Meryl Streep—arguably the best actress of all time who turns 68 today, HBD boo! —has been nominated for and received so many honours that she requires an entire Wikipedia page to list them all. So many of her Oscar-nominated performances have become canonical, from Sophie’s Choice and A Cry in the Dark to Out of Africa to The Devil Wears Prada. But the problem with being the world’s most celebrated actress and being so beloved in general is that the awards show voting committees and show producers are over-eager to have her at the ceremony—hence her questionable record-breaking 20th Oscar nomination at this year’s awards for Florence Foster Jenkins (hiss).
Thus they pile on ever more nominations that would be better given to an up-and-coming actress (or, dare I say it, an actor of colour or a queer performance in a smaller film). These nominations have become more prevalent in a post-Devil Wears Prada world where we all want Meryl at the awards show in hopes she will be as charming as always or raise her voice in protest, but she often doesn’t have the pristine performance of a Silkwood or a Postcards From The Edge to merit it. Here, we fete our eternal fave with a look at six Oscar nominations she should not have gotten (don’t @ me) and three she really should have.
Here are the six noms we could have done without:
Music of the Heart
The Academy love, love, loves inspiring tear-jerkers based on true stories. While it is admirable that they chose to bestow a nomination on Streep’s subtle, non-showy turn as real-life music teacher, it’s a nomination based on the subject-matter, not a memorable performance.
This is an example of a performance that goes too far into showboating. Meryl got all the props for her turn as an uber-uptight nun, but her work was pitched to the cheap seats; this level of cartoonery is more suited to the stage, where you can go broader. The contrast is all the starker when you look to Viola Davis’ Oscar-nominated turn as an anguished mother—she is raw, real and far more stunning than Meryl here.
The Iron Lady
Was there ever a more blah movie built around a much ballyhooed performance? The sheer boredom of this biopic sludge made it hard to warm to Meryl’s performance. For all the prosthetic teeth and glowering, she wasn’t able to clue us in to who Thatcher truly was.
Into the Woods
“OMG THEY FINALLY MADE THE INTO THE WOODS MOVIE!!! AND IT HAS MERYL IN IT?!?!” must have blared so loud in the voters’ brains that a nom on Meryl for her performance in the long-awaited adaptation of the popular Stephen Sondheim musical (we’re talking decades in turnaround here) was deemed a mandatory professional courtesy. Sigh.
August: Osage County
August: Osage County is the type of movie that has studio heads slavering in glee at the award prospects: based on a hit property, tackling dark family drama, packed with huge names. Except something went awry: it’s awful. Meryl is totally unpleasant as the acid-tongued head of a strange Southern clan—and not in a good way. She has done miserable horrible matriarch much better in another one of her nominated roles, One True Thing.
Florence Foster Jenkins
Reasonably sure the Academy just tossed this one to her to cement her place as the most-nominated actor of all time, and to ensure a rich supply of Oscar-night GIFs for years to come. Like, c’mon! This is a spot that could have gone to Annette Bening for 20th Century Women, or perhaps one of the leads from Hidden Figures.
Here are the three roles she should have been nominated for:
Defending Your Life
I’m unsure if there has ever been anyone more charming in a film than Meryl is in Defending Your Life. An true gem of a film, it has gotten lost in her filmography a bit, but if there was ever a low-key, luminous performance deserving of award recognition, it’s this one. She’s funny, sweet, wise and a little silly—and all Meryl.
Death Becomes Her
The mid-2000s nominations for both The Devil Wears Prada and Adaptation finally, rightfully celebrated Meryl for her expert skills as a comedian. (She was nominated for Postcards from the Edge previously, but that has enough familial tension and addiction issues to push it into the drummed gray zone.) It’s a pity, however, that she was not nominated for her greatest comedic role in cult classic Death Becomes Her. Facing off against Goldie Hawn as pompous, cruel actress Madeleine Ashton is a serious tour-de-force of comedy both black and physical.
The Manchurian Candidate
Meryl is truly chilling as the puppet master twisting everyone up in her insane lust for power. She’s no Angela Lansbury, but her predatory focus and creepy determination is far more memorable than many of her other more famous turns.
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