It's Friday, which means it's Twice a Best Actress Day! Now, I know that a lot of times we cover actresses and performances that you may not be entirely familiar with, but this is Meryl Streep week, and I know you've seen these performances...so expect a lot of comments this week!
I have to say, this wasn't fun. Rewatching these movies was...hard. One isn't awful, but it's finale slays me, and the other is...well, we're about to review it so I'll leave it at that.
First, our esteemed panel:
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Fritz from Fritz and the Oscars
Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle
Kevin from Speaks in Movie Lines
Sati from Cinematic Corner
With 18 nominations (and counting), 3 wins (so far), and the undisputed title of the greatest actress to ever grace the screen, sometimes it can be easy to take for granted just how skilled and gifted Meryl Streep is as an actress. For almost 40 years she's brought her technical skill (is there any accent she can't do flawlessly?) and emotional accessibility to legendary performances. But the performance often cited as her crowning achievement, the one that early on sealed her legacy, was her work as a holocaust survivor in 1982's Sophie's Choice. So much so that for years now, we've been confusing how masterful her work is with the actual quality of the film (it even somehow found its way on AFI's 100 Best Films of All Time). But that's how powerful she is in it. Year's after you've seen Streep communicating her heartbreaking story in three different languages, including a perfectly executed Polish-accented English (director Alan J. Pakula had originally wanted actual European Liv Ullman to play the role, but Streep is effortlessly able to convince us of her foreignness), we've somehow forgotten how unremarkable the film around her actually is. The film keeps insisting that we actually care about Peter MacNicol's mopey writer (who's determined to turn Sophie into some sort of fantasy dream girl, but Streep steadfastly is able to ground her in uncompromising, and even harsh, reality) or Kevin Kline's frustratingly annoying jealous lover, when all we want is to dive further into Sophie's life in Poland before the war, know more about her time in the concentration camp, and explore the survivor's guilt she carries with her after her painful decision. And Streep, despite the film's fascination with her secret, trying to make her seem as mysterious as possible, never succumbs to easy answers. Her Sophie is guarded because she knows that withholding certain truths is vital to her continued survival and Streep lets the flickers of her pain surface when it needs to. All building up to her devastating admittance. That pain she has carried with her for so long, gnawing at her soul, has eaten away at her so much that once it's out the only solution is to stop trying to endure. And Streep, dry-eyed yet soulful in her recollection, is skilled and shrewd enough to realize that we are the ones that must weep for Sophie because she can't allow herself to anymore. It's a towering performance amid a film unworthy of its perfection.
My Grade: A-
I feel like my memory has been unkind to Streep’s performance in Sophie’s Choice. While often regarded as one of the very best performances to ever win the Best Actress Oscar, in recent years I’ve begun to consider this performance an overrated one. I don’t think there was any real reason for this, other than the constant overpraise of Streep’s talents (like, she’s a great actress, but she doesn’t deserve half to accolades she receives), but in my mind it all boiled down to that final scene, that big reveal, that choice…and so in my head she got this reward for a moment and that was all.
And she was up against my beloved Julie Andrews in a performance I have always regarded as utter perfection, so there was that.
Then I rewatched this, and I have to say that my memory was incorrect. Instead of a moment, I found a bounty of them, and despite the fact that the film hasn’t aged all that wonderfully as a whole (I still like it more than most, to be honest), her performance within this film is nothing short of astonishing. This is basically three performances; the actress, the haunted and the suffering, and she plays all with such fluid, cohesive elegance. Streep has always been a performer who makes you feel what she’s feeling. She just has this direct way of emoting. This doesn’t always work. In fact, there are times when this is a distraction. She’s so technical. But here, the technical aspects are backed up with this sincere element of emotion that haunts the viewer. You can sense the complete character in all of these separate ‘performances’, delivering a woman who feels so whole it hurts.
Reevaluating your opinion of a performance is the joy of cinema, and here is an instance where my initial reaction (which was complete awe) was clouded by my personal opinion of her current career and idolization, and separating the actress and the singular performance is always something important to do.
Streep, as a whole, is overrated. This performance is not.
I’ve seen the entire Oscar ballot. The 80’s, while often cited as a low point for film as a whole, has produced some incredible Oscar nominees, and I’ve discovered that the Lead Actress category is full of treasures this particular decade. All five nominees were outstanding, but despite having serious affection for Winger and Andrews, and admiring Lange’s tour-de-force a great deal; Streep won this fair and square and really, it’s a shame to even try and refute that.
My Grade: A+
I have to confess that Meryl Streep is starting to get on my nerves. The fact that she is always an Oscar contender for everything she does began to make her a less exciting actress than she used to be – but I also confess that I can never really fault her for it at the same time. She gets on my nerves with her constant acclaim but it is hardly ever undeserved. Meryl Streep is such a strong technical actress that she can amaze you even when she doesn’t do anything amazing at all. But of course, there is also the young Meryl Streep who was much more spontaneous and relaxed in front of the camera and who was able to get right to the top from the start of her career. And she reached her own peak very early in her career when she stared in Sophie’s Choice. Of course, it’s again the technical level that amazes – the accent, the languages, the way of moving and talking. But it’s a credit to Meryl Streep that her Sophie still possesses an inner life despite the fact that the screenplay doesn’t give her any – Sophie only exists as a vessel of suffering and she spends her life going from monologue to monologue. It’s actually a very straight-forward role that didn’t ask Meryl Streep to add any complexity but the whole result is still so overwhelming that I can't resist even if I wanted to. The grief, the horror, the SCENE…it’s just unforgettable and there is a reason why this performance is so often mentioned as a benchmark for movie acting.
My Grade: A+
Streep won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish immigrant who escaped from Nazi Germany to the U.S., but at a terrible cost. This role was almost guaranteed Oscar recognition of some kind, even if the performance wasn't this good. Streep gives the performance of her career as the tortured woman who falls into a love triangle with a paranoid schizophrenic and a passionate writer. The emotional baggage of this character is portrayed beautifully by Streep, who disappears into the role. Of course, Sophie's accent is a challenge, but Streep is nearly perfect with it. The role wouldn't be so iconic without the "choice" scene, which features some of the finest acting I've ever witnessed. Streep's delicate, immersive performance is the stuff of legend, and it's a well-deserved one. It's fitting that she won her first lead Oscar for her best work.
Did Streep deserve to win?
Yes, but Jessica Lange's stunning performance in Frances was worth some consideration.
My Grade: A+
Alan J. Pakula's "Sophie's Choice" is one powerful movie, and it marks the first time I've been able to make it all the way through a Pakula film. His movies are usually way too slow and disjointed for me (see: "Klute" and "All the President's Men"). This one works and works well. There two reasons for this: Peter MacNicol's brilliant (un-nominated) turn as the young, Southern writer, Stingo, and the unreal range of Meryl Streep as Sophie.
As a matter of fact, the chemistry shared in this manic love triangle of Stingo and Sophie and the nutty Nathan (an also incredible and un-nominated Kevin Kline) is brilliant all around and works to make the movie itself and Meryl's amazing performance even more powerful. My identification with young Stingo is really what makes this movie work for me. I imagine the pain he must feel, the sadness as he travels deeper and deeper into the mysteries and immense pain of Sophie's life.
This is just top-notch acting from one of the greatest. As Sophie, Meryl Streep completely transforms herself and, in turn, the audience. The accent is never broken, her ability to flow even into different languages is nothing short of awe-inducing. Added to this, she never loses sight of who the character is in facial expressions and mannerisms even with the struggle of playing a foreign accent and multiple languages. To begin (save that very first scene), she is charming, cheerful, funny, and beautiful. The flashback where she first meets Nathan is a nice, early juxtaposition to this as she is newly arrived to America and deathly anemic. When she begins to tell Stingo of her life at Auschwitz, layer after layer just piles on. Her face in that scene where she talks, sitting in the window, shadows darkening the room and her face, that one tear just sitting right underneath her eye, is one of the most powerful bits of acting I've seen. Then, the story takes us to the deadliest of Nazi Death Camps, and we are awed some more.
I found myself asking this question constantly: How did she do this? It is just amazing. And, as for the movie itself, the end, for our narrator, Stingo, is tragic and beautiful and perfect. This is a great movie with incredible performances all around, and nobody was beating Meryl for the top prize of '82.
The Scene That Won It: Two scenes of internal conflict brought outward--the first fight with Nathan begging him to stay, and the line in Auschwitz begging the Nazi not to make her choose.
My Grade: A+
I have never seen Streep this young in a movie before, other than her short appearance in Woody Allen's Manhattan so it was quite fascinating. Sophie's Choice is a big film, with its 150 minutes run time and all those tragedies that happen in it. The film is gorgeously shot, the score is lovely and the three main performances are very good. Yet it's a movie that is known for two things - bringing Meryl Streep her Oscar win and being cited as one of the most heartbreaking, saddest movie ever. In fact the titular moment is such a famous scene that most people don't even remember anything else about the movie.
I was actually kinda underwhelmed by this moment, I know, I know, how awful. Obviously I knew what was going to happen in the scene but still it's just wasn't one of the most powerful scenes I've seen - yes, what is happening is inhuman and horribly awful but the way it was shown was not as shocking as it could have been, especially that this scene is the most important element of the story. It is horrific and sad but it's an overhyped scene. And Streep's only the third most impactful thing about it - the little girl crying is just heart wrenching and that guy who played the Nazi? Just chilling.
Streep is excellent however - particularly in her modern scenes where she is talking about and remembering her past. She is very charming in other moments but it's only when she is this strange, odd, ethereal, hardened creature that her best moments come - it's not the flashbacks, not the arguments with Nathan but these that are the most powerful moments - the look in her eyes as if she lived for hundreds years, seen too much, learned too much. This is what stands out in her performance the most and shows the essence of the pain much better than the script and heart wrenching events depicted on screen.
On the side note I was very impressed with the way she spoke in Polish and German believably, even if she sounded Russian when speaking in English with an accent.
Well deserved win.
My Grade: A
It seems to be a recurring theme in Streep's career that she is better than the material she's in. She hasn't appeared in a Best Picture nominated film since 1985's Out of Africa and several times has been a film's sole Oscar nomination. She seems more drawn to the role itself and not the other elements around it. She's always so predictably wonderful, that another great performance in a not-so-great film can be easy to overlook. Which is why it probably took her so long to score her second Best Actress win. The only reason she finally won again, almost 30 years after her last win for Sophie's Choice, was not because The Iron Lady was better than anything else she'd appeared in, but simply because that year she decided she really wanted it and campaigned hard enough to let everyone know that she was ready to get out of her seat for a change. While her performance as Margaret Thatcher is a masterclass in technique and mimicry, the film itself does her no favors. A muddled biopic told in flashback, Streep, in Oscar-winning age make-up, gets to play both an older Thatcher suffering dementia and a more vibrant woman at the height of her power. Though hardly a surprise, Streep plays both skillfully (her movements and voice practiced and precise). But the film never seems to linger long enough on anything to allow her to create an entire character. She constructs fine moments, but the film is so disjointed, jumping around so often that it's impossible to see the complete picture. And we leave the film not really knowing much more about this woman than we did at the beginning. I'm in favor of honoring Streep for her continued contribution to cinema, but this isn't the right performance for that. And even worse, her Iron Lady steamrolled right over Viola Davis' moving performance in the equally flawed The Help, elevating her film in a way that Streep was simply unable to.
My Grade: B
This feels almost wrong to say, but I own The Iron Lady. I didn’t buy it; I got it for free before I saw the film and was asked for my honest opinion of the film. The film is trash. I mean, the film itself is an utter, pointless, worthless mess.
But we’re not here to talk about the film.
The 2011 Lead Actress Oscar race was a weird one. Glenn Close’s vanity project turned out to be an odd mess of a film, Michelle Williams served up Lifetime on the big screen, Viola Davis starred in a white washed Hallmark movie and Rooney Mara received one of the bravest Oscar nominations of all time. And then there was Meryl Streep, in a pretty much panned film about a woman no one liked. The lineup was bizarre. Only Mara was even in a good film, despite the fact that The Help was a populist hit and snagged an Oscar BP nom. Mara aside, the remaining four nominees didn’t even feel like legit Emmy nominees. These were mediocre performances (well, Davis wasn’t mediocre, but whatever) in poorly made television movies. No one felt like a real winner here.
And so, when in doubt, go with Streep.
The thing is, Streep doesn’t turn in a bad performance despite being in an awful film. She’s technically really, really good here, actually. Sadly, she isn’t given much to do but repeat the same barrage of pointless scenes and suffer through such an asinine script it’s painful to watch. There is no build of character, at all. We never find out who Thatcher was, and so while Meryl is completely IN this character (she melts into this role, without an ounce of ‘Streep’ showing), she really isn’t playing a character at all. Director, Lloyd, has stripped Streep’s performance of depth and meaning and merely presented us with a really good mimicry act, nothing more.
She’s a manikin, a manikin who can’t remember what day it is.
My Grade: C-
I just realized that I either have too much time on my hand or I like to torture myself. But I actually don’t have any time at all which makes it even wore – I waste the little time I have. Why do I say that? Because writing this review I realized that I have seen The Iron Lady four more times than any human being ever should have to. It’s a movie that is an insult to the already very redundant concept of making a movie about a real-life person and collecting Oscars for it. But hardly ever had the movie so little to say about the person at its center – I am not wiser about Margaret Thatcher than I was before and why did she become the person she was? Anyway, what about Streep? The first time I saw the movie I was impressed by her new display of technical strength and quite liked her. The second time I hated her because the movie was even more unbearable. The third time I hated the flashbacks and loved the scenes as an old woman. The fourth time I found those scenes boring and the flashbacks at least entertaining. Yes, I am wasting my life…but back to business: it’s a performance where my mood constantly changes and what I write now might be obsolete again tomorrow. But at the moment I have to say: I hate it. Everything that can be wrong with Meryl Streep as an actress is on full display here. She suffocates you with her accent and mannerism but never offers any reward (as she did with Sophie’s Choice). She demands you to be amazed and I can see that she obviously tried to do something with the part but she is thrown from scene to scene without any context and without any character and I simply don’t have the patience to watch her shriek in a high-pitched voice for two hours or analyze her make-up in the old lady scenes.
My Grade: F
Streep won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher, the controversial British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader. Sometimes great actors can shine in mediocre films, but Streep is not able to save this cringeworthy biopic. It's surprising that she actually won for this particular work. Streep tries to play Thatcher with strength and resolve, a no-nonsense character, and it remains somewhat engaging, despite her accent work being almost too pronounced. Sadly, her portrayal does have its cartoonish moments, and almost slips into caricature at times. It's difficult for Streep to get to the heart of Thatcher, when the film doesn't give her much area to explore. But make no mistake: Streep's performance is the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, the performance is also lesser Streep, and it's hardly worth feting, especially given the drab film that surrounds it.
Did Streep deserve to win?
No way. She was the worst of the nominees. Viola Davis and Rooney Mara lost to this?
My Grade: C+
I imagine Meryl Streep getting a whiff of this script out there and just itching to transform herself. I never really had any desire to see this one or the one where she plays Julia Child. I don't like "makeup" movies very much. I like to see the actor's actual face. More on that in a second. For now, I will say that "The Iron Lady" is a cheesy, mess of a movie, made that way under the premise that The Lady Thatcher is old and suffering from dementia. The makers of this movie just don't seem to know which storytelling tricks to stick with, and it just doesn't work. I couldn't get past it.
Meryl's performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is impressive, no doubt. She is best as Thatcher in her prime. For me, this is mostly due to being recognizable as both Thatcher and Streep. She delivers her dialogue through the incredibly tough accent and inflections of Thatcher with pure confidence. She is a natural even with a bad teeth mouthpiece. She certainly disappears into the role. Even when I knew it was Streep, I had to remind myself a couple times. My favorite scenes were the ones where she opens fire at the boys of Parliament, yet I doubt it was that which impressed the Academy voters.
No, it was most likely her in the makeup as the older Thatcher. At first, I found this movie sort of oddly charming. Jim Broadbent always brings his best, and I admired the early scene between them. This storyline wore thin after awhile though, and I found myself wanting more of the political intrigue of Britain when Thatcher was Prime Minister. Both the performance and the film itself would have benefited from some structure and focus.
In the end, this is another strong Meryl Streep performance but not an Oscar-winner for me. It is overly shrouded by a lackluster movie. I would've liked to have seen her win for "The Devil Wears Prada" over this, and, to be honest, I would've cast my vote for Rooney Mara or Viola Davis in 2011.
The Scene That Won It: The one where she breaks down and starts packing up all of Denis' clothes as the older Thatcher.
My Grade: B
I hated this damn movie. I remember in the beginning of 00's for a while those historical movies/biopics were yet again so popular in Hollywood. They were initially quite good. And then the same thing as with the remakes of Asian horror films happened - they started to suck so bad.
I often wondered - which one is worse - The Iron Lady or J. Edgar? By a hair, the Iron Lady takes this.
The film is a dreadful mess - instead of focusing whether they want to show us Margaret Thatcher, the politician or this older woman battling the disease - the film never really makes a decision. What's even worse is that it is presented in non-linear narrative, making it all feel even more disjointed.
The film is also absolutely shameless, hell, there's even a rip off of one of the most famous scenes from The King's Speech. As for Streep herself while the make up was astonishingly good, her performance reeked of gimmickry at times and didn't really have big, memorable moments. Add to that the quality of the writing and directing - both poor - and you get what is at best a misguided use of a great actress trying to be competent in her job. Streep's voice is just her doing her Julia Child thing again and then there are dentures and those outfits...
It's the worst nomination among the best actress nominees that year. What makes things worse is that Streep had so many amazing roles since she won her first leading Oscar 32 years ago and some of them (like the perfect balance between the naivety of youth sensed in her earlier roles between her cold maturity nowadays that she stroke in The Hours) weren't even nominated.
There's nothing wrong about giving Oscar to performances where the actor goes through physical transformation. The problem is that they awarded so many of those that didn't deserve it, that the actor's actual transformation, dedication and effort leading that person to a win gets cheapened by either those who employ this technique just to win awards and Academy members themselves being unable to distinguish great role from a gimmick. I'm not saying I'm 100% sure Street took that role, even in small part, because she wanted more awards but it's most certainly not a great performance worthy of a highest honor.
It's because of crap like this Oscars feel predictable and people who both challenge themselves for the role AND at the same time manage to create amazing performances get 'he/she is doing this for an Oscar' treatment.
The fact that this won over Rooney Mara's masterful turn as Lisbeth Salander still pisses me off.
My Grade: D
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actress).
Meryl Streep received a total of 114 points for her performance in Sophie's Choice.
Meryl Streep received a total of 47 points for her performance in The Iron Lady.
This is a collective total of 161 points.
As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.
So this closes our discussion of Meryl Streep. She is tying for first place (for her individual performance) alongside Taylor, but collectively she's in 5th, thanks to The Iron Lady pulling the second lowest individual score. Next week we talk Ingrid Bergman, and I'll try not to fangirl all over this site since she is my absolute favorite actress of all time.
Again, a big round of applause for the awesome bloggers sharing this series with me! You guys did some awesome work, as to be expected.