Oscars mystery solved: Why wasn’t Meryl Streep nominated for ‘The Hours’?

During our most recent podcast, Tom O’Neil and I debated Meryl Streep’s Oscar nomination for Best Actress in “August: Osage County.”

Due to the strong surge for “American Hustle,” it appeared that Amy Adams might knock her onetime “Doubt” and “Julia and Julia” costar Streep out of the lead actress category. After all, Streep had just won her third statuette two years ago for “The Iron Lady.” With the mixed reviews for her latest film, would she really gather enough of those crucial number one votes to secure another bid?

It was generally believed that Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” Sandra Bullock in “Gravity,” Judi Dench in “Philomena” and Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks” were all safe bets. If Adams made the cut, it looked like Streep would be the one to go. As we all know, that’s not how things turned out. Adams did manage to break into the race. But so did Streep – and it was poor Ms. Thompson who was left out in the cold. (Vote for Best Actress at the bottom of the post using our easy drag-and-drop menu.)

O’Neil emphasized to me that Streep has a built-in vote in the academy’s actors branch and is virtually ALWAYS going to be nominated for any solid performance. That explains her nods for films like “Postcards from the Edge,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “One True Thing,” “Music of the Heart” and even “The Devil Wears Prada.” None of those pictures received widespread Oscar attention, yet Streep was cited every time.

For once, I actually agreed with O’Neil. However, this does leave one major question.

Why wasn’t Streep nominated for Best Actress of 2002 for “The Hours”?

For months before the movie’s release, the early word was that Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore would all be vying for the Best Actress Oscar. Everyone else would have to fight for the two remaining slots. The contest was made even more complicated by Moore’s acclaimed work in “Far from Heaven” and Streep’s scene-stealing turn in “Adaptation.”

All three ladies competed for Best Actress at the Golden Globes, though Moore was recognized for “Heaven” rather than the “The Hours.” Kidman won, while Streep claimed the Supporting Actress prize for “Adaptation.”

Then the SAG Awards mixed things up by nominating Kidman and Moore for “The Hours” in the lead and supporting categories, respectively. Moore was also in the lead race for “Heaven.” Streep, however, was noticeably absent. It turns out that she had been submitted as a lead for both “The Hours” and “Adaptation,” presumably splitting her votes and landing her outside of the top five for both performances.

When the Oscar nominations were announced, Streep’s name WAS called – for Best Supporting Actress in “Adaptation.” But she was not mentioned for “The Hours,” even though Kidman, Moore and her scene mate Ed Harris all were. The film had done very well with the Academy, racking up an impressive nine nominations – including Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Daldry) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

How could Streep have been left out?

Her character was very much the backbone of “The Hours,” and she had several dramatic exchanges with both Harris and Jeff Daniels. It was her first appearance in a Best Picture nominee since 1985’s “Out of Africa,” which had won the top honor. Why would the academy ignore its favorite actress while acknowledging her film in virtually every other major category? (Go ahead – insert your own prosthetic nose joke here.)

In addition to Kidman and Moore (in “Heaven,”) the Best Actress field was rounded out by Salma Hayek in “Frida,” Diane Lane in “Unfaithful” and Renee Zellweger in “Chicago.”  Hayek and Lane were in films that were not competing for Best Picture. “Unfaithul” had been released in May and received no other nominations; Lane’s inclusion was largely due to her awards from the New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics. Looking back, it’s somewhat surprising that both Hayek and Lane were both able to knock out the former “Sophie’s Choice” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” Oscar champ.

On Academy Awards night, Streep lost her “Adaptation” bid to Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago.” Kidman prevailed as Best Actress, but neglected to thank Streep (and Moore.) Interestingly enough, it was Streep’s omission that probably saved Kidman, who was locked in an extremely tight race with Zellweger. Had two women from “The Hours” been in contention, vote-splitting might have spelled losses for both of them.

Streep has virtually no chance of winning this year for “August Osage County,” though we expect that she’ll most definitely be nominated again in the coming years. She may eventually win a fourth time and tie Katherine Hepburn’s record.

As for her snub for “The Hours,” the only thing more depressing is the movie itself. 

Who do you think is going to win Best Actress this year? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Come back and change your predictions as often as you like till Oscar night, March 2. 

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