This article marks Part 16 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 1977, the year Meryl Streep made her feature film debut in “Julia,” Nora Ephron was working full-time as a columnist for Esquire, penning memorable pieces on the likes of controversial Boston University President John Silber and the series finale of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
By the time, six years later, Ephron made her own big screen debut as screenwriter of the Streep-headlined “Silkwood” (1983), Streep had two Oscar victories under her belt. The success of “Silkwood” in 1983 set expectations supremely high for their collaboration on “Heartburn” (1986), based on the acclaimed Ephron semi-autobiographical novel – anticipation that would make that picture’s ultimate lukewarm response all the more disappointing.
Not that “Heartburn” proved catastrophic for Ephron or Streep, of course. Ephron’s grand success on the screenplay “When Harry Met Sally…” (1989) largely eclipsed the underwhelming reception to other efforts “Cookie” (1989) and “My Blue Heaven” (1990) at the turn of the decade and “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) proved even more a smash than the Billy Crystal–Meg Ryan film.
From there, Ephron’s track record was hit-or-miss. She directed the box office hits “Michael” (1996) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) but neither attained the critical acclaim of “When Harry Met Sally…” More pronounced were the flops “Mixed Nuts” (1994), “Lucky Numbers” (2000) and “Bewitched” (2005). Her 2006 book “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” a #1 New York Times best-seller, served as a reminder of Ephron’s brilliance and it was inevitable, despite the recent tanking of “Bewitched,” that she’d have scant problem landing another project.
That project, sadly her final one before her death in 2012, would reunite her with none other than the actress who graced Ephron’s first feature film.
The 2009 Oscar nominees in Best Actress were:
Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Bullock portrays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a headstrong interior designer who, to the bewilderment of some in her white, southern, Christian conservative community, takes in Michael Oher (Quentin Aaron) a homeless African-American teen who has been in and out of foster care. When Michael expresses an interest in football, Leigh Anne is determined to ensure his abilities are put to use. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award, marked Bullock’s first Oscar nomination and win.
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Mirren portrays Sofya Andreyevna, wife of beloved Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (Oscar nominee Christopher Plummer). While still very much in love, Sofya and Leo spar over who will control the Tolstoy works after his death – she would like the copyrights bestowed upon her, while he prefers they be placed into the public domain. This performance marked Mirren’s fourth Oscar nomination.
Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
Mulligan portrays Jenny Mellor, a bright and beautiful teenager, prepping for admission into Oxford University. Jenny crosses paths with David (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy playboy, twice her age, who pursues Jenny romantically and even wins over her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour). Complications arise when Jenny discovers David makes his living as a con artist but she continues to indulge in this new lavish lifestyle, until another revelation proves too much to swallow. This performance, which won Mulligan honors from the National Board of Review and a BAFTA Award, marked Mulligan’s first Oscar nomination.
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
Sidibe portrays Claireece “Precious” Jones, an overweight, illiterate teenager, incessantly subjected to physical and verbal abuse by loose cannon mother Mary (Oscar winner Mo’Nique). Impregnated by her father for the second time, Precious at last sees light on the horizon when she is offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school. There, she encounters the kind Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who is determined to provide Precious the chance to start anew. This performance marked Sidibe’s first Oscar nomination.
Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
Streep portrays Julia Child, the beloved chef who, in the early years of her culinary career, attends Le Cordon Blue to learn French cooking and co-writes “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” a book tailored to American housewives. This performance, which won her honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and a Golden Globe, marked Streep’s 16th Oscar nomination.
Overlooked Contenders: Penelope Cruz, “Broken Embraces”; Catalina Saavedra, “The Maid”; Meryl Streep, “It’s Complicated”
Won: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
Should’ve won: “Gabourey Sidibe, Precious”
2009, year of the “Avatar” vs. “The Hurt Locker” barn burner, proved an even more modest affair in Best Actress than the year prior. This is also one of those occasions in which voters got the performer right but not the performance.
Cruz, for instance, can’t lift the dreck that is “Nine” (for which she garnered an Oscar nod in Supporting Actress) but would have been a richly deserving honoree here for Pedro Almodovar‘s “Broken Embraces.” Likewise, Streep is so much more loose and fun in “It’s Complicated” than “Julie & Julia,” the latter of which is only half a watchable film, and even the decent half (Streep’s) isn’t all that super. And imagine if voters had the shrewdness to recognize Saavedra!
Alas, on Oscar nominations morning, with the flabbergasting Best Picture nomination for “The Blind Side,” the cake was baked for the big night.
As is the case with Kate Winslet and “The Reader,” here is a wonderful actress (Bullock) who, with the right role and film, would be a richly deserving Oscar winner. Leigh Anne Tuohy of “The Blind Side” is decidedly not that role. The film may not be gag-inducing like “The Reader” but is precisely the sort of bland, cookie cutter cinema that has been so prevalent among sports films in recent years. If only “The Blind Side” had the ambition and patience of say, the “Friday Night Lights” television series, this could have been a real winner.
Ultimately, though, it’s pretty lackluster stuff and not even the great Kathy Bates can juice anything out of the proceedings. Bullock’s performance may not be a bad one but it’s very much a going-through-the-motions turn, in search of a better director and screenplay. If only voters waited a few years, she could have been recognized for a far more watchable effort.
“An Education,” despite a look that aces 1960s London and a fabulous supporting turn by Molina (who surely deserved an Oscar nomination), is a curiously chilly endeavor. Though it’s not a total misfire of a performance, some blame must go to Mulligan. She nicely captures the vulnerability and dizzying feeling of a young woman swept off her feet by a much older man but there’s a curious aloofness to her acting here that drags on the picture.
More satisfying are the remaining three nominees, who are more or less interchangeable in quality.
With the exception of its two nominated performances, “The Last Station” is a very modest picture, from a filmmaker (Michael Hoffman) with a proven penchant for merely satisfactory cinema. Tolstoy’s story would be much better told on the stage than the silver screen – the scenery-chewing here by Mirren and Plummer, while plenty entertaining, would surely be a better fit in a different medium. Still, their larger-than-life turns are pretty much the only reason to sit through the film and it’s a lot of fun watching these thespians ham it up. It’s tough, however, to think of Mirren’s turn as one worthy of an Oscar win.
Likewise, Streep is a blast to watch in “Julie & Julia” and, alongside the delightful Stanley Tucci, the sole reason to check out her film. Not that the Ephron film is on the level of “Bewitched” but the Amy Adams half of the picture is stunningly inferior to the Streep half, so much so you leave dumbfounded that Ephron didn’t scrap all of the tedious Adams stuff and just go all-in on Streep.
Streep’s turn lacks the depth of her best work and isn’t even among her strongest comic performances but it’s still a pleasure spending time with one of our finest actresses, doing a dead-on Julia Child impression. Her chemistry with Tucci (and Jane Lynch, in a small but splendid role as Child’s sister) is splendid and it’s hard not to be won over by her charms, even if the material is light as a feather. Streep is able to make her film worthwhile in a way that Bullock and Winslet aren’t.
Sidibe is another actress who shines in a problematic picture.
Like all Lee Daniels cinema, “Precious” is a film in dire need of a shot of subtlety. All too often, the proceedings veer on the bombastic, which is unfortunate because there are two truly great turns in it – Sidibe and the radiant Patton.
Sidibe, somehow in her screen debut, is devastating in the title role, portraying a damaged young woman who has entirely shut herself down from her surroundings. You can feel the pain that for years as suffocated Precious and you feel that same stirring sense of hope when she’s able to last begin escaping this horrific life. If only “Precious” were a stronger, less on-the-nose film, Sidibe’s performance perhaps could have shined even brighter.
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. Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
46. Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
47. Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
48. Meryl Streep, “One True Thing”
49. Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
50. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
51. Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
52. Annette Bening, “American Beauty”
53. Janet McTeer, “Tumbleweeds”
54. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
55. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
56. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
57. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
58. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
59. Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”
60. Julianne Moore, “The Hours”
61. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
62. Kathy Bates, “About Schmidt”
63. Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
64. Kate Winslet, “Little Children”
65. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
66. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
67. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
68. Meryl Streep, “Music of the Heart”
69. Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility”
70. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
71. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
72. Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
73. Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”
74. Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
75. Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
76. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
77. Queen Latifah, “Chicago”
78. Barbara Barrie, “Breaking Away”
79. Julia Roberts, “Pretty Woman”
80. 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’
SEE Meryl Streep in ‘Doubt’
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.