The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Meryl Streep
Last week we took a look at the incredible career of master director Martin Scorsese, easily one of the greatest filmmakers that's ever lived. This week's subject is another icon whose career in front of the camera has spanned over thirty-six years and resulted in a whole slew of award wins.
When it comes to listing the most consistent and gifted performers in Hollywood, Meryl Streep's name is more often than not near the top of that list. Streep's a brilliant actress, known for her mastery of accents and the powerhouse of emotion she brings to each part. From her early days as a supporting actress in movies like THE DEER HUNTER- where she played Robert De Niro's wounded love interest- to KRAMER VS KRAMER, Streep started at the top of the heap and has never fallen off, thanks to a brilliant, triumphant slew of films.
What's amazing is that Streep, at 64, is probably more popular than ever, riding a resurgent wave that started with THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and continued with MAMMA MIA. In her younger days Streep rarely got the chance to stray from heavy drama, but now she seems keen to play parts in all kinds of movies, regardless of the genre, and has also shown a flair for comedy. Who knew?
Streep is also a perennial Oscar favorite, having won outright three times, in addition to seventeen nominations (and twenty-eight for the Golden Globes). It's rare that Streep puts a film out and doesn't end up in the running for some major awards love. This year, she's back in the race once more with AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.
Her Best Work
This is a tough one for a few reasons. For one, Streep has been great in so many damn movies it's hard to narrow down the list to just one. Another reason- and one I'm ashamed of- is that I haven't seen a lot of her essential movies, like SILKWOOD, HEARTBURN or THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. Of what I've seen, OUT OF AFRICA probably has my favorite all-around performance. Streep, affecting another accent, plays writer Karen Blixen, who lived on a coffee plantation in Africa during the early twentieth-century. There, she fell passionately in love with hunter Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford. Directed by Sydney Pollack, OUT OF AFRICA is a gorgeous epic, and Streep anchors the film, portraying Blixen as a complicated, occasionally frustrating, but passionate woman. It's also worth noting that John Barry's musical score is among the best ever written.
Her Most Underrated Film
To me, her most underrated film is probably the 1991 Albert Brooks comedy DEFENDING YOUR LIFE. While it's definitely a star vehicle for Brooks, Streep is deeply affecting and funny as a virtual superwoman who, upon her death, improbably finds a soul mate in Brooks' regular schmoe worry wart. If you're used to older Meryl, you'll be surprised to see how much of a fox she was back then, and her chemistry with Brooks is superb. Curtis Hanson's THE RIVER WILD is another good one, and a rare opportunity to see Streep in thriller-action movie mode.
Her Most Overrated Film
I'm going to choose one many of you probably haven't seen, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, which just opened in limited release. Despite the festival plays and awards buzz, I found this adaptation of Tracy Letts' play to be over the top and phony, which, I'm sad to say, also describes Meryl's performance. She rarely goes wrong but as the shrewish, pill-popping nightmare mother Streep comes off as absurd. Margo Martindale, in a smaller part as Meryl's sister seems like she would have been a better fit for the part.
Her Most Memorable Scene
How could it be anything other than the climatic scene in SOPHIE'S CHOICE where young Sophie is being taken to Auschwitz with her two children? Here, she's forced by a sadistic Nazi to chose between them- only one can stay by her side, the other will be sent to the gas chambers. It's an impossible choice, and Streep's performance- in German no less- as her daughter is torn screaming from her arms is one of the highlights of an incredible career.
Her Top-Five Performances
Streep's a busy lady, with her once again in the running for awards consideration with next year's Disney musical INTO THE WOODS, in addition to the half-dozen other films that she's been linked to that are in the various stages of development.