We started this blogging experiment by asking readers to rank all the Streep Oscar Nominated performances they'd seen. Then we shared reader stories of how you first discovered Streep. I tabulated all the results, weighting the ballots so the readers who had seen the most films counted for more. Now we've reached the tippity top of Streep performances! For what it's worth, the top six (including Kramer Vs. Kramer) were the clear winners of your collective hierarchy and numbers two through four were closely bunched together in your estimation, each threatening to take spot #2 with each new ballot that arrived, though eventually they settled into their current positions.
STREEP'S OSCAR-NOMINATED PERFORMANCES RANKED
According to Film Experience Readers (We didn't include The Iron Lady since it's brand new)
05. Adaptation (2002)
Role & Balloting: Streep's terrifically clever performance as a heightened version of Susan Orlean, the real life writer who wrote the non-fiction book The Orchid Thief that Nicolas Cage's fictional screenwriter (and Charlie Kaufman stand-in) tries to adapt into a movie in this twisty comedy [whew], is the one many fans point to as "this is what she needs to do more of!" This role was in first place on only 3% of ballots, less than any of the other films in the top six, but it was on nearly every ballot (widely seen) and usually in the upper half.
Who Won the Oscar: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago
Other Nominees in Guesstimate Order of AMPAS Love: Meryl (Adaptation), Julianne Moore (The Hours), Kathy Bates (About Schmidt) and Queen Latifah (Chicago)
The Dread Sixth Place Finish?: It was Michelle Pfeiffer, SAG nominee, on the outside looking in for White Oleander. I still blame the Golden Globes for that one as they stalled her momentum by fawning over a miscast and dull Cameron Diaz for Gangs of New York.
Reader Note. Jamie writes...
Growing up I was aware of Streep only because my mother would watch Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, and Out of Africa on HBO. I knew, to some extent, that she was considered a great actress, but at that point was too young to care. The first movie I really remember seeing her in was She-Devil, and I thought she was hilarious... Then I saw Bridges of Madison County....and understood all the hoopla.I am drawn to Adaptation in a lot of ways. Maybe because we are in Awards season, and everyone is saying she needs to be in a film with strong director, etc, and everyone seems to forget - she actually HAS done that, too. Meryl's performance in Adaptation made the public fall in love with her all over again. Having sent off the kids to college, she just seems freer in her work here. For me, it was the beginning of a very clear choice of doing ANYTHING she might want to do, without worrying too much about schedules, or awards, or her overall career. Though most people may not recognize it, Adaptation was a rebirth for her. And it's something that continues to this day.
04. The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Role & Balloting: While Streep has had as many love interests as anyone in the movies, this is one of only two of her key films that you might call "romantic epics" the other being Out of Africa. Lots of readers fell hopelessly in love with this lonely Italian housewife, Francesca Johnson. It was #1 on 13% of the ballots.
Who Won the Oscar: Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
Other Nominees in Guesstimate Order of AMPAS Love: Meryl (Bridges), Sharon Stone (Casino), Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas) and Emma Thompson (Sense & Sensibility)
The Dread Sixth Place Finish?: This was probably Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia who at the time seemed to be battling it out with Elisabeth Shue for that final slot. Tough to imagine that Shue's sensational performance (statue worthy) was not a sure thing at the time but that's the way it was playing out in a very strong Best Actress year. In the summer when Bridges opened, the commonly held belief was that Streep would finally win her third. But nobody watching then knew just how many great and popular performances were just around the corner.
Reader Note. Ryan was actually the one that gave me the idea of pairing reader photos with Streep photos by sending this mashup in - thanks Ryan! He writes:
Before ever having the pleasure of viewing a single one of her Oscar-nominated performances in its entirety, I first encountered Meryl Streep around the age of ten after squirming by way onto the living room coach while my parents watched The River Wild. The moment I recall being most viscerally struck by was the over-the-shoulder look Streep gives Kevin Bacon when she realizes he’s blithely watching her skinny dip. Those deer-in-the headlight eyes, simultaneously flickering with a fraught realization that her dubious suspicions have been confirmed, left an indelible image in my mind.
And while I ranked her luminous work as The Bridges of Madison County’s Francesca Johnson in third place, it still deserves as much attention as her widely beloved and discussed back-to-back turns in Sophie's Choice and Silkwood. The chemistry between Eastwood and Streep is just smoldering and it’s probably my favorite of her adopted accents ever (I just love the way she goes ‘Big, mean yellow dog’ when giving Clint directions)."
03. Silkwood (1983)
Role & Balloting: Hot on the heels of the Oscar win for Sophie's Choice, Streep did an about face with a remarkably dissimilar character playing the true story of Karen Silkwood, a woman who fought against shady dealings at the nuclear power plant she worked at. This was the only performance outside of Sophie's Choice that had zero last place votes and despite being missing from 18% of the ballots it won 15% of first place votes on the ballots that included it, the second highest number of first place finishes. It's the one Meryl performance I'd most recommend to younger readers given that it's underseen today and holds the distinction of being not just one of Streep's best performances but easily one of her greatest films. Bonus points: it began her fruitful film collaboration with Mike Nichols which led to Postcards and Angels in America, too.
Who Won the Oscar: Shirley Maclaine, Terms of Endearment
Other Nominees in Guesstimate Order of AMPAS Love: Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment), Meryl (Silkwood), Julie Walters (Educating Rita) and Jane Alexander (Testament)
The Dread Sixth Place Finish?: I've always wondered if this wasn't Bonnie Bedelia in Heart Like a Wheel?
Reader Notes. Adela writes:
I like to think that Silkwood is one of Meryl's roles where she's closest to her real personality. And the scene on the porch with Cher is my favorite in her filmography."
I picked this performance because it's the perfect melding of all the 360º technique people love (or don't) in Streep and the lived-in, regular-gal spontaneity that many people wish she got to demonstrate more often - except in interviews, where she often brims with it. She is completely uncondescending to everything about Karen that a lot of movies and performers would implicitly condescend to, even while lionizing her courage - "Can you believe this woman, in this part of the country, with this mess of a personal life and this haircut was actually capable of such bravery and insight and heroism? I mean, seriously, this woman is from Oklahoma!" She's both hugely likable and a little frustrating, and I think she's got more interesting and plausible dynamics with Russell, Cher, and her co-workers than she did with Kline and MacNicol - she's unambiguously the star and yet very much part of an ensemble. (I love her scenes on the floor of the plant, with David Strathairn and the other wage-slaves.) You end the movie furious at how she was treated, inspired by what she did, and also somewhat suspicious that if you spent time with her in real life, you'd occasionally get a little fed up with her."
02. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Role & Balloting: "GIRD YOUR LOINS!" This is the one that won Meryl a whole new rabid legion of younger fans to go along with all her aging devotees. You have this film to thank for all the subsequent leading roles since they don't generally hand those roles to 60something women. This performance had half as many first place finishes as Silkwood or Bridges but was the most widely seen of all 16 performances and was generally high up on the ballots.
Who Won the Oscar: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Other Nominees in Guesstimate Order of AMPAS Love: what does it even matter? Mirren was hundreds of miles ahead of the competition which was so strange for such an incredibly vibrant field. But maybe it landed like so: Meryl (Prada), Penelope Cruz (Volver), Kate Winslet (Little Children) and Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
The Dread Sixth Place Finish?: The Oscar nominees were like a brick wall all throughout precursor season so whoever was sixth was a distant finishers. I'm guessing it was Maggie Gyllenhaal's electric work in Sherrybaby.
Reader Note. Murtada writes:
Prada is what made me rediscover Meryl. The performance was so brilliant and funny that I went back and appreciated other movies. Plus the movie is so entertaining and bears multiple visits. My fave of her recent performances though is The Hours [Not Nominated]. She was so open, and available emotionally with no pretense or vanity. When she breaks down in the kitchen I just wanted to crawl into the screen, quietly lie next to her and give her the biggest hug. And the speech she gives in bed about how happiness is always remembered not lived is my fave movie quote of all time."
01. Sophie's Choice (1982)
Role & Balloting: Sophie Zawistowski. Her name is hard to say but she is easy to remember. Meryl's role as a haunted concentration camp survivor who'd very much like to forget was the one that vaulted her into the pantheon and probably the one that started all the Greatest Living Actress talk which completely stuck once she followed it up with so many different accents and characters. The reader ranking wasn't even a contest. This was #1 on 43% of the ballots.
Who Won the Oscar: Meryl Streep (2ND WIN!), Sophie's Choice
Other Nominees in Guesstimate Order of AMPAS Love: Common wisdom has it that Jessica Lange (Frances) would've won the Oscar in any other year and that's probably true. Frances was Maximum Baitiness but Sophie was Sophie. After Lange, Debra Winger (Officer and a Gentleman) who famously quipped that even she voted for Meryl, comeback queen Julie Andrews (Victor/Victoria), and Sissy Spacek (Missing).
The Dread Sixth Place Finish?: Maybe Diane Keaton in Shoot the Moon? I wasn't yet paying attention. Anyone have a different idea?
Reader Notes. Beau writes:
I grew up in a house where movies were for entertainment only. When I began renting her films and learning about her career film became more than just entertainment. Sophie's Choice I remember watching when I was 15. I was at Video Shack in my hometown and my mother and I were looking for movies to rent for the weekend. I found the Sophie's Choice vhs with the cover that had Meryl Streep looking beautiful and Kevin Kline gently kissing her cheek and Oscar almost as big as the title and it was the movie I wanted to see. My mother asked me three different times if I was sure it was the movie I wanted because she had heard that it was a sad movie, but I would not be dissuaded. It broke my heart and even to this day gives me goosebumps."
Are you happy with the way the numbers shook out? Feel free to share any thoughts this brings up in the comments or what you still hope to see Streep play in a movie someday.