This article marks Part 15 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.
On the heels of the spectacular box office success of “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), Meryl Streep was more a household name than ever. Even teens and twentysomethings who weren’t terribly familiar with Streep’s body of work could now instantly identify the actress who made Miranda Priestly a big screen icon. She quickly hopped aboard three projects for 2007, all of which screamed ‘Oscar contender’ on paper and unfortunately, all of which underperformed upon release.
First, there was “Evening,” a supremely sleepy drama which, despite the presence of heavyweights including Streep, Glenn Close, Claire Danes and Vanessa Redgrave, failed to leave much of an impression at all. Faring even worse was CIA thriller “Rendition,” with Streep in a “Manchurian Candidate”-like villainous supporting role, opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon. The film was laughed off the screen by critics and ignored by audiences, spending a single week in the box office top 10.
Streep’s final 2007 release, the war drama “Lions for Lambs,” was met with a collective shrug when it hit theaters in November. This, despite the picture marking Streep’s long-awaited reunion with “Out of Africa” (1985) leading man Robert Redford and also Redford’s first directorial effort in nearly a decade. Streep, no surprise, did not surface for any of these pictures on Oscar nominations morning.
The following year, thankfully, would prove a whole lot brighter.
While even the most ardent Streep aficionados may be prone to poking fun at ABBA movie musical “Mamma Mia!,” the 2008 release was an unimpeachable box office smash, eclipsing even the success of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Once again, Streep was riding sky-high. It was her next release, however, that would win back the affection of critics, who weren’t exactly keen on the ABBA flick and definitely not enamored with her efforts the year prior.
Back in 1987, while Streep was losing on Oscar night for “Ironweed,” screenwriter John Patrick Shanley‘s “Moonstruck” fared splendidly with voters, picking up three Oscars, including one for Shanley’s exquisite script. Fast-forward two decades and Shanley was ready to hit the big screen with his first directorial effort since “Joe Versus the Volcano” (1990). The project? A film adaptation of his play “Doubt,” which proved the toast of the Tony Awards three years prior.
Headlining “Doubt” would be none other than a star who “Moonstruck” star Cher defeated back at the 1987 Oscars.
The 2008 Oscar nominees in Best Actress were:
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Hathaway portrays Kym Buchman, a recovering addict temporarily released from rehab so she can attend sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt)’s wedding. Kym’s presence proves challenging for family and friends, as Rachel frowns upon father Paul (Bill Irwin)’s pampering of Kym; Kym resents Rachel for selecting a friend instead of her own sister to be maid of honor; and self-centered mother Abby (Debra Winger) spurs tension with both of her daughters. This performance, which won her Best Actress honors from the National Board of Review, marked Hathaway’s first Oscar nomination.
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Jolie portrays Christine Collins, a single mom who, in 1920s Los Angeles, arrives home to find son Walter missing. Months later, amidst Christine’s grueling search, “Walter” is suddenly found in Illinois. Problem is, it’s not really her son. This inspires Christine to challenge the L.A. police force, a move that leads to authorities slandering her as an unfit mother. This performance marked Jolie’s second Oscar nomination.
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Leo portrays Ray Eddy, a working-class upstate New York mom in desperate need of money after her husband abandons the family. Ray meets Lila (Misty Upham), a widowed woman who resides on a reservation at the U.S.-Canadian border and earns a living smuggling immigrants across the frozen St. Lawrence River. Before long, Ray is joining Lila on these dangerous trafficking missions. This performance marked Leo’s first Oscar nomination.
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
Streep portrays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the ironclad, domineering principal at the St. Nicholas School in the Bronx, circa-1964. When fellow nun Sister James (Oscar nominee Amy Adams) reveals her concerns about the unusual amount of time Father Flynn (Oscar nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman) is spending alone with a new student, Sister Aloysius makes it her mission to bring down the priest, even though she hasn’t a shred of evidence to prove any wrongdoing. This performance, which won her a Screen Actors Guild Award, marked Streep’s 15th Oscar nomination.
Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
Winslet portrays Hanna Schmitz, a mysterious woman who enters into a covert affair with teenager Michael (David Cross) in postwar Germany. The two establish a deep bond as Michael reads one classic book after another to her. Then, suddenly, she disappears. Nearly a decade later, Michael at last comes across Hanna again, under the most unlikely and tragic of circumstances. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and BAFTA Award, marked Winslet’s sixth Oscar nomination and first win.
Overlooked Contenders: Cate Blanchett, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Penelope Cruz, “Elegy”; Rebecca Hall, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”; Frances McDormand, “Burn After Reading”; Kristin Scott Thomas, “I’ve Loved You So Long”
Won: Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
Should’ve won: Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
After the ghost town that was Best Actress in 2006, 2008 offered up a far more fruitful field of fantastic leading ladies.
It’s too bad Blanchett, so exquisite and underappreciated here, couldn’t ride the coattails of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to a nomination. Likewise, Cruz and Scott Thomas do some career-best work in “Elegy” and “I’ve Loved You So Long,” respectively. Hall, Hawkins and McDormand? All in fabulous form this year too.
“The Reader” is a truly horrendous motion picture, so bombastic and overbaked it almost plays like a parody of awards-hungry cinema. Director Stephen Daldry has had the advantage of being able to lean heavily on his actors before but here, Winslet, Cross and Ralph Fiennes are essentially just going through the motions, interjecting little life into the drab proceedings. Winslet fares best in the picture’s early-going, when it’s at its most tolerable, but even then she’s not all that compelling.
Also stuck in a lackluster film, albeit one much more watchable than the Daldry picture, is Jolie.
Clint Eastwood is no stranger to delivering a masterful motion picture as a director but, after the grand success of “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” in the mid-2000s, Eastwood’s track record took a spotty turn toward the close of the decade. “Gran Torino” (2008) aside, “Changeling” (2008); “Invictus” (2009); “Hereafter” (2010); and “J. Edgar” (2011) all lost money and failed to generate much enthusiasm from critics or audiences.
Specifically problematic about “Changeling” and “J. Edgar” are their restless running times; thin screenplays; and a too-stylized look and feel.
Unlike Winslet in her picture, Jolie does transcend the mediocrity of “Changeling,” at least to some extent, as does co-star John Malkovich. It’s a capable, sufficiently convincing portrayal that probably could have really shined if the focus were not so heavily on nailing the production design. She does not strike a false note as a prohibition-era woman, even if the film itself comes off so phony and manufactured. Still, for those who haven’t seen the film, it’s not a remarkable-enough performance to really make “Changeling” worth a look.
Beyond “The Reader” and “Changeling,” this line-up sports a whole lot more to like.
In mulling over Streep’s turn in “Doubt,” one cannot help but contrast it with the other two nun portrayals reviewed thus far – Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking” and Anne Bancroft in “Agnes of God” (1985). Streep falls smack-dab in the middle. It’s a portrayal that lacks the alluring nuance of Sarandon’s Oscar-winning work but is still plenty engrossing and not overwrought like Bancroft’s turn.
While Shanley is not an especially compelling filmmaker, he does set the stage here for his performers to completely tear it up on the screen and, thankfully, all of the actors are game.
Sans at the film’s conclusion, Streep is a little one-note here but, given the material, it’s hard to fathom how one could play it otherwise. While for sure not among her best work, the nomination for “Doubt” is not an underserved one.
Streep’s “The Devil Wears Prada” co-star leaves more of an impression here.
“Rachel Getting Married” is not quite top-tier Jonathan Demme. The acting is all-around astounding and so much of the dialogue rings painfully true but much of the picture is ultimately meandering, particularly during the wedding scenes.
Hathaway’s Kym is for sure her most compelling turn to date. It’s a vivid and absorbing portrayal of an addict, not unlike prior Oscar nominee Marsha Mason in “Only When I Laugh” (1981), and Demme’s documentary-like vision makes her performance feel all the more real. Two especially great scenes – Rachel confronting Kym about lies she told during rehab and Rachel later taking Kym in and comforting her sister after a disastrous encounter with their mother.
Still, this one should’ve been Leo’s. It’s a transfixing, devastating turn, absolutely among the most gripping efforts recognized in Best Actress over the 2000s.
Both Leo and co-star Upham (who, at age 32, died tragically in 2014) brilliantly capture the desperation of this unlikely duo, and kudos to Charlie McDermott and Michael O’Keefe too for memorable, understated supporting turns. The toast of Sundance in 2008, we should all be grateful to film festivals for catapulting pictures like “Frozen River” and performances like Leo’s to Oscar glory.
Unlike “The Reader” and “Changeling,” so over-the-top-obvious in their craving for awards season attention, “Frozen River” is an unassuming film that soars on the quiet strengths of its actors and screenwriter. Bravo to this small but superb picture.
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. Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
27. Diane Keaton, “Reds”
28. Meryl Streep, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
29. Meryl Streep, “The Deer Hunter”
30. Jane Alexander, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
31. Julie Andrews, “Victor/Victoria”
32. Meryl Streep, “A Cry in the Dark”
33. Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”
34. Meryl Streep, “Postcards from the Edge”
35. Jessica Lange, “Sweet Dreams”
36. Helen Mirren, “The Queen”
37. Sissy Spacek, “Missing”
38. Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth”
39. Joanne Woodward, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge”
40. Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
41. Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”
42. Geraldine Page, “The Trip to Bountiful”
43. Meryl Streep, “Adaptation”
44. Penelope Cruz, “Volver”
45. Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
46. Meryl Streep, “One True Thing”
47. Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
48. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
49. Annette Bening, “American Beauty”
50. Janet McTeer, “Tumbleweeds”
51. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
52. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
53. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
54. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
55. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
56. Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”
57. Julianne Moore, “The Hours”
58. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
59. Kathy Bates, “About Schmidt”
60. Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
61. Kate Winslet, “Little Children”
62. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
63. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
64. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
65. Meryl Streep, “Music of the Heart”
66. Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility”
67. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
68. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
69. Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
70. Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
71. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
72. Queen Latifah, “Chicago”
73. Barbara Barrie, “Breaking Away”
74. Julia Roberts, “Pretty Woman”
75. 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’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Adaptation’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’
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