This article marks Part 8 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.
When Meryl Streep first collaborated with filmmaker Fred Schepisi, reaction to their work was decidedly muted. “Plenty” (1985) came and went from theaters in no time, spending all of one week in the box office top 10. In 1987, both Streep and Schepisi had better luck, the former contending at the Academy Award for her turn in “Ironweed” and the latter directing the popular Steve Martin comedy “Roxanne.”
In 1988, Streep and Schepisi gave collaboration another shot. While “A Cry in the Dark,” adapted from John Bryson‘s book “Evil Angels” (1985), was hardly a crowd-pleaser, the picture and Streep’s performance garnered abundant critical acclaim. The film would mark Streep’s final drama until “The House of the Spirits” (1993).
The 1988 Oscar nominees in Best Actress were:
Glenn Close, “Dangerous Liaisons”
Close portrays the cool and conniving Marquise de Merteuil, who challengers former lover Valmont (John Malkovich) to seduce the virginal Cecile (Uma Thurman). Valmont has a bold counter-challenge – he bets he can instead bed the moral and married Madame de Tourvel (Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer). While Valmont is overcome by contrition during this quest, however, the Marquise becomes all the more fierce. This performance marked Close’s fifth Oscar nomination.
Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
Foster portrays Sarah Tobias, a young woman violently gang raped by three men in a bar, while onlookers cheer them on. Sarah is furious when district attorney Kathryn (Kelly McGillis), assigned to the case, arranges a plea bargain to result in limited jail time for the assailants. After an accident involving one of the men encouraging the rapists, Sarah convinces Kathryn to prosecute him and two others who were cheerleading the attackers that night. This performance, which won her Best Actress honors from the Golden Globes (tied with Shirley MacLaine and Sigourney Weaver) and National Board of Review, marked Foster’s second Oscar nomination and first win.
Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”
Griffith portrays Tess McGill, a New York City secretary with aspirations of someday becoming a business executive. When self-absorbed boss Katharine (Sigourney Weaver, who should’ve taken home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this savagely funny turn) is injured in a skiing accident, Tess decides to pose as her employer. A natural talent in business, Tess quickly finds success and becomes romantically involved with a top investment broker (Harrison Ford). Then, however, Katharine recovers. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe, marked Griffith’s first Oscar nomination.
Meryl Streep, “A Cry in the Dark”
Streep portrays Lindy Chamberlain, mother of baby Azaria, who goes missing from the tent in which she was sleeping while on family vacation in the Australia outback. Lindy is convinced she saw a dingo leaving the tent with an object in its mouth and while the initial inquest into the disappearance supports Lindy’s belief that the dingo took Azaria, public opinion gradually turns against the Chamberlains, who are viewed as too stoic in light of the tragedy. Before long, law enforcement cobbles together new “evidence” that lands Lindy in prison. This performance, which won her Best Actress honors from the New York Film Critics Circle, marked Streep’s eighth Oscar nomination.
Sigourney Weaver, “Gorillas in the Mist”
Weaver portrays zoologist Dian Fossey, who leaves the United States for Africa to devote her life to studying the primates of Rwanda and Uganda. Fossey becomes entranced by the lives of the region’s mountain gorillas and is able to develop a means of communication with them. Fossey grows concerned that the rampant poaching of gorillas for their skins will ultimately result in the extinction of the species. She takes her case to the local government and, when her concerns are dismissed, emerges a fierce animal rights activist. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe (tied with Foster and MacLaine), marked one of two Weaver Oscar nominations in 1988, the other for “Working Girl.”
Overlooked Contenders: Jamie Lee Curtis, “A Fish Called Wanda”; Barbara Hershey, “A World Apart”; Amy Irving, “Crossing Delancey”; Christine Lahti, “Running on Empty”; Shirley MacLaine, “Madame Sousatzka”; Elizabeth McGovern, “She’s Having a Baby”; Bette Midler, “Big Business”; Michelle Pfeiffer, “Married to the Mob”; Gena Rowlands, “Another Woman”; Susan Sarandon, “Bull Durham”; Sean Young, “The Boost”
Won: Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
Should’ve won: Glenn Close, “Dangerous Liaisons”
What a year for leading ladies!
The Oscar selections in Best Actress are all-around fantastic, with even the weakest nominee leaving a potent impression. What’s so incredible about this year is you could have replaced the Oscar five with an entirely different line-up – say, Curtis, Lahti, MacLaine, Pfeiffer and Rowlands – and had just as sensational a fivesome.
Foster’s Oscar-winning performance in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) is one of the all-time great turns to triumph in Best Actress. She’s in fine form in “The Accused” as well but the performance and film are hardly on the same level as her second victory.
“The Accused” feels dated and, beyond Foster’s performance, has the look and sophistication of a middling TV Movie of the Week. The film just isn’t a strong one, unlike the four other pictures recognized here, and that drags a bit on Foster’s efforts.
In the 1980s, Griffith was a hot up-and-comer, with both moviegoers and critics enamored with her. Prior to “Working Girl,” which catapulted Griffith onto the Hollywood A-list, she garnered raves for turns in pictures like “Body Double” (1984) and “Something Wild” (1986). Just about everyone at the time was rooting for her to land a leading turn on the level of “Working Girl.”
Griffith couldn’t be more of a delight in the film, directed by Mike Nichols. Tess McGill rings of a role Audrey (or maybe even Katharine) Hepburn could have magically tackled in her heyday and while Griffith is no Hepburn, she brings a uniquely down-to-earth, lived-in feel to the character. No doubt, she’s helped immensely by Nichols’ direction and the fabulous Kevin Wade screenplay but “Working Girl” is a real star-making vehicle for its leading lady. She not only has marvelous chemistry with leading man Ford (at his comic finest) but supporting players Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack too. Griffith’s line deliveries (“I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” among others) are aces here.
Streep’s portrayal of Lindy Chamberlain is a tad on the blank side but purposely so. This was a woman who refused to let herself show much in the way of emotion, so Streep accurately plays her on the frosty side. It’s a wholly convincing turn, sporting one of Streep’s most challenging and believable accent jobs to date. She’s matched nicely by the supremely underrated (and understated) Sam Neill, who portrays Lindy’s pastor husband. “A Cry in the Dark” isn’t terribly remarkable beyond its central performances but boy, the picture is a real must-see for Streep and Neill alone.
What a shame Weaver went home empty-handed on Oscar night in 1988. This really should have been a repeat of Jessica Lange in 1982, when she garnered the Best Supporting Actress prize for “Tootsie” as a consolation for the inevitable loss in Best Actress for “Frances.” The selection of Griffith’s then-husband Don Johnson to present the Best Supporting Actress prize made it seem Oscar voters too thought Weaver would surely take that prize. Alas, the winner would be Geena Davis (“The Accidental Tourist”).
In the lead category, Weaver is brilliant as Fossey, essential to the success of “Gorillas in the Mist.” The turn has shades of Streep in “Out of Africa” (1985), except this picture is significantly less sluggish than the Sydney Pollack film and Weaver seems a bit more at-ease in Fossey’s shoes than Streep did as Karen Blixen. Fossey’s transformation from curious scientist to impassioned radical is fascinating to watch and Weaver is completely convincing every step of the way.
Close is even better.
“Dangerous Liaisons” sure leaves one hot and bothered and Close is stunning as the scheming Merteuil. The performance strikes just the right notes, meticulously tailored to the silver screen, whereas co-star Malkovich often seems to be playing to the last row of the balcony. Close is deliciously cunning here, better-directed by Stephen Frears than she was by Adrian Lyne in “Fatal Attraction” (1987), and walks away with just about all of her scenes. She. Is. Amazing.
If only both Close and Weaver had Oscars, all would be right in the film world.
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, “Dangerous Liaisons”
10. Glenn Close, “Fatal Attraction”
11. Sigourney Weaver, “Gorillas in the Mist”
12. Cher, “Moonstruck”
13. Mariel Hemingway, “Manhattan”
14. Marsha Mason, “Only When I Laugh”
15. Debra Winger, “Terms of Endearment”
16. Diane Keaton, “Reds”
17. Meryl Streep, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
18. Meryl Streep, “The Deer Hunter”
19. Jane Alexander, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
20. Julie Andrews, “Victor/Victoria”
21. Meryl Streep, “A Cry in the Dark”
22. Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”
23. Jessica Lange, “Sweet Dreams”
24. Sissy Spacek, “Missing”
25. Geraldine Page, “The Trip to Bountiful”
26. Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
27. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
28. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
29. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
30. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
31. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
32. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
33. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
34. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
35. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
36. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
37. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
38. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
39. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
40. 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”
SEE Meryl Streep in “Ironweed”
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.