For this week's gold man column, we're skipping the general overview and getting really specific. Who doesn't enjoy a good zoom in on Meryl Streep? The Iron Lady, her Margaret Thatcher biopic performances, begins screening very soon -- they moved the release date back but not the screenings. So we need to discuss this before it does and the focus shifts from groundless speculation to case evidence.
Every time I've floated the notion that Meryl Streep cannot be an Iron Lock for a Best Actress nomination since her film has not been seen, people object. "But Meryl is ALWAYS nominated," sayeth everyone. Not so, not so. While it's true that The World's Greatest Actress™ seems as much a can't miss prospect in Best Actress as she did in the 80s what with nominations for Prada, Doubt and Julia fresh in our minds, she has missed the shortlist. Yes, even THE MOST NOMINATED is not always nominated. Some of those roles even looked good on paper and in some of them she was marvelous onscreen. If there'd been Oscar blogs back in in the 80s and 90s, for example, pundits would've leaned on her whilst predicting each and every year with as much lazy force as voters do when balloting. There is no such thing as someone who is Oscar-nominated for everything they've ever done -- unless they only made one film or their name is Stephen Daldry (three-for-three thus far in Best Director). Even James Dean, who famously received two post-humous Oscar nominations, was only nominated for 66% of his three iconic film roles...
...yeah, yeah. true, true. okay, okay...
You can't be nominated in the same acting category twice in one year so theoretically Dean could have been nominated for Rebel Without a Cause if it hadn't been for East of Eden. This is an important point which we will discuss in the following "snub" list.
25 Streep Roles That Weren't Oscar Nominated
"Anne Marie" is really just a cameo (two scenes) but it's magically fitting that this then unknown actress's first screen role was opposite two acting legends: Jane Fonda & Vanessa Redgrave (a probable Best Supporting Actress this year as she is quite sensational in Coriolanus). For most people the only way is down from there but for Meryl she's all, like, 'hey shove over. I'm here!' If she felt intimidated it doesn't remotely show in her haughty, funny, scene-stealing bit. But only important actors get nominated for cameos, even cameos this juicy, and Meryl was not yet a star. [More on Meryl's debut]
1979 The Seduction of Joe Tynan and Manhattan
This was the year of Kramer vs Kramer (her first win, following her first nom for The Deer Hunter in '78) so Academy voters couldn't have nominated her politico's mistress "Karen Traynor" or her angry lesbian ex-wife "Jill" in Woody Allen's other 70s masterpiece. Though these roles undoubtedly helped her win (note that the critics awards she won that year include all three) they wouldn't have won her nominations in a theoretical Kramer absence given the Oscar reception of Tynan (zero noms) and her internal competition in Manhattan. [More on this her year of actressy ascendance]
1982 Still of the Night
This noirish femme fatale role arrived two weeks before the Sophie's Choice juggernaut (her second Oscar win) so technically she couldn't have been nominated for it unless they demoted her to "supporting" which they didn't. (The actress who got the 'demotion so we can double dip' you was Jessica Lange for Tootsie, who went on to win supporting while losing lead to Meryl.) Though this noir may have added to surface cries of "Meryl can do anything!" Meryl herself didn't think so; according to some reports she wasn't particularly thrilled with her own work in it.
1984 Falling in Love
Meryl's work as "Molly Gilmore" a married woman who falls for a fellow commuter (her Deer Hunter co-star DeNiro) is actually rather touching. But it arrived fast on the heels of five shape-shifting legend-making iconic roles. This normal contemporary woman probably felt underwhelming to voters. Something "Magic Meryl" could probably do in her sleep and why not take a wee break from the exhaustingly perfect new legend? Trivia Note: We can't prove it but we believe any American actress not playing a farm wife that year was disqualified in a special one-year-only AMPAS ruling. That's the only feasible explanation for the psychotic snubbing of Katheen Turner in Romancing the Stone.
1985-2009 including the 3 most interesting case studies in When Meryl is Not Nominated AFTER THE JUMP.
MOST INTERESTING SNUB #1
In popular hindsight imagination "Susan Traherne" her crazy-ass resistance fighter and bored socialite fell at the hands of "Isak Dinesen" in Out of Africa (actors can't get two nominations in the same category in any film year). But would she have been nominated in the absence of Africa? We're going to guess a firm NO despite the enormous baitiness of the role, which features an accent, nervous breakdowns, unhappy marriages, fascinating individual scene work and lots of star glamour. All that yet the film was cooly received, Susan is a tough character to "like" (which worries some pundits about Charlize Theron & Elizabeth Olsen's Oscar chances this year) and Tracey Ullman hogged Plenty's best in show notices with her lively supporting turn. Though eligible for a Globe that year (they are allowed to double-nominate you), the HFPA passed on Meryl. It's important to note that they genuflect to her even more often than AMPAS does. Though eligible for a BAFTA, Meryl was not nominated and Ullman was. [more on Streep in Plenty]
In this prestige biographic comedy based on Nora Ephron's best-seller she was essentially playing the screenwriter (as Nora hilariously noted at a later Meryl tribute). But despite the A list crew (Mike Nichols directing, Jack Nicholson as co-star) the film was not well received. It is another reminder that films that lean comedic have a tougher road to awards glory. Even the Golden Globes, who will nominated Meryl for virtually anything, ignored it.
When Meryl first made the switch to comedy in 1989 -- she'd stay there for awhile -- there was a surprising amount of resistance and lots of 'her career is over!' shortsighted pot-shot taking. It's no coincidence that the backlash happened just as she was turning 40 (actresses have since extended their communal shelf-life a bit, thank the cinematic gods). If you were movie-aware in the early 90s you might even remember that there was a sort of schadenfreude glee in watching her mightiness "fall".
It was an odd shaky moment in her career which we wrote about in detail here. Neverthless she was Golden Globe nominated for her broad performance as a bitchy romance novelist. But still, if your "rough" decade, is a decade in which you still get 4 Oscar nominations (Postcards from the Edge, The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing and Music of the Heart), you have little to complain about.
1991 Defending Your Life
An atypical unchallenging role for Meryl as she was shucking the accents and tearjerkers for light laughs. In this afterlife comedy she was essentially playing The Girl for writer/director/star Albert Brooks (presumably a Best Supporting Actor shortlister this year). Defending Your Life has its devotees but it didn't make any sort of dent in 1991. And this was never going to be an Oscar role as she was playing an average contemporary woman.
1992 Death Becomes Her
"I would like to talk about... Madeline Ashton!!!" Streep's role as a vain primadonna actress in this comedy classic was not as well loved when it premiered as it is today, 20 years on. All three central performances were inspired lunacy (wouldn't you love to see Bruce, Goldie & Meryl reunited?) but even in an arguably weak year for Best Actress, Oscar wasn't going near slapsticky comedy. The weirdest thing about this movie's reception at the time was that it seems, in retrospect, that it must have been a Golden Globe Comedy/Musical powerhouse. Nope. Meryl received the film's lone nomination and given the cold shoulder, that must have just been a default nod for their favorite woman. They couldn't double dip for the box set "Goldie & Meryl"? [Nathaniel's love for this movie & Kurt's love for this movie.]
1993 The House of the Spirits
This is the most glaringly obvious example of a particular kind of Oscar trajectory "looks good on paper... didn't work at all onscreen" that you can find in Meryl's history. The prestigious period-piece best-seller adaptation, reteamed the popular French Lieutenant's Woman stars (Jeremy & Meryl) and brought together Oscar's two favorite 80s ladies (Glenn & Meryl) and added two superhot "it" stars of the moment (Antonio Banderas & Winona Ryder) but it bombed with audiences and critics and awards season voters.
1994 The River Wild
MOST INTERESTING SNUB #2
The first half of the nineties were an experimental time for Meryl as she tried various genres on for size. This minor hit in which she played athletic mom "Gail Hartman" fending off a psycho during a rafting trip with her family won her Golden Globe attention but the noisy talk that a surprise Oscar nomination would follow -- 1994 was a very weird Best Actress year --didn't come to pass. Vivid portraits of somewhat ordinary contemporary women are Oscar's one true blind spot with Meryl. Perhaps it earned back their good will though since much Oscar hoopla for Bridges of Madison County followed. [More on The River Wild]
1996 Before and After and Marvin's Room
Two more dramas that looked more likely for attention before people saw the final results. In Before and After, she played a mother whose son was accused of murder (a topic that's popular this year with We Need To Talk About Kevin and Beatiful Boy) but the film flopped. The family drama Marvin's Room was more successful critically but after Meryl's default Golden Globe nomination, attention swiftly shifted to Diane Keaton when the Oscar ballot results were read out.
1998 Dancing at Lughnasa
For this drama based on an acclaimed play, Meryl tried on an Irish accent to add to her collection. But the female-centric film only received minor attention and its ensemble nature didn't make a case for more Meryl glory and her co-stars Kathy Burke and Brid Brennan stole the show according to some. She wouldn't have been nominated for this in the absence of One True Thing.
2002 The Hours
For those playing along in 2002 the five women who were nominated for Best Leading Actress: Diane Lane -Unfaithful, Julianne Moore -Far From Heaven, Salma Hayek -Frida, Renée Zellweger -Chicago, and winner Nicole Kidman -The Hours were just not budging. Not for indie darling Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary, not for French icon Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, not even for Oscar's favorite Leading Lady Meryl. Meryl had to make do with Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. The Hours is proof positive that if it's a strong Best Actress year, anyone -- even Meryl Streep -- can be shoved aside.
2002 Adaptation -13th nom
finally passing Kate Hepburn's & Jack Nicholson's then shared #1 nomination record
2004 The Manchurian Candidate and Lemony Snicket
MOST INTERESTING SNUB #3
Her Lemony Snicket role as "Aunt Jospephine" was the kind of broad comedy Meryl clearly enjoys on a lark from time to time but it was never going to be an awards situation. Her role as "Senator Shaw" was another story altogether. Angela Lansbury gave one of the Best Supporting Actress performances of all time in the 1962 Manchurian Candidate but even with that giant monkey on her back, many thought Meryl's not-so-nuanced showboating as the ultimate Monster Mom would win her Oscar attention. It didn't work out. The Academy stuck by Lansbury and made a good call in the process. Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations happened, though, so you know it was a near miss.
This dramedy about a woman (Uma Thurman) seeing a therapist (Meryl Streep) who turns out to the be the mother of her boyfriend, was not well received. Even some of her diehard fans were less impressed than usual. And again, when Meryl goes somewhat ordinary or contemporary she doesn't win as much acclaim.
2006 A Prairie Home Companion
Robert Altman's swan song featured a bevy of fine actors happily or unhappily chattering away on top of each other backstage and onstage but it was Meryl & Lily as the "Johnson Sisters" who rose above the general din. This is actually one of my personal favorite Streep performances. It's beautifully nuanced, idiosyncratic and, my god, her singing voice. The film was mostly warmly received, though there was little in the way of feverish support. Only the NSFC singled Meryl out, giving her a shared Best Supporting Actress prize with her work in The Devil Wears Prada. [More on this beautiful performance.]
2007 Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Dark Matter, and Evening
Following her blockbuster Prada success Meryl was everywhere with a slew of supporting roles but none of the films were successes... at least not in the traditional sense. Robert Redford's earnest all-star political drama Lions for Lambs seemed, on paper, to be the most Oscar likely but from this foursome crop zero Oscar nominations were harvested.
2008 Mamma Mia!
This musical comedy based on the songs of ABBA featured Meryl as an exasperated once promiscuous mom whose daughter wonders who her faither is. It became Meryl's biggest global hit, netted her a nomination at the Golden Globes and yet more feverish fandom. But would she have been nominated in the absence of Doubt? No. The performance was even broader than the divisive one she gave in Doubt and the lack of critical respect for the film would've torpedoed awards dreams. Her performance was so hammy (delightfully so fans could argue) that French and Saunders even spoofed her SHEER ACTING!!!
2008 Doubt -15th nom
2009 Julie & Julia - 16th nom
2009 It's Complicated
Meryl continues joyfully on her comedic path in this romantic comedy which netted her her one millionth Golden Globe nomination. Again Streep was playing a somewhat ordinary contemporary woman. Naturally the simultaneous biopic role which required an adopted voice was the place Oscar would rather be.
So what have we learned (factually) with this overview? That Meryl can be snubbed even when she has traction (The Hours and The Manchurian Candidate) though it doesn't happen often. That Meryl is nominated for 39% of her screen roles (excluding voice work which no one gets nominated for) a number we can all agree is astounding.
The rest is theorizing. Looking this over and remembering the ebb and flow of public feeling, I begin to wonder if Meryl's frequent nominations aren't in fact hurting her chances at a win. Though momentum is often a key to winning an Oscar, it's dark side is overexposure which can wear good will down. Consider how much goodwill she had going into the 1995 and 2006 races (during both years people allowed themselves to believe she would finally win her third until a more overdue actress arrived to steal the thunder) and in both cases she'd been absent from the race for a few years. Maybe what Meryl needs is a couple of snubs to eradicate the "Meryl is over nominated" negativity and add to the "overdue for a third statue!" positivity?
In this week's Oscar Prediction Chart Updates we've added the Streep Equivalency Factor for each category... who just can't stop being nominated? Click away and find out!