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The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Meryl Streep

Dec. 30, 2013by: Chris Bumbray

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.

Meryl Streep

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

5. THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
4. DEFENDING YOUR LIFE
3. THE DEER HUNTER
2. SOPHIE'S CHOICE
1. OUT OF AFRICA

Up Next

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.

Source: JoBlo.com

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8:47PM on 12/30/2013
I have to agree with anomaly7, a lot of her more recent work screams "Give me an Oscar!" which bugs the crap out of me. But she is a terrific actress and I agree with Chris that her "resurgence" has been more enjoyable than not. Unfortunately, I have not seen most of her early work (just good supporting turns in Manhattan and Kramer vs Kramer), but this article makes me want to go dig them up. So, Chris, now that we've done the most nominated actress of all time, we can do the most nominated
I have to agree with anomaly7, a lot of her more recent work screams "Give me an Oscar!" which bugs the crap out of me. But she is a terrific actress and I agree with Chris that her "resurgence" has been more enjoyable than not. Unfortunately, I have not seen most of her early work (just good supporting turns in Manhattan and Kramer vs Kramer), but this article makes me want to go dig them up. So, Chris, now that we've done the most nominated actress of all time, we can do the most nominated actor right? (Jack Nicholson)
Streep's Top 5:
5. The Iron Lady (tied with) Hope Springs
4. The Devil Wears Prada
3. It's Complicated
2. Adaptation.
1. Julie & Julia
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2:05PM on 12/30/2013
There is no denying that Streep is a great actress. However, I think the thing that bugs me and other movie fans is that most her roles these days seem to be the "award bait" type roles. I certainly felt that way about Iron Lady, and felt the oscar should have gone to viola Davis. I'd like to see her in more films like lemony snicket, something more fun that the usual oscar bait dramas.
There is no denying that Streep is a great actress. However, I think the thing that bugs me and other movie fans is that most her roles these days seem to be the "award bait" type roles. I certainly felt that way about Iron Lady, and felt the oscar should have gone to viola Davis. I'd like to see her in more films like lemony snicket, something more fun that the usual oscar bait dramas.
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1:40PM on 12/30/2013
Thank you Bumbray for singling out Defending Your Life! Very acute. This was the movie that made me a fan of hers. It's a brilliant movie and she is wonderful in it.
Thank you Bumbray for singling out Defending Your Life! Very acute. This was the movie that made me a fan of hers. It's a brilliant movie and she is wonderful in it.
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12:52PM on 12/30/2013
She's without a doubt one of the best ever. But I have to agree with what Jedd the Jedi said; as great as she performs, sometimes it's hard to separate Meryl from her characters (in certain films).

On a side note, I'd love to see Glenn Close get her own "The Good, The Bad and the Badass" column (hopefully including her performance in Damages).
She's without a doubt one of the best ever. But I have to agree with what Jedd the Jedi said; as great as she performs, sometimes it's hard to separate Meryl from her characters (in certain films).

On a side note, I'd love to see Glenn Close get her own "The Good, The Bad and the Badass" column (hopefully including her performance in Damages).
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12:21PM on 12/30/2013
Thought she was great in It's Complicated. Great film.
Thought she was great in It's Complicated. Great film.
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12:11PM on 12/30/2013
I saw Silkwood over the weekend on TCM. My only gripe was that she--or rather her character--was smoking in damn near every scene in the movie. The ending, though, was so sad, it made me want to cry, if I had the tears.
I saw Silkwood over the weekend on TCM. My only gripe was that she--or rather her character--was smoking in damn near every scene in the movie. The ending, though, was so sad, it made me want to cry, if I had the tears.
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10:11AM on 12/30/2013
I know she's a good actress and all, but for some reason I don't really like her as an actress. I don't even remember the last movie I've seen of hers. I just find her annoying, can't explain why. Something about her just annoys me.
I know she's a good actress and all, but for some reason I don't really like her as an actress. I don't even remember the last movie I've seen of hers. I just find her annoying, can't explain why. Something about her just annoys me.
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10:23AM on 12/30/2013
I think part of it is that she doesn't disappear completely into a role like Daniel Day-Lewis and you can always still tell that it's Meryl Streep even when she's giving her 100% in the part.
I think part of it is that she doesn't disappear completely into a role like Daniel Day-Lewis and you can always still tell that it's Meryl Streep even when she's giving her 100% in the part.
10:00AM on 12/30/2013
I'd have to say my personal favorites by Streep are Death Becomes Her, She-Devil (starring the amazing Roseanne), and Devil Wears Prada. These are films that I have watched over a hundred times each and can still watch them 100 more.
I'd have to say my personal favorites by Streep are Death Becomes Her, She-Devil (starring the amazing Roseanne), and Devil Wears Prada. These are films that I have watched over a hundred times each and can still watch them 100 more.
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9:45AM on 12/30/2013
So her best performance is the one in which she completely mangles a foreign accent? The woman hasn't met a non-American accent she couldn't screw up beyond all recognition.
So her best performance is the one in which she completely mangles a foreign accent? The woman hasn't met a non-American accent she couldn't screw up beyond all recognition.
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7:31AM on 12/30/2013
I really love Out of Africa (speaking of which I need to revisit the movie again). What about Death Becomes Her? She was actually good in comedic role.
I really love Out of Africa (speaking of which I need to revisit the movie again). What about Death Becomes Her? She was actually good in comedic role.
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5:38AM on 12/30/2013
That scene in Sophie's Choice.... :(
That scene in Sophie's Choice.... :(
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5:13AM on 12/30/2013
My mom's a big fan of hers, as I'm sure many moms are. I'm actually glad she's taking on less serious, more fun roles in films like The Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia and Mamma Mia because even when she's cutting loose, Streep is still a force to be reckoned with. What's great is that she's this living legend and yet doesn't really seem to have many airs about her or come off as a diva and she's really funny in interviews. I'd like to see her in some more villainous roles; she was
My mom's a big fan of hers, as I'm sure many moms are. I'm actually glad she's taking on less serious, more fun roles in films like The Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia and Mamma Mia because even when she's cutting loose, Streep is still a force to be reckoned with. What's great is that she's this living legend and yet doesn't really seem to have many airs about her or come off as a diva and she's really funny in interviews. I'd like to see her in some more villainous roles; she was effectively, magnetically terrifying in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. It's the longest of long shots, but she'd be a great Jacqueline Natla should the powers that be decide to put that character in a Tomb Raider movie some time.
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4:04AM on 12/30/2013

I agree about August

I LOVE Streep. I love all her films. I've never wished badly against her or assumed she'd give a weak performance, but starting with The Devil Wears Prada she seems to have been going a more costume-heavy caricature-favoring route. I was shocked and disagreed when she won for The Iron Lady and I'd seen it early at a film fest with Abi Morgan in attendance. I've seen AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY on stage and I loved it, then again saw an early screening of the flick. Streep finally found a character she
I LOVE Streep. I love all her films. I've never wished badly against her or assumed she'd give a weak performance, but starting with The Devil Wears Prada she seems to have been going a more costume-heavy caricature-favoring route. I was shocked and disagreed when she won for The Iron Lady and I'd seen it early at a film fest with Abi Morgan in attendance. I've seen AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY on stage and I loved it, then again saw an early screening of the flick. Streep finally found a character she doesn't understand and was probably miscast in. Besides the film reeking of awards-bait, it was just a purely showy performance with nothing genuine within.
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