Meryl Streep loves to surprise. Remember five years ago when she was nominated for “The Iron Lady” and entered the ceremony as a decided underdog against her pal Viola Davis, who was strongly favored by Gold Derby experts to take the Oscar for “The Help”? To the surprise of many, however, it was The Great Meryl whose name was called and who ascended the stairs to hold a third Academy Award in her hand.
Streep surprised quite a few more people on Tuesday morning when, as an underdog once again, she was nominated for a record 20th time for her performance in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Her nomination was a surprise not because her performance in “Florence” is not worthy — it is in fact an expertly-realized balance of comedy and pathos — but because she finds herself competing in the most competitive Best Actress contests in years.
So much pundit attention has been paid to Streep’s fellow nominees — especially Emma Stone (“La La Land,”) Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) — that Streep almost felt like an afterthought, despite the quality of the performance. For those of us who may have underestimated her, what could have been the reason why the vote went Streep’s way? I have a theory: The Golden Globes speech earlier this month.
Oscar voters who may have a tough time remembering who won the Globe this year for Best Supporting Actor undoubtedly remember The Speech. It was not just the words she delivered but the velvet-glove approach she used in her sharp takedown of Donald Trump‘s mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter during the campaign. And Trump’s clumsy retort, calling the much-lauded Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” was taken by many in Hollywood as a personal attack on them. Could that factor have renewed industry interest in Streep’s work and her performance in “Florence” that put her over the top? It seems likely.
But can she actually win? Definitely. With a Best Actress race this tight — actually one of the only acting races with some real drama — and with the other nominees appealing to various factions of their own, there may be a split vote and room for Streep, the Defender of Hollywood, to move right up the middle for the win. After all, Meryl has surprised us before.
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