This article marks Part 11 of the 21-part Gold Derby series 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.
The latter half of the 1990s found Meryl Streep struggling to find a proper follow-up to her sublime, Oscar-nominated turn in “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995).
First, there was “Before and After” (1996), a sleepy collaboration with filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and leading man Liam Neeson. The picture, among Streep’s worst box office performers to date, was out of theaters within a month.
A bit more successful was “Marvin’s Room” (1996), a family drama that at last paired Streep with Diane Keaton, plus Hume Cronyn, Gwen Verdon and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film garnered modest reviews and box office receipts upon opening that December and it was ultimately Keaton, not Streep, who surfaced on Oscar nominations morning.
1997 found Streep altogether missing in action from the big screen, though she did make a return to the small screen in the ABC television movie “…First Do No Harm.” While the project barely left a blip of an impact, Streep did garner an Emmy nomination – her first since “Holocaust” (1978) nearly two decades earlier.
The following year, Streep lined up two feature films, both with Oscar-friendly fall release dates. While one of the two, the Irish drama “Dancing at Lughnasa,” failed to much resonate with critics or audiences, her teaming with hot up-and-comer Renee Zellweger and fellow Oscar favorite William Hurt was about to land Streep her 11th Oscar nomination.
The 1998 Oscar nominees in Best Actress were:
Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth”
Blanchett portrays Elizabeth Tudor, once imprisoned on conspiracy charges but soon crowned the Queen of England following the death of half-sister Queen Mary. Perceived as a novice by figures in and outside of her country, Elizabeth must carefully navigate through the hidden agendas determined to bring her down and keep intact an England that is woefully divided, deep in debt and vilified by its neighbors. This performance, which won her a BAFTA Award and Golden Globe, marked Blanchett’s first Oscar nomination.
Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station”
Montenegro portrays Dora, a sullen former schoolteacher who now makes a living, begrudgingly so, penning letters for illiterate people who pass through Central Station in Rio de Janeiro. Among her clients are Ana and son Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira), who wishes to someday meet the father he’s never seen. When a tragic accident leaves Josue orphaned, Dora reluctantly takes the boy in and embarks on a road trip to unite him with his long-lost father. This performance, which won her Best Actress honors from the National Board of Review, marked Montenegro’s first Oscar nomination.
Gwyneth Paltrow, “Shakespeare in Love”
Paltrow portrays Viola de Lesseps, a fervent fan of the theater and aspiring actress, which, in 1593 London, is uncommon to say the least, if not outright forbidden. Especially fond of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), Viola auditions for a part in his new play, Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter, as a man, donning the name Thomas Kent. It is not long before Shakespeare sees through her act and an impassioned love affair begins. This performance, which won her a Golden Globe, marked Paltrow’s first Oscar nomination and victory.
Meryl Streep, “One True Thing”
Streep portrays Kate, unappreciated matriarch of the Gulden family. After Kate is diagnosed with terminal cancer, estranged daughter Ellen (Renee Zellweger) moves back home to care for her mother. Ellen, who has long been irritated by Kate’s simple, domestic lifestyle and vastly more enamored with novelist father George (William Hurt), begins to reevaluate her parents after finally spending quality time with her mother and discovering some unsavory information about her father. This performance marked Streep’s 11th Oscar nomination.
Emily Watson, “Hilary and Jackie”
Watson portrays Jacqueline “Jackie” du Pre, a brilliant cellist who achieves monumental international acclaim while comparably gifted flutist sister Hilary (Oscar nominee Rachel Griffiths) opts to settle down for a simpler life. Physically and emotionally exhausted, Jackie yearns for the quiet family existence Hilary has built for herself until a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 27 threatens to derail her incredible career. This performance marked Watson’s second Oscar nomination.
Overlooked Contenders: Angela Bassett, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”; Holly Hunter, “Living Out Loud”; Jessica Lange, “Cousin Bette”; Susan Sarandon, “Stepmom”; Julia Sweeney, “God Said ‘Ha!’”; Emma Thompson, “Primary Colors”; Oprah Winfrey, “Beloved”; Renee Zellweger, “One True Thing”
Won: Gwyneth Paltrow, “Shakespeare in Love”
Should’ve won: Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station”
The 1998 race in Best Actress was not, both Oscar nominees and other contenders considered, a terribly fierce one. It is, however, a shame the Oscars did not recognize Hunter and Thompson, both in prime comic form in “Living Out Loud” and “Primary Colors” respectively. Their turns have a rich vitality that is, for the most part, sorely lacking in the Oscar line-up.
Looking back through Best Actress Oscar history, Paltrow is nearly on the same bottom-of-the-barrel level as Elizabeth Taylor in “Butterfield 8” (1960). But at least Taylor’s turn has some entertaining camp value!
“Shakespeare in Love,” Sandy Powell’s sublime costumes aside, is an underwhelming Best Picture winner, with Paltrow’s bland, stilted performance barely passing muster for a high school play. She has proven herself capable of fine screen turns but this isn’t one of them. When her Viola transforms into Thomas Kent, one longs for Julie Andrews’ ‘Victor/Victoria’ to knock her off the screen and show her how it’s really done. This is a vapid performance in an overbearing film that rivals “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952) in head-scratching Best Picture winners.
The good news is this category, even if it is among the weaker Best Actress line-ups, gets significantly more worthwhile beyond its winner.
If and when (and hopefully this never happens) Streep hangs up her hat as an actress, it is unlikely very many will cite “One True Thing” as among her most memorable turns. Not that she’s bad in the picture – it’s actually quite a vivid and affecting performance – but the film is completely owned by Zellweger, in her most absorbing and underrated turn on the screen. Zellweger is absolutely magnificent, riding a roller coaster of emotions as her Ellen at last opens her eyes to her mother’s worth and father’s woes.
Streep, by comparison, is really more of a Supporting player in the picture, alongside Hurt, also in terrific form. The film itself, unfortunately, doesn’t operate at the high level of a “Terms of Endearment” (1983) and the actors seem a bit suppressed from taking the proceedings to a more extraordinary place.
“Elizabeth” may be a cold and despairing, albeit sumptuously designed picture but Blanchett is quite splendid. That she commands the screen as overwhelming as she does is especially impressive when one considers this was only her fourth feature film. The picture, however, is something of a ball and chain on the performance.
Subtlety has never been filmmaker Shekhar Kapur‘s strongest suit – later pictures of his like “The Four Feathers” (2002) and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (2007) are exceedingly underwhelming endeavors – and that’s more than apparent in his 1998 feature. Blanchett is able to save it but if only she had a better director, she really could’ve created some fireworks. As it stands, it’s a strong performance in a subpar film.
Speaking of bravura acting deserving of a better picture, Watson is fantastic in “Hilary and Jackie.” It’s not an earth-shattering turn on the level of her nominated work in “Breaking the Waves” (1996) but still plenty convincing and ultimately devastating. Both she and Griffiths are in riveting form as the du Pre sisters, two lives who make for a compelling biopic, except the film looks and feels a little too slick, small and soapy. The surroundings don’t drown out Watson and Griffiths as “Elizabeth” often does Blanchett but one wishes the picture wasn’t carried so heavily on the backs of its performances alone.
The one great film of these five, which happens to sport the best performance, is “Central Station,” egregiously robbed of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar by Roberto Benigni‘s sticky-sweet “Life Is Beautiful.” In a year stuffed with them, this isn’t a flashy motion picture, packed with dazzling sets and costumes. It’s a film that achieves its grand success on the merits of Walter Salles‘ pitch-perfect direction and screenwriting and the masterful lead performances from Montenegro and de Oliveira.
Montenegro, a sublime character actor of the stage and screen who never made much of a dive into American cinema (she remains the only Brazilian performer to garner an Oscar nomination), hits all of the right notes in her portrayal of Dora, a plenty challenging character to tackle. Dora is hardly the most pleasant of people as “Central Station” opens and it’s gripping to watch as she slowly but surely opens herself up with the presence of Josue in her life. Montenegro’s unaffected turn is not a showy one in the traditional “give me that Oscar” sense but sure does leave a lasting impact, in one of the best road trip films to ever hit the screen.
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. Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station”
21. Susan Sarandon, “Dead Man Walking”
22. Emily Watson, “Hillary and Jackie”
23. Sharon Stone, “Casino”
24. Diane Keaton, “Reds”
25. Meryl Streep, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
26. Meryl Streep, “The Deer Hunter”
27. Jane Alexander, “Kramer vs. Kramer”
28. Julie Andrews, “Victor/Victoria”
29. Meryl Streep, “A Cry in the Dark”
30. Melanie Griffith, “Working Girl”
31. Meryl Streep, “Postcards from the Edge”
32. Jessica Lange, “Sweet Dreams”
33. Sissy Spacek, “Missing”
34. Cate Blanchett, “Elizabeth”
35. Joanne Woodward, “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge”
36. Geraldine Page, “The Trip to Bountiful”
37. Meryl Streep, “One True Thing”
38. Jodie Foster, “The Accused”
39. Susan Sarandon, “Atlantic City”
40. Holly Hunter, “Broadcast News”
41. Meryl Streep, “Out of Africa”
42. Julie Walters, “Educating Rita”
43. Candice Bergen, “Starting Over”
44. Maggie Smith, “California Suite”
45. Katharine Hepburn, “On Golden Pond”
46. Meryl Streep, “Ironweed”
47. Anne Bancroft, “Agnes of God”
48. Debra Winger, “An Officer and a Gentleman”
49. Emma Thompson, “Sense and Sensibility”
50. Meryl Streep, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”
51. Dyan Cannon, “Heaven Can Wait”
52. Penelope Milford, “Coming Home”
53. Barbara Barrie, “Breaking Away”
54. Julia Roberts, “Pretty Woman”
55. 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’
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.