Meryl Streep in ‘Ironweed’: A look back at her seventh Oscar nomination, the competition and the outcome

This article marks Part 7 of the 21-part Gold Derby series analyzing Meryl Streep at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at Meryl Streep’s nominations, the performances that competed with her, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the contenders.

On paper, “Heartburn” (1986) had the sound of a surefire smash. The picture reunited the talented trio from “Silkwood” (1983) – leading lady Meryl Streep, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Nora Ephron. Production on the film hit a snag early on, as Nichols, seeing no magic between he and Streep, fired leading man Mandy Patinkin after mere days of shooting. Things would presumably still be A-OK, however, if not better, considering Patinkin’s replacement was none other than Jack Nicholson, hot as ever with his Academy Awards victory for “Terms of Endearment” (1983) and success the year prior with “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985).

That summer, “Heartburn” hit theaters to reviews that ranged from lukewarm to scathing. The film opened to decent box office receipts but quickly dropped like a rock, leaving theaters after just one month.

Thankfully, the failure of “Heartburn” would not prevent Streep and Nicholson from collaborating on another picture. In fact, it would be a mere year before the two reunited and, this time around, their film didn’t send critics running for the hills.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations: Full list of Academy Awards nominees in all 24 categories

The 1987 Oscar nominees in Best Actress were:

Cher, “Moonstruck”
Cher portrays Loretta Castorini, an Italian-American widow who accepts the marriage proposal of the decidedly unstimulating Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), only to fall head-over-heels for Johnny’s colorful kid brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) while her new fiancee is away. Loretta tries to resist Ronny’s advances but can’t seem to snap either one out of it. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe, marked Cher’s second Oscar nomination and first win.

Glenn Close, “Fatal Attraction”
Close portrays Alex Forrest, a Manhattan editor who engages in a steamy fling with attorney Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) while his wife (Oscar nominee Anne Archer) is away. Dan tries to break off the relationship upon his wife’s return but the distance doesn’t sit well with Alex, who proceeds to attempt suicide, harass Dan at work and home and do some not-so-nice things to the family bunny. This performance marked Close’s fourth Oscar nomination.

Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
Hunter portrays Jane Craig, a neurotic network news reporter who falls for the handsome, vapid new anchorman Tom (Oscar nominee William Hurt), in spite of him representing all she loathes about the trend in evening news toward entertainment. Meanwhile, Jane’s colleague and best friend Aaron (Albert Brooks, also Oscar-nominated) has long pined for her and understandably isn’t thrilled about Tom’s entrance. This performance, which won her Best Actress honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (tied with Sally Kirkland), National Board of Review (tied with Lillian Gish) and New York Film Critics Circle, marked Hunter’s first Oscar nomination.

Sally Kirkland, “Anna”
Kirkland portrays Anna, an actress who was once a star of the silver screen in her homeland of Czechoslovakia but now struggles to merely land off-Broadway gigs in New York. She takes in the young Krystyna (Paulina Porizkova), who has emigrated from Czechoslovakia to meet her idol, only to watch as Krystyna becomes an unexpected hit in showbiz. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe and honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (tied with Hunter), marked Kirkland’s first Oscar nomination.

Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
Streep portrays Helen Archer, a long washed-up, terminally ill former radio singer who is stumbled upon by former lover and drinking pal Francis (Oscar nominee Nicholson) when he wanders into their hometown of Albany, NY. Francis takes on odd jobs to support Helen while dealing with devastating memories from his past. This performance marked Streep’s seventh Oscar nomination.

SEE 2018 Oscar nominations by movie: ‘The Shape of Water’ leads with 13 Academy Awards bids, but how many will it win?

Won: Cher, “Moonstruck”

Should’ve won: Sally Kirkland, “Anna”

Overlooked Contenders: Ellen Barkin, “The Big Easy”; Faye Dunaway, “Barfly”; Mia Farrow, “September”; Lillian Gish, “The Whales of August”; Clare Higgins, “Hellraiser”; Diane Keaton, “Baby Boom”; Bette Midler, “Outrageous Fortune”; Barbra Streisand, “Nuts”

1987 was truly an embarrassment of riches for leading ladies on the big screen.

Beyond the Academy’s fine selections, you had Dunaway and Gish in exquisite comeback turns; Keaton and Midler in prime comic form; and Streisand in perhaps the finest dramatic role of her career. So, it’s kind of a shame, given all of these options, the Academy opted to overlook those and other fabulous performances and instead award Streep a seventh Oscar nomination for her convincing but negligibly memorable work in “Ironweed.”

Hector Babenco‘s “Ironweed” – the filmmaker’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1985) – is a fascinating picture, with a distinct, supremely bleak look and feel. It sports one of Jack Nicholson’s most decidedly un-Nicholson leading turns. His Francis is a hopeless, tortured man and, amazingly, we buy Nicholson in this form from the get-go. He’s matched by not only Streep but also Carroll Baker, superb as Francis’ estranged wife.

Streep’s work in “Ironweed” isn’t without its moments. She’s plenty believable as the suffering, homeless Helen and her performance of the tune “He’s My Pal” – the first occasion in which Streep sang in a motion picture – is haunting stuff. Ultimately, however, it’s only the third-best performance the film and doesn’t rank among Streep’s most memorable turns.

“Broadcast News” is one of the great comedies of the 1980s and, between it and “Raising Arizona,” Hunter had a gangbusters 1987. In the James L. Brooks film, she strikes a nice balance between temperamental and irresistible and has plenty of chemistry with both of her male co-stars. Watching the film makes one wish Hunter did more romantic comedies, as it seems such a natural fit for her talents. That said, if anyone can be proclaimed MVP of “Broadcast News,” it’s the scene-stealing Brooks.

Norman Jewison’s “Moonstruck” is all sorts of amazing and Cher’s Loretta is a supreme delight. Her transformation from dowdy to dazzling is fabulous and Cher has a pitch-perfect grasp on John Patrick Shanley’s brilliant dialogue. Her rapport with the entire cast – Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis and Oscar nominee Vincent Gardenia, plus of course Cage – is aces and, while “Moonstruck” did not mark Cher’s screen debut, the turn nonetheless has the feel of a star-making role.

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The American Film Institute’s ranking of Close as Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction” in as the seventh all-time greatest screen villain on its list of “100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains” is a richly deserved honor. While Adrian Lyne‘s film isn’t without its occasional misstep, Close strikes just the right notes as the unhinged Alex.

What’s so compelling about Close here, not unlike in the case of Cher, is watching the metamorphosis of her character. Alex is already a bit off-putting right out of the starting gates but still plenty approachable and appealing. The gradual shift from that into something far more unstable and violent is a remarkable sight and Close keeps herself nicely reigned-in for the most part, despite a screenplay that calls for scenery chewing. She and Douglas make a dynamite match and engage in some of the most convincing and arousing lovemaking to perhaps ever grace the screen.

Is “Fatal Attraction” the best Oscar-nominated Close turn? Perhaps but, as we’ll see the following year, she has been recognized for other, comparably magnificent turns as well.

The best of the five nominees, however, is Kirkland, who’s not only a tour-de-force in the title role of Anna but also happened to run one of the all-time great Oscar campaigns.

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“Anna,” which is more or a less an arthouse “All About Eve” (1950), was distributed in the fall of 1987 by Vestron Pictures, the small film distributor that struck unexpected gold with that year’s “Dirty Dancing,” yet still couldn’t dig itself out of financial squalor. No surprise, Vestron didn’t have a dime to invest in an Oscar campaign for Kirkland, who after years of bit parts in motion pictures like “The Sting” (1973), “The Way We Were” (1973) and “A Star Is Born” (1976), at last landed a meaty starring turn.

So, Kirkland took matters into her own hands and embarked on one of the most aggressive and effective self-campaigns in Oscar history. She personally hosted a plethora of screenings in Los Angeles and New York and took out her own For Your Consideration ads.

That’s not to say, however, Kirkland’s recognition came exclusively as a way to honor the chutzpah of her campaigning. She is astoundingly great in “Anna.” It’s a real master class of a performance that both actors of the stage and screen could learn plenty from. Her reading of “Humpty Dumpty” during an audition for a play might just be the most awe-inspiring rendition of the nursery rhyme ever captured on record.

Perhaps the most devastating moment of “Anna,” however, is when the title character attends a New York screening of one of her old pictures, only to find the theater nearly empty. Then, the reel melts, at a critical moment in the film. It’s a haunting moment in an obscenely underseen film that happens to sport one of the decade’s finest leading turns.

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The performances ranked (thus far):

1. Jessica Lange, “Frances”
2. Whoopi Goldberg, “The Color Purple”
3. Meryl Streep, “Sophie’s Choice”
4. Shirley MacLaine, “Terms of Endearment”
5. Meryl Streep, “Silkwood”
6. Jane Alexander, “Testament”
7. Sally Kirkland, “Anna”
8. Maureen Stapleton, “Interiors”
9. Glenn Close, “Fatal Attraction”
10. Cher, “Moonstruck”
11. Mariel Hemingway, “Manhattan”
12. Marsha Mason, “Only When I Laugh”
13. Debra Winger, “Terms of Endearment”
14. Diane Keaton, “Reds”
15. Meryl Streep, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
16. Meryl Streep, “The Deer Hunter”

17. Jane Alexander, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
18. Julie Andrews, “Victor/Victoria”
19. Jessica Lange, “Sweet Dreams”
20. Sissy Spacek, “Missing”
21. Geraldine Page, “The Trip to Bountiful”
22. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
23. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
24. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
25. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
26. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
27. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
28. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
29. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
30. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
31. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
32. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
33. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
34. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
35. Barbara Barrie, “Breaking Away”

SEE Meryl Streep in ‘The Deer Hunter’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Sophie’s Choice’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Silkwood’
SEE Meryl Streep in “Out of Africa”

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on March 4. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our movie forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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