Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When will Meryl get her third Oscar?

LAMB Acting School 101 is a regular event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given actor. This month's subject is Meryl Streep. The complete list of posts for this month will go up July 31 at the LAMB site.

 It's become a running gag by now: every time Meryl Streep makes a movie, she gets nominated for an Oscar. She has two of them already, and critics and fans alike recognize her as the finest actress of the modern era and among the pantheon of all-time greats. But there's a slight problem: if she's so great that the Academy continues to shower her with Oscar nominations year after year, why hasn't she won in the past 28 years? It's generally agreed amongst Oscar pundits that she will, eventually, get that third Oscar... but they've been saying that for awhile now and it still hasn't happened. (Let's agree at the outset that the Oscars in general, while of tremendous cultural significance, are rarely a true indicator of quality, and that they get as many choices wrong as they do right, if not more.)

Let's take a look at the record: a staggering sixteen Oscar nominations for acting, more than anyone, over a 31-year (and counting) span; thirteen for lead, three for supporting. Two wins: Kramer vs. Kramer (supporting) and Sophie's Choice (lead). An almost-guaranteed seventeenth nomination would appear to be in the cards for her upcoming role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She's been nominated for dramas and comedies, period pieces and modern-day stories, in films by acclaimed directors (Eastwood, Redford, Nichols) and lesser-known ones (Carl Franklin, David Frankel, Hector Babenco - not exactly household names), and of course, in a wide variety of accents. (Another great stat: she's been in three Best Picture winners in only seven years: The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer and Out of Africa.)

There's no easy explanation for Streep's Oscar drought, because there have been so many circumstances beyond her control that have kept her from that elusive third Oscar. She has lost to legendary actresses that had never been feted with an Oscar before (Shirley MacLaine, Geraldine Page), to actresses caught up in a Best Picture domination (Gwyneth Paltrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones), to actresses that gave overpowering performances that would not be denied (Susan Sarandon, Helen Mirren), and to actresses that were controversial choices at best (Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock).

Is it possible for an actor to be too good - to be taken for granted after so many memorable performances? Many of today's most popular actors have yet to win one Oscar, much less two: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Annette Bening, to name a few. We're so used to seeing them at the top of their game time after time, making a great performance look effortless, that we draw the conclusion that if they don't have an Oscar now, they will one day.

But let's not forget that Streep does own two Oscars already. Some pundits make it seem as if she's unsuccessful in some manner because she hasn't won in so long. If anything, the fact that she gets nominated as often as she does by her peers is an indication of how highly regarded she has become through the years.

I, too, believe Streep will win a third Oscar at some point in the future. As remarkable a streak as hers is, it also defies probability. This year, she'll likely contend against another overdue actress: Glenn Close, in the gender-bending drama Albert Nobbs. For Streep, I think a great deal will depend on the success of The Iron Lady in general. Assuming a Lead Actress nomination for her, will the film receive multiple nominations - maybe even Best Picture - or will her nod be the film's only Oscar representation? Many Oscar experts believe The Blind Side's Best Picture nod made the difference for Bullock winning over Streep, whose film, Julie & Julia, did not make the Best Picture cut. Regarding a possible Streep-versus-Close contest, British dramas and biographies are considered "Oscar bait" for the Academy, but then, so are roles where women play men. Close is very well respected, but Streep is Hollywood royalty. To say this is the year the streak ends is far too premature at this stage.


Previously in LAMB Acting School:
Natalie Portman
Gary Oldman
Willem Dafoe


  1. I have to admit that every time Streep's name and third Oscar comes up I get a little agitated because, as you mention, she's already been feted - twice. But, I'm not a voluminous fan of Streep...and in the past twenty years I can't think of any time when I would have given her the Oscar. Bullock is the only out-and-out bad performance I feel she lost to, and I don't think she was the best of the lot then.

  2. In going through her competitors from 1984-2010 for this piece, I agree that the only time she could genuinely say she got robbed was losing to Bullock. Who would you have given it to? Mulligan? Sidibe?

  3. Rich,
    I adore Streep and I agree that she should get another Oscar. Perhaps it's in the cards for her upcoming portrayal of Thatcher which I have no idea about a release date on that one.

    My favorite of her films is "Bridges of Madison County". A beautifully done film and stellar acting. My favorite working actress however is Jessica Lange. Her portrayal of Patsy Kline was Oscar worthy but I'm glad she took home the statue for "Blue Sky".

    An interesting post.
    Page of MyLoveofOldHollywood

  4. i was actually genuinely surprised at how many nominations she received when i was researching my article, mostly because i don't really pay attention to oscar talk. also it was only recently that i had grown to respect streep for her performances.

    whilst my article was slightly tongue in cheek i do definitely think she deserved more wins than not. you pointed out the six main defeats where politics and sentimentalism overshadowed the actual quality of the performance.

    this will surely mean that the academy will tire of the talk of the third oscar and eventually just give it to her, probably for something totally undeserved. swings and roundabouts.

  5. Page, I love 'Madison County' as well. If I hadn't already talked about 'Brief Encounter,' I might do a comparison between the two. Then again, maybe I'll do it anyway if I decide to re-watch 'Madison County.'

    Toby, I hope I didn't steal your thunder with my post. I was gonna write about one of her movies, but I changed my mind in order to re-adjust my schedule.

  6. I think she is a very good actress but unless she comes up with some truly transcending performance in a relatively weak year, she probably won't see a third Oscar.

  7. Do you see that as a reflection on her or the competition?

  8. Possibly both :) There is so many actresses out who deserve to be recognized at some point or another but maybe aren't the quality roles they deserve because there is so few of them. Unless Streep forces the Academy's hand with something truly above and beyond everyone else, I doubt that they will easily hand her another Oscar.

  9. You could be right, but don't forget the Academy's propensity for handing out 'apology Oscars:' awards given later in a celebrated actor's career for a lesser role to make up for not winning in a better role (not that I think 'Iron Lady' is a lesser role).

  10. no sweat. i was quite tongue in cheek with my post.

    surely the fact that we can have this conversation about the academy means the value of the oscars has decreased to a point of virtual worthlessness? i'd like to say that she'll win when it's deserved but i made it that she has missed out on 8 deserved opportunities so far so who knows?

    it's starting to feel that julianne moore just has to be in a movie that's pretty good and she'll win the oscar though as they've ignored her for so long.

  11. Like I said, the Oscars are rarely a true measure of quality, but because they're so highly valued, we can't help but talk about them.

  12. I'd have given the Oscar to Mulligan, or Abbie Cornish if the AMPAS cared to watch BRIGHT STAR.

  13. And therein lies another problem - getting the Academy members to watch as many of the contenders as possible. But that's another post.

  14. I'm pretty much with Andrew.

    If she wins again, I don't see it happening until late, late in her career (which essentially just guaranteed that she'll win this year). My thinking is this: people like Andrew and myself (including a shitload of voters who themselves voted for her as one of the best five in an given year, and honestly so) do a tiny groan with every passing nom, and figure she's received more than enough attention and accolades over her career that she doesn't "need" another. Bam, now it's easier to convince yourself to vote for someone else.

    Is it just? Hell no, but that kind of thing happens all of the time in a wide array of fields.

  15. Maybe she doesn't 'need' another Oscar, but her being nominated as often as she has makes me think the Academy wants to give her one more, and the Academy is nothing if not sentimental.


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