatal overdose, or his friend Phoenix, who’s called Ledger “my favorite actor”?

Even with an Oscar win this weekend, Ledger’s legacy is undoubtedly safe.

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