Meryl Streep and the Oscars: A Very Long Love Affair
There seems to be a consensus between public opinion, critics and industry in claiming Meryl Streep as the greatest living actress on Earth. It is not without justification that Meryl has become the person with the highest number of nominations in acting categories in the history of the Oscars, receiving 17 nominations in over 30 years of a professional career, and joining Jack Nicholson and Ingrid Bergman in the three-times-acting-winner pantheon.
Receiving her first two at a young age and an early part of her career, Meryl went on to have a nearly 30-year long wait for her next Oscar, with lots of nominations in between. Every year for 29 years, although Meryl was a safe bet for a nomination, she too became a loser. The fact that she is always crafting from good to unforgettable performances ended up downplaying her chances, because, why award her now if you can award some other actress who may not have another chance later?
She was also thoroughly criticized for not choosing the best projects to work in, which is evident when you note the fact that she hasn’t been nominated for any movie receiving a Best Picture nomination since 1986 (Out of Africa). She also appeared in some not-so-well received projects like Mamma Mia!, Lions for Lambs and It’s Complicated.
Meryl, however, has not had enough. This year, she will try to join legend Katharine Hepburn, the person with the most Oscars ever in the acting categories, with four. Meryl’s bet this year is her turn as troubled mother Violet Weston in the John Wells-directed dark comedy August: Osage County. Before A:OC hits the theatres, AwardsWatch recounts Meryl’s extensive history with the Oscars and the particulars of each year.
After debuting one year before in cinema with Julia, Meryl Streep got a small but important role in 1978 critical darling The Deer Hunter. As a woman divided between love for her fiancé and attraction to his best friend, Meryl captivated the critics and announced, with loud drum rolls, her arrival to Hollywood. That year, Meryl, Maggie Smith in California Suite and Maureen Stapleton in Interiors divided most of the critics awards, arriving at the Oscars with similar odds in their favor. But when the time came to give the golden man, it was the most experienced and previous winner Maggie Smith who prevailed.
If 1978 saw Meryl arriving to Hollywood, it was 1979 that established her early on as one of the most important actresses of her generation. Three roles, all acclaimed, earned Meryl most of the critics award of the year: Kramer vs Kramer, Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Success with critics put her first in line for the Oscars, and that position was reinforced when Kramer vs Kramer received the most nominations that year—it eventually won Best Picture. At the end, Meryl won her first Oscar with barely her fifth film and second nomination. It was the beginning of a long, long, long, love affair between the Academy and Ms. Streep.
After earning her first Oscar, Meryl was ready to become a leading actress. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, based on the novel by John Fowles, Meryl plays two characters—a woman who is abandoned by her husband and rejected by society in 1823, and the actress who plays that woman in a film in 1980. Meryl dazzled the critics and received awards from LAFCA (Los Angeles critics), Golden Globes and BAFTA. However, the Academy went for the legendary Katharine Hepburn, who in On Golden Pond gave one of her last performances in the big screen. The industry got together to give her her fourth and last Oscar.
In her fourth nomination in just five years, Meryl Streep, was a mere 33-years old, earned her second statuette, this time in the Leading Actress category, after winning all awards of the season with exception of the BAFTA. Her performance in Sophie’s Choice was the talk of the town: not only did she speak three different languages during the film but she perfected them with flawless accents and was able to express emotions through them. Set in the Holocaust, Sophie’s Choice’s script gave her plenty to chew on, from calm moments to intense drama , in particular the now-engrained-in-pop-culture scene the title alludes to, where she has to choose. Meryl’s performance in Sophie’s Choice would go on to become, by consensus, the best female performance of all time, and the bar all Streep performances would be measured to.
In her first of four collaborations with director Mike Nichols, Meryl earned her fifth Oscar nomination for Silkwood, and became the second youngest actress to do so after Bette Davis—she would become third when Kate Winslet came. Her performance as a woman who investigates irregularities in a plutonium-producing facility was highlighted for being naturalistic. The Oscar was given to Shirley MacLaine, who was on her sixth nomination and was seen as largely overdue. With Terms of Endearment, MacLaine ended a four-decade long losing streak. She was never nominated again.
It was a non-consensus year in the Leading Actress category. Each of the four big critics groups (NSFC, LAFCA, NYFCC and NBR), had awarded a different actress, and when Out of Africa entered the Oscars as a favorite after earning twelve nominations, it seemed logical that Meryl would win along with it. But Meryl had just won four years ago, she had two Oscars already, she was young and had a long career ahead of her, whilst Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful), who would eventually take home the statuette, had collected eight Oscar noms without a single win, and was regarded as a living legend in the industry. Page would die a year later.
Even though Ironweed was anything but successful, and even though she didn’t receive much recognition during the awards season, Meryl got her seventh nomination as a vagabond becoming the only friend of a drunk man during the Great Depression—and she earned her status as the go-to actress, the filler, when the Academy didn’t know what else to nominate. The eventual winner would be Cher, who had proven great acting talent and had an Oscar nom already, plus the Best Actress prize at Cannes. She captivated the critics with Moonstruck and in her speech thanked Meryl for the advices she gave her when they filmed Silkwood years before.
Just as in 1986, there wasn’t a consensus between the critics award in the Leading Actress category. Meryl earned A Cry in the Dark’s sole nomination. The story about an Australian mother who loses her child was a box office flop but Meryl shined away largely due to her well-crafted accent. Lack of support of the film plus strong competition kept Meryl away from the Oscar, though. Jodie Foster, who starred in The Accused was the sensation in Hollywood at that time. The film had been a box office success and she was arguably in the peak of her career. She won her first of two Oscars—the second would come two years later with The Silence of the Lambs.
Postcards from the Edge was one of Meryl’s first forays into comedy, and a new opportunity to work with her great friend, director Mike Nichols. As an actress struggling with her drug addiction and her famous possessive mother—it’s based on Carrie Fisher’s autobiography—, Meryl was praised for her comedic chops although the film itself wasn’t very well received. The Oscar race saw Anjelica Houston (The Grifters) winning most of the critics awards, but it was Kathy Bates, for her frightening role in Misery, who ended up with the golden man in her hands.
After five years without a single nom—her longest period to date—Meryl played the Italian wife of a war combatant in Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County. Despite box office and critical success, the only nom the film got was for Meryl and history repeated itself. As in 1984—it would happen again in 2009 with Kate Winslet—, the actress Meryl was competing with was seen as overdue. Susan Sarandon had earned her fifth nomination, all in the leading category, with Dead Man Walking, and she was the one taking the gold. Like MacLaine in 1984, too, she was never nominated again.
One of her most obvious filler noms, Meryl’s good-enough-but-nothing-outstanding performance as a perfect housewife whose life changes when she’s diagnosed with cancer in One True Thing was completely overshadowed by all her competitors. Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie) and Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) split the critics award but it was the strong campaign Harvey Weinstein mounted for Shakespeare in Love that ultimately resulted in a shocking win not only for the film but also for young startlet Gwyneth Paltrow.
Meryl Streep’s twelfth nomination was technically historic. The performance for which the nomination was received, though, was anything but. She became one of the most nominated people in the acting categories alongside Jack Nicholson and Katharine Hepburn, but her weak performance in Music of the Heart, a film trashed by critics, generated animosity in some sectors towards an actress that wasn’t bringing it all to the table and still got recognition from the Academy. In the end, the race was really tight between Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry) and frontrunner Annette Bening (American Beauty), who ended up losing to Swank’s portrayal of a transsexual woman.
With Adaptation., Meryl received her thirteenth nomination and her first in the Supporting category since 1980, becoming the most nominated actress in history. After starring in a number of mediocre films in the late 90s and receiving two nominations that many agreed she didn’t deserve, her role in Adaptation. revived interest in her career, and she would soon get love again from both critics and audiences. Despite being a favorite in the race and receiving many critics awards, her performance was overshadowed by one flamboyant Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago. She also benefited from having her film being the Best Picture winner.
As the abusive and frightening editor of Vogue Magazine Miranda Priestly, Meryl produced one of the most memorable performances of her career in The Devil Wears Prada, reaching a new generation that hadn’t known most of her body of work. However, it was Helen Mirren with her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen who received absolutely every single award of the season, something that hadn’t happened ever since Meryl achieved the feat with Sophie’s Choice.
Early on in the awards season, it was known that this would be Kate Winslet’s year. Her sixth Oscar nomination would undoubtedly come but it could be either for Revolutionary Road, her reteaming with Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, for which she would compete in the leading category; or for The Reader. Her role in The Reader, though, was awarded in some groups as a leading roles and it most of them as supporting. Meryl was playing that year an strict and unbreakable nun in the film adaptation of the play Doubt, and many thought that, if Winslet was not nominated for The Reader (in supporting), the leading Oscar would go to Meryl. The category confusion ended sadly for Streep, as in Oscar morning Winslet was announced as a nominee in the leading category for The Reader. The Oscar was hers.
While campaigning in 2009 for the Oscar, Meryl announced she would play beloved American chef Julia Child in her friend Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia. She instantly became a frontrunner in advance, and when awards season came she did earn some critics awards. Slowly and steadily, though, Sandra Bullock and her box office giant The Blind Side started being thrown more and more often into the mix. Even though Sandra’s performance was for many below Meryl’s, she was renowned in the industry as one true movie star beloved by the audience who had finally achieved a performance decent enough to have recognition from the Academy. While Julie & Julia received only Meryl’s nomination, The Blind Side got a surprising nomination for Best Picture, and then it was a done deal.
It seemed impossible. One whole generation of Oscar followers had never seen Meryl Streep live winning an Oscar, and she had lost so many, many times, that we all thought we would see her in the podium again once she received an honorary award. Awards season began with a clear favorite. Viola Davis, previously nominated alongside Meryl for Doubt, had starred in The Help, a little film about racism in the United States in the 60s that had become a box office phenomenon. Viola seemed poised to make history alongside co-star Octavia Spencer as the first African-American duo of females to win the same night. Meryl, however, had an ace up her sleeve. Her role as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in bio-pic The Iron Lady was widely perceived as her best attempt at Oscar glory in a long time, with a role that big and controversial. The film, however, opened late year to mixed reviews and the precursor awards were divided between Viola and Meryl, with the former earning the very important SAG and the latter the very important BAFTA. Would Viola become the second African-American to earn a Leading Actress Oscar? Or would Meryl finally get her third? Colin Firth opened the envelope and as soon as the name was announced, cheers, screams and a long standing ovation led to Ms. Streep giving the most memorable speech of the night. It came true!
It wasn’t long for connoisseurs of the Oscar race to start wondering what new Meryl project would put her on the run again, and if the Academy would respond to her once more after she was given her “due”. The answer came fast. August: Osage County, which opens later this year, and based on one of the most acclaimed plays of recent times, encounters Meryl as a mother with a medicine addiction who has to confront one of her daughters after her husband goes missing. In one intense role that earned Deanna Dunagan a Tony award, Meryl’s performance has been received enthusiastically among a cold reception for the film itself. Even though the ones who pen it as one of Meryl career’s-best are not many, considering her status in the industry, we can already count on the Academy giving Meryl a once-again record-breaking eighteenth nomination.
Although Meryl’s chances for the win don’t look so good right now considering her competition (internal competition from Julia Roberts and acclaimed performances by actresses like Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and Sandra Bullock in Gravity), it wouldn’t be unexpected if she eventually earned her fourth, especially if it’s closer to her retirement from acting (if she ever does retire). She’s expected to give performances next in The Homesman, The Giver and Into the Woods, the film adaptation of the acclaimed musical where she will play an evil witch in a role pundits are already predicting to make a splash in the 2015 Oscars. Even if she doesn’t, Meryl will go down in history as one of the biggest stars of cinema ever, period. No need to worry about her legacy. – Luis Raguá and Cristian Villa
[author ]Luis Raguá and Cristian Villa are from Colombia (not Columbia) and they are the founding fathers of Spanish-language film blogging website Fílmicas. An anthropologist and a chemist, they have collaborated together since 2010. If they ever win an Oscar, they would probably give it to Meryl Streep. Or Kate Winslet. Definitely Kate Winslet.[/author]