Out of Africa

Meryl ventures from middle America to the wilds of Africa. This movie had been on my watch list for a very long time, but I gotta be real with you guys (all 5? of you). I wasn’t really paying too much attention. So let’s just take the summary straight off IMDB.

“In 20th-century colonial Kenya, a Danish baroness/plantation owner has a passionate love affair with a free-spirited big-game hunter.”

I don’t know, I just couldn’t do it. I was more of a period piece than I expected, and it wasn’t the story I thought. I guess I thought it’d be more safari less stuffy (it wasn’t really stuffy, but again, unexpected).

Yeah I wish I had more substance to bring to this post, but sometimes, I just don’t have it. Thankfully Meryl does have it, so we’ll have more to talk about soon!

Ironweed

And she does it again! Meryl pulls out something completely different we haven’t seen from her, and the Academy has no choice but to award her with her fifth lead nomination, seventh total.

Her role here is a lead in that it’s substantial, but the story is really about Jack Nicholson’s Francis. Francis is a drifter who has just returned to his hometown of Albany. He hasn’t been back since he left decades earlier after a mistake that tore his family apart. Meryl comes in because she’s his kind of girlfriend on the street. They pal around together, both supporting each other and allowing each other to avoid their problems.

This is some major character work from Meryl. An accent and an attitude that is unlike anything we’ve seen, because she is inhuman. Nay, she is a goddess! She has this amazing scene early on where she performs a lounge number, and if you watch no other part of this film, watch those five minutes. They’re extraordinary.

Silkwood

Now we’re getting into a large block of first time watches. What’s surprising me (and it really shouldn’t) is how different each role I’m discovering is from the one before. I personally like to see actors get Oscar nominations when they do something completely different for them, so just allow me to point out these string of nods she got in the 80’s. Silkwood scored her third consecutive lead nomination.

This time, in a screenplay by Nora Ephron, Meryl plays the real life Karen Silkwood. She worked in a nuclear processing plant, and becomes very active with their union after realizing how unsafe the working conditions really are. Of course, the big bosses in charge aren’t having that, and she’s attacked and abused and ultimately dies under mysterious circumstances.

So Madame Meryl is coming off of Sophie’s Choice and takes a total 180 to play a small town middle America woman. She’s not just some morally driven activist. She’s a complicated character, dealing with a life of making mistakes and being looked over who has just had it. She’s finally standing up for herself (as well as her friends and family) and is brought under attack. Not exactly what she was hoping for, but at this point, she has nothing left to lose.

Sophie’s Choice

Another nomination, and this time her first win as leading actress. There’s no question in my mind that this is Meryl Streep’s best performance. However, in rewatching this, I realized that it might be the single greatest performance of all time.

I made that realization about 25 minutes into the movie, still two hours away from THAT scene. THAT scene would be enough to justify an Oscar win for anyone. But there’s so much more to this movie than just THAT scene. Hell, if you knew nothing about this movie, you’d be impressed with her performance, wanting to give her all the awards and then be completely blindsided by what happens.

Why is it the greatest performance of all time? There are so many layers and levels to it. You have happy post-war Sophie. You have sickly fresh from the concentration camp Sophie. You have trapped in captivity Sophie. So many different sides of Sophie, all of them drastically different in her physicality and demeanor, and every one distinct in the hands of an expert. AND on top of that, there’s accent work (including Sophie at various stanges of knowing English) AND there are entire scenes in other languages (I think Polish primarily). Just a fraction of these factors would be impressive. This is all one role in one movie (and can I get a shout out for such a weighty and complicated role being written for a woman!) and yes THAT scene.

I’m gonna be real with you guys, this is a really hard movie to watch. It has some of the darkest subject matter in our planet’s history. But the experience of watching Meryl Streep in this role absolutely makes it worth it. This is a must watch at least once in your lifetime.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

We move on to Meryl’s first lead nomination, and the first on this list that I’d never seen. Let’s be real, with a title like that, only Meryl would have drawn me to it.

This one surprised me in how I responded to it. In this film, Meryl has dual roles in a parallel story. First is the actual story of the French Lt’s Woman, who in the 19th century (maybe?) lives this life of an outcast with a questionable reputation, and the engaged man (Jeremy Irons) who is drawn to her. Not something I’d typically go for. What I do go for is the parallel story of a film adapation of this story, where the leads live out a love affair that plays out much like the story they’re adapating.

Here’s what surprised me. I expected to be into the film storyline more, but it was the original that I was more invested in. The “real world” story just didn’t draw me in. I think part of it was that the “fictional” story got a disproportionate amount of the screen time. So when we did get the modern story, I felt jolted out of the one that was taking up more of the time. I think I also felt less sympathy for the characters that were obviously engaging in an extra marital affair that would hurt both spouses, than I did for the relationship where their biggest obstacle was society’s views.

Anyhoo, we’re talking Meryl and of course good performance and two very different sides of her. Honestly, I’ve seen the next movie on the list (Sophie’s Choice) before writing this up, so I really can’t make any real judgement of her performance here since it pales in comparison to her next. But we’re not talking about Sophie’s yet. IMDB trivia does say that Meryl thinks this is one of her weaker roles, but weak for her is still miles above normal people.

Kramer vs Kramer

Meryl Movie Two and it’s another I’ve written up before. She followed up her first supporting nod with her first win the following year.

The movie follows Dad (Dustin Hoffman) and Son (Justin Henry) after Mom (Meryl) abruptly leaves them to go off and find herself or something. Just when the boys start to get the hang of being alone together, Mom comes back and engages in a hardcore custody battle to reclaim her son.

Ooooh I dislike her so much (the character, not the goddess that plays her). A lot of the attitudes of this film don’t age very well nearly 40 years later, and no really, I have zero sympathy for her character.

Only an actress I love so much could so convincingly play a character I dislike so intensely. For only a supporting role with limited scenes, there’s a lot of range there. But the most compelling part of her performance is the courtroom scenes. Ugh just thinking about it, I wanna punch her (again, character not goddess).

Again, despite the dated material, it’s a very moving and compelling film. Mostly about the boys, and with any other actress that’s where it’d stay. It really is one worth watching for Meryl tho

The Deer Hunter

It’s a new mini project! Been a while since I done one of those, huh? To be honest, this started because I was trying to think of a series to do for Stardust and it occurred to me I could blog it too. Full disclosure, because I wanted to release this all on consecutive days on The ‘Dust, but needed time to do my homework, I’m writing these as I watch the movies, but not posting them until they correspond with my Stardust posts.

Enough already, what’s the project? Meryl Streep’s 21 Oscar nominated performances. I’ve only seen about half of them, so it’s about time I delve into the lot.

First up, first nomination, Best Supporting Actress for The Deer Hunter. The film also won Best Picture and Director and a Supporting Actor victory for Christopher Walken, but we’re here to talk about Meryl. If you want my full thoughts on the movie as a whole, I did write it up for the AFI Project way back when.

It would appear as though the academy began their tradition of nominating Meryl simply for being in a good movie right from the beginning. It goes without saying that she does well, but there really isn’t a whole lot going on for her. This movie is really all about DeNiro and Walken.

Taking a look at the other nominees that year, I haven’t even heard of any of the films she was up against in her category. She lost out to Maggie Smith (yes, duh, I know her, but not her winning film) but I don’t even recognize the other actresses here.

Okay then we can (and I know we will) only go up from here!