A-List: Top Five Meryl Streep Performances

By J. Don Birnam

August 6, 2015

Why do you ask if the carpet matches the drapes?

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Considered by some to be the greatest screen actress of our generation, Meryl Streep makes a play for her laughably incredible 20th Academy Award nomination with the release later this week of Ricki and the Flash. By my count, Streep has received screen credit for approximately 55 movies, and now sits at a record-setting 19 Oscar nominations. That batting average is better than most professional MLB players. Having seen the problematically-scripted movie, I doubt Streep will cash in this time around. But regardless, her career is unparalleled and worthy of exploring today as we prepare for her latest performance.

In few words: Streep has done it all. She has played villains and heroines. Lovers and mothers. Wives and bosses. She has been in biopics, in epics, in love stories, in costume dramas, in historical movies, in popular comedies, in play adaptations, in musicals, and in campy films. She has played a lesbian at least twice, at least three memorable real-life women, and several other based on them. She is only one of six actors to receive three or more Academy Awards (can you name the other five?), and she has more nominations by miles than her closest competitor. Better yet, she shows no signs of stopping.


How can one even begin to winnow down to five the brilliant roles that this American treasure has graced us with? From the very first, when she shared the screen with Jane Fonda in Julia, to when she played Julia Child herself in the fantastic Julie & Julia, she has been amassing an impressive filmography. Indeed, if one is talking about her ability to replicate with eerie similarity a real life person (and emulate their accent to a tee, a Streep special) one has to begrudgingly mention The Iron Lady, for which she received her second Best Actress statuette and third overall. Despite the deep narrative flaws of the movie and the crudely overt Weinstein campaign to net her the gold, it is unarguable that she portrayed the Iron Lady herself with a deft accuracy that no one will ever equal.

Or how can one forget her very first nomination, for the homebound, love-torn Pennsylvania girl in The Deer Hunter? How can one fail to mention her Australian accent as the controversial mother in A Cry in the Dark, which figured the now ridiculed “A Dingo Ate my Baby” line? Where would one place her sentimental, touching, and moving portrayal of the lonely, fighting and doomed Karen Blixen in Out of Africa (an Oscar of which she was arguably robbed, as this is undoubtedly one of her top performances)? Is it even possible to make this list, have it be taken seriously, and not include in the top five her tear-jerking turn(s) in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, stealing the show from a staid Jeremy Irons? Or in The Bridges of Madison County? Even the evil Violet Weston, for which she earned one of her latest nods in August: Osage County, is worthy of a mention.

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