Meryl Streep in ‘Adaptation’: A look back at her 13th Oscar nomination, the competition and the outcome

This article marks Part 13 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 at the Academy Awards, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the contenders.

In 1998, journalist Susan Orlean authored “The Orchid Thief,” based on her investigation of oddball horticulturalist John Laroche who, hellbent on finding and cloning the rare ghost orchid for profit, was arrested in 1994 for allegedly poaching the endangered orchids at a state preserve in Florida. The book, an instant best seller, was hailed not only for its engrossing profile of Laroche but also the other many colorful characters the author came across along the way and Orlean’s own introspection as she yearned for the same enthusiasm in life that these plant aficionados felt.

Not long after its release, filmmaker Jonathan Demme optioned “The Orchid Thief” and hired up-and-coming writer Charlie Kaufman to pen the screenplay. Kaufman’s writing process on the project was, to put it mildly, a struggle, as the writer battled a wicked case of writer’s block. Over time, Kaufman’s work evolved from a straight adaptation of Orlean’s piece to a script about Kaufman’s own exasperating journey to turn “The Orchid Thief” into something for the big screen. He even added in a fictional brother, Donald, to the proceedings.

Fearful his script might spell the end of his career, Kaufman turned in a draft anyway, to stunningly positive notices. By the time the screenplay adaptation, aptly titled “Adaptation,” was complete, Kaufman had catapulted himself onto the Hollywood map in a big way with his Oscar-nominated work on “Being John Malkovich” (1999). While Demme had mulled directing “Adaptation” himself, he ultimately passed along the project to Spike Jonze, director of “Being John Malkovich.”

The success of their first collaboration gave Jonze and Kaufman the license to hire big name actors for their follow-up feature. Among them would be none other than a certain 12-time Oscar nominee.

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

The 2002 Oscar nominees in Best Supporting Actress were:

Kathy Bates, “About Schmidt”
Bates portrays Roberta Hertzel, free-spirited mom of Randall (Dermot Mulroney) and future mother-in-law to Jeannie Schmidt (Hope Davis). On the heels of the big wedding day, Roberta welcomes Jeannie’s estranged father Warren (Oscar nominee Jack Nicholson) into her home. Warren has been aimlessly meandering through life since retirement and the death of wife Helen (June Squibb). The exuberant and mightily oversexed Roberta suspects a dip in her hot tub might just perk him up. This performance, which won her Best Supporting Actress honors from the National Board of Review, marked Bates’ third Oscar nomination.

Queen Latifah, “Chicago”
Latifah portrays Matron “Mama” Morton, keeper of the keys, countess of the clink, the mistress of Murderess’ Row. Mama may be the epitome of corruption but she’s also a nurturing and indomitable force at Cook County Jail. It isn’t long before homicidal housewife Roxie Hart (Oscar nominee Renee Zellweger) learns that as long as you’re good to mama, she’ll be good to you. This performance marked Latifah’s first Oscar nomination.

Julianne Moore, “The Hours”
Moore portrays Laura Brown, seemingly living the American Dream as a housewife and mother in post-World War II California but immensely unhappy beneath the surface. Despondent over the possibility that she may not be able to again conceive, Laura finds escape from her sorrowful existence through Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” This performance, which won her Best Actress honors (for both this and “Far from Heaven”) from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, marked Moore’s third Oscar nomination.

Meryl Streep, “Adaptation”
Streep portrays Susan Orlean, author of “The Orchid Thief.” Susan is pursued by eccentric screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Oscar nominee Nicolas Cage), who is working on a big screen adaptation of her best-seller. Charlie and twin brother Donald (also Cage) follow Susan down to Florida, where she is meeting up with John Laroche (Chris Cooper, in a brilliant Oscar-winning turn), the central protagonist of her novel who is instilling some long overdue life into the bored writer. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe, marked Streep’s 13th Oscar nomination.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
Zeta-Jones portrays Velma Kelly, a vaudeville sensation who once performed alongside sister Veronica. That is, unless Velma caught Veronica sleeping with her husband and well, things got a little bloody. Velma emerges a commanding presence on Murderess’ Row and lands virtuoso attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) but her public attention is threatened by the debut of fellow inmate Roxie Hart, who also hires Flynn and yearns to make a name for herself in the headlines. This performance, which won her a BAFTA Award and Screen Actors Guild Award, marked Zeta-Jones’ first Oscar nomination and win.

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

Overlooked Contenders: Amy Adams, “Catch Me if You Can”; Brenda Blethyn, “Lovely & Amazing”; Patricia Clarkson, “Far from Heaven”; Toni Collette, “The Hours”; Raven Goodwin, “Lovely & Amazing”; Tea Leoni, “Hollywood Ending”; Debra Messing, “Hollywood Ending”; Emily Mortimer, “Lovely & Amazing”; Samantha Morton, “Minority Report”; Bebe Neuwirth, “Tadpole”; Lupe Ontiveros, “Real Women Have Curves”; Do Thi Hai Yen, “The Quiet American”

Won: Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”

Should’ve won: Meryl Streep, “Adaptation”

There was no shortage of fabulous supporting female performances in 2002. Beyond the Oscar nominees, you had turns in more underseen pictures like Nicole Holofcener‘s criminally underappreciated “Lovely & Amazing,” which could have practically filled the entire category. Clarkson, Neuwirth and Ontiveros for sure deserved recognition and while it’s not among Woody Allen‘s finest, Leoni and Messing are dazzling in “Hollywood Ending.”

The actual Oscar-nominated turns, however, aren’t quite as exciting, instead performances for the most part riding the coattails of their respective pictures.

Awesome as it is to refer to Latifah as an Oscar nominee, it’s a real stretch to label her work in “Chicago” as truly Oscar-caliber. Mama is a pretty limited, albeit scene-stealing role in the stage production and her presence is reduced even further in the film adaptation by eliminating one of her two musical numbers (“Class” was left on the cutting room floor and later showcased as a deleted scene). Latifah has a field day with “When You’re Good to Mama” but then all but disappears from the picture. It’s hardly a bad performance – she’s both a fabulous actress and singer – but she simply isn’t given a whole lot to do.

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Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, has plenty of meat to chew on in “Chicago,” though Velma is also a bit less in attendance here vis a vis the stage, as Rob Marshall establishes Roxie as the de-facto leading lady of the motion picture. Zeta-Jones is a dazzling dancer and certainly looks the part but, much like the rest of the film, her portrayal feels curiously labored and affected. Her renditions of “All That Jazz” and “I Can’t Do it Alone” are credible but Marshall’s grandiloquent staging often makes the proceedings ring false and too stylized, lacking the sensual magic that has made the Broadway revival such a smash for decades.

Bates is a riot in “About Schmidt,” a picture that surely deserved more Oscar nominations than merely for her and Nicholson, but the part is ultimately a miniscule one. The film especially catches fire when the two Oscar nominees share the screen, with Bates having a ball with the Alexander PayneJim Taylor dialogue. She doesn’t have that much screen time, though, and Roberta, while blissfully raunchy, is hardly a role on the same level of an Annie Wilkes or Dolores Claiborne.

Another admirable, albeit not quite extraordinary turn is Moore’s, her second-best performance from 2002 (the other being “Far from Heaven,” for which she deserved an Oscar, Pulitzer Prize and every other award that graces the planet), in “The Hours.”

“The Hours” is a dreary endeavor to say the least and not terribly nuanced but the performances are just rich enough to make the picture worthwile.

Working with an inferior director and screenplay (comparative to Todd Haynes and “Far from Heaven”), Moore does what she can with Laura Brown. It’s a sad, sensitive performance that lacks the layers of Moore’s best turns but still gets under the skin. Her scene with the terrific Toni Collette is among the film’s best and when Laura resurfaces in the picture’s contemporary third, her presence is a plenty welcome one.

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Even if “Adaptation” is not quite among the best Streep performances, giving her the win here is kind of a no-brainer, given the competition.

What was so special at the time about taking on the role of Susan Orlean is “Adaptation” marked the first time Streep made us laugh in a decade – since “Death Becomes Her” (1992). Her turns in pictures like “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995) and “One True Thing” (1998) were exemplary but there was a sense Streep needed to lighten up a bit after a barrage of heavy dramas.

Streep is not quite as devastatingly funny in “Adaptation” as in “Death Becomes Her” or even “She-Devil” (1992) but it sure is still one sharp performance. She and Cooper have an awe-inspiring grasp on the Kaufman screenplay, which at last gives Streep the opportunity to get high and drop some F-bombs. Streep clearly had an absolute blast.

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The performances ranked (thus far):

1. Jessica Lange, “Frances”
2. Whoopi Goldberg, “The Color Purple”
3. Meryl Streep, “The Bridges of Madison County”
4. Meryl Streep, “Sophie’s Choice”

5. Shirley MacLaine, “Terms of Endearment”
6. Meryl Streep, “Silkwood”
7. Jane Alexander, “Testament”
8. Sally Kirkland, “Anna”
9. Maureen Stapleton, “Interiors”
10. Glenn Close, “Dangerous Liaisons”
11. Glenn Close, “Fatal Attraction”
12. Sigourney Weaver, “Gorillas in the Mist”
13. Cher, “Moonstruck”
14. Mariel Hemingway, “Manhattan”
15. Marsha Mason, “Only When I Laugh”
16. Elisabeth Shue, “Leaving Las Vegas”
17. Debra Winger, “Terms of Endearment”
18. Kathy Bates, “Misery”
19. Anjelica Huston, “The Grifters”
20. Julianne Moore, “The End of the Affair”
21. Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station”
22. Susan Sarandon, “Dead Man Walking”
23. Emily Watson, “Hillary and Jackie”
24. Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry”
25. Sharon Stone, “Casino”
26. Diane Keaton, “Reds”
27. Meryl Streep, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
28. Meryl Streep, “The Deer Hunter”

29. Jane Alexander, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
30. Julie Andrews, “Victor/Victoria”
31. Meryl Streep, “A Cry in the Dark”
32. Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”
33. Meryl Streep, “Postcards from the Edge”
34. Jessica Lange, “Sweet Dreams”
35. Sissy Spacek, “Missing”
36. Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth”
37. Joanne Woodward, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge”
38. Geraldine Page, “The Trip to Bountiful”
39. Meryl Streep, “Adaptation”
40. Meryl Streep, “One True Thing”
41. Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
42. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
43. Annette Bening, “American Beauty”
44. Janet McTeer, “Tumbleweeds”
45. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
46. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
47. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
48. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
49. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
50. Julianne Moore, “The Hours”
51. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
52. Kathy Bates, “About Schmidt”
53. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
54. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
55. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
56. Meryl Streep, “Music of the Heart”
57. Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility”
58. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
59. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
60. Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
61. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
62. Queen Latifah, “Chicago”
63. Barbara Barrie, “Breaking Away”
64. Julia Roberts, “Pretty Woman”
65. Gwyneth Paltrow, “Shakespeare in Love”

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”
SEE Meryl Streep in “A Cry in the Dark”
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Postcards from the Edge’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘One True Thing’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Music of the Heart’

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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