I am in love with a 62 year old woman. If you let me explain it won’t sound as bad as you undoubtedly think.
Before I came to South Dakota State in order to work my way through the pre-med track, I had big dreams of becoming a motion picture director and screenwriter. If you were to ask me back then what one person I would have wanted to work with my answer would have been a quick one: Meryl Streep. That simple answer has not changed over the last several years. With each passing year, Streep gives another great performance that reminds me all over again why I love her so much. She’s never the same and she has the unique ability to act both drama and comedy with ease. The idea of an actress creating a body of work that is unsurpassed by another other actor or actress, past or present, is mind-boggling. For those of you who know little about Streep, I will tell you a little bit about her so that you may see where my admiration comes from.
Streep entered Hollywood in 1977 with a bit part in the film Julia, opposite Jane Fonda. Just a year later, Streep starred in the 1978 Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year she actually won the award for her role in the 1979 Best Picture winner Kramer vs. Kramer. Three years later, in 1982, Streep gave the greatest screen performance of all time in Sophie’s Choice and earned a Best Actress Oscar. From then on Streep didn’t look back. Since then she has won 5 Golden Globes, 2 Screen Actors Guild awards, an Emmy, and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She even had the distinguished honor of being a Kennedy Center Honoree earlier this year. Since 1982, however, Streep hasn’t won another Oscar. She’s been nominated a total of 13 times since but she has managed to go home empty handed each time, losing for such memorable performances in Silkwood, The Bridges of Madison County, The Devil Wears Prada, and Julie & Julia.
So why would I bring this last fact up now? Well, Streep recently garnered her 17th nomination for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Think about it: that’s 17 nominations in her 34 year career, which averages out to about a nomination every other year. So, the question has to be asked: will Streep finally win another Best Actress Oscar after nearly 30 years of waiting? The answer to that question is not quite evident as the Best Actress Oscar race seems to be down to Viola Davis and Streep. Still, I think it the correct time to take note of some of Streep’s finest work. So, I’ve decided to pick her 10 best performances. It’s hard to pick just ten but I hope the performances listed will force more people to this legendary actress.
10. Music of the Heart
Roberta Guaspari: “I want you all to play from your heart. Forget about the audience, watch me, you'll do just fine. Just play from here.”
This film is perhaps the most interesting entry on this list. Director Wes Craven, known for genre-defining horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes, agreed to direct Scream 3 only if he were allowed to make this 1999 film. It’s a complete departure for Craven, but his choice to cast Streep is a great one. Streep learned to play violin for the movie by practicing for six hours a day for four weeks. It all just goes to show that she does, indeed, seem to be capable of doing anything. On a personal level, it’s an important film that stresses the importance of music in schools.
9. The Manchurian Candidate
Eleanor Shaw: “Make no mistake. The American people are terrified. They know something's coming… we can either shovel them the same old shit and call it sugar or we can arm them...”
It’s hard to make a good remake, let alone a remake of one of the greatest political thrillers of all time. Director Jonathan Demme was smart with this remake, though, choosing to create a largely new storyline for his update. He cast Denzel Washington and Liev Scheiber in the lead roles and both are fine, but as usual it is Meryl who steals the spotlight as an ambitious politician anxious to see her son as a political leader. Streep seems to be drawing from some of the most influential woman politicians of our time (namely Hillary Clinton) and she re-creates the original role altogether.
8. Julie & Julia
Julia Child: “I'm Julia Child. Bon appetit!”
Streep re-teamed with director Nora Ephron and gave audiences her interpretation of chef Julia Child. Streep’s brilliance lies in the fact that she doesn’t simply do an impersonation of Child. Instead, she makes the character her own. There’s enough of the real Julia Child in the character, but there seems to be more of Streep’s own creative genius and that’s what works. Streep is also great alongside Stanley Tucci, her costar from The Devil Wears Prada. The film is not a great one, however, and I would have preferred to see just a picture about Julia Child. Still, the film is pure magic when Meryl is onscreen.
7. The Iron Lady
Margaret Thatcher: “It used to be about trying to do something. Now it's about trying to be someone.”
Streep’s newest role finds her portraying one of the most polarizing figures in England’s history. So why wouldn’t a British actress, and not an American actress, play such a prolific figure? For me, the simple answer is because nobody can do it better than Streep. Like many of the films Streep is involved in, The Iron Lady is an uneven film but Streep’s performance is breathtaking. She nails Thatcher’s trademark voice and look and portrays a once strong woman that has been left to suffer from older age and dementia. The opening sequence alone, with Streep aged some 20 years, should be indication enough that she deserves this year’s Best Actress Oscar. It is a tour-de-force performance that only an acting giant like Streep could deliver.
6. Postcards From the Edge
Suzanne Vale: “You said you loved me. What was it, a viral love?”
As shown by this list, Streep has a talent to play both comedic and dramatic characters. Her performance in Postcards From the Edge not only shows us her more comedic side, but is also shows audiences her great singing ability. Streep plays Suzanne Vale, who is a semi-autobiographical version of Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, whose memoir served as the source material for this film. Streep, who teamed up with directing favorite Mike Nichols, is great opposite acting legend Shirley MacLaine and the entire supporting cast is carefully considered.
5. The Hours
Clarissa Vaughn: “That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other.”
The three women in The Hours take their roles and turn around to give some of the best work of their respective careers. Both Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore were nominated for Oscars in 2002 (Kidman won), but somehow Streep was left out. She was instead nominated for Adaptation, which is a great performance in itself, but in my eyes she was the standout from The Hours. The adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel is so rich and so detailed that many actresses would have been weighed down by the material. Streep, though, is brilliant. She brings the film into the modern day and creates a character that has suffered more pain and heartbreak than anybody is ever let to know. Again, Meryl helps all of her costars deliver great performances, with everybody from Ed Harris to Claire Daines benefiting from her talent.
4. The Devil Wears Prada
Miranda Priestly: “Oh, don't be ridiculous. Andrea. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”
Meryl turned this little summer movie into one of the biggest box office successes of the year and, in the process, showed a new generation her talent. It’s undoubtedly Streep’s best comedic role and while the character seems to be a send up of the entire fashion industry, Streep manages to place perfect moments of drama within the film. She seems to make everyone around her so much better and we end up rooting for the character that is supposed to be the villain. Streep takes away that villainous label though, stripping the character bare and allowing the audience to see hidden things about her.
3. Kramer vs. Kramer
Joanna Kramer: “I came here to take my son home. And I realized he already is home.”
Streep was a relative newcomer when she starred in this Best Picture winner alongside Dustin Hoffman. Her part isn’t that large but her moments are incredibly memorable. Of all the performances Streep has given, this is perhaps the hardest to like, simply because she stars as a mother that walks out on her child. Still, the character draws you in. Streep plays the mother so that we sympathize with her on some level. We realize, perhaps as Streep’s character does, that she loves her son so much that she has no choice but to let him go.
2. Sophie’s Choice
Sophie Zawistowska: “I can't choose! Please! I can't choose!”
It is a role that is considered by many to be the finest lead actress performance of all time and I would agree completely. It’s worth remembering that Meryl made her Hollywood debut in 1977 and just five years later she turned in one of the screen’s most memorable performances. She’s heartbreaking as the lead character whose dark past is filled with secrets that the audience learns as the film progresses. The entire film isn’t exactly the strongest, but Streep’s gives the kind of performance that all actors and actresses should dream of giving. It is, in my opinion, acting at its greatest.
1. Angels in America
Hannah Pitt: “What you want, what you want. Well, that shifts with the breeze. How can you steer your life by what you want? Hold to what you believe!”
The performance I’ve picked as Streep’s best is actually four performances together, one of which is as a man. The HBO adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tony Kushner was a TV event for the ages, showcasing career defining work from Streep, Al Pacino, and director Mike Nichols. The miniseries is about the AIDS crisis in the 80’s and the political and social climate present at that time. Streep plays Hannah Pitt, Ethel Rosenberg, a male rabbi, and the Angel Australia. If ever there were a project to showcase the complete talent of this actress it would be Angels in America. The differences in each character allow Streep to showcase her ability for both drama and comedy. Her performance as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is probably her best, but throughout the entire series Streep is always the actress that you cannot wait to see onscreen. She would win a Best Actress Emmy in 2003 for her work here.