Thanks to The Dark Knight,

you might actually care about the Oscars next year. Though summer

blockbusters don’t usually show up in the big races at the Academy

Awards, the film’s glowing reviews make it a possible contender in the

Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay categories, and it will surely

be considered a front-runner for technical prizes. But its greatest

Oscar hope has to be Heath Ledger, who’ll likely become the

seventh-ever posthumous acting nominee for his mesmerizing performance

as the Joker. And it’s safe to say that several million Dark Knight fans would tune in to the telecast to see if he can become the second such winner (after Network‘s Peter Finch in 1977).

The Academy Awards could use the boost. For the last several years,

the gala has been filled with lesser-known nominees and seen its

ratings plummet. This past ceremony, all four acting winners were

foreigners, only one major-category victor (Juno) grossed more than $75 million—and the show attracted an all-time-low audience of 32 million.

Next year’s telecast could end up being quite the A-list affair. Possible contenders include Brad Pitt, who ages in reverse for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Angelina Jolie, playing the mother of a missing child in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling; Will Smith, reteaming with Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino, in the character study Seven Pounds; Nicole Kidman, once more under the tutelage of Moulin Rouge maestro Baz Luhrmann in the epic Australia; and the Titanic duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who’ll reunite for the first time in the suburban drama Revolutionary Road.

Of course, not all of next year’s nomination slots will be filled by blockbusters. But the presence of hits like The Dark Knight

could go a long way toward keeping Oscar viewers from changing the

Bat-channel. What say you, PopWatchers? Does Ledger deserve to be in

the running for an Oscar nod? If the Academy starts paying more

attention to well-crafted popcorn flicks, would it raise your overall

interest in the Oscar telecast? (And if you can’t wait for this week’s

EW cover story on The Dark Knight, by all means click here and read it online!)