Oscar can be a softie. The Academy Awards has a long track record of rewarding deserving actors and directors after years of neglect. (See: Scorsese, Martin; Newman, Paul.) As it normally goes, a storyline often emerges during Oscar season that a nominee is due, that it’s his or her time, that the Academy can redeem itself with a single stroke. Normally, I hate this. (Giving Al Pacino a trophy for Scent of a Woman doesn’t make up for not giving him one for The Godfather or Serpico.) But this year, I believe that sentimental favorite should be Meryl Streep. And I’m totally okay with it.
Yes, I’m well aware that Streep has already won two Oscars (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice), more than enough hardware to satisfy most folks. And I know she’s also been nominated 16 times and is the undisputed Greatest Actress in the World. But Sophie’s Choice was way back in 1982 — before upstarts like Rooney Mara and Elizabeth Olsen were even born. In the 29 years since, she’s amassed an unparalleled resume of greatness, scoring twice as many nominations as her closest rivals (Kate Winslet and Judi Dench, six each). Yet she’s also set an Oscar record for futility, going home empty-handed on Oscar night after her last 12 nominations.
Oh, boo-hoo, you say? Streep doesn’t “need” an Oscar at this point? Better to welcome someone like Michelle Williams or Viola Davis to the elite club?
Perhaps, and to be fair, those other performances this year were wonderful, too. But I think enough time has passed so that the Academy “owes” Streep another Oscar, not just for her steely performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but for also blossoming into an unprecedented box-office star years after studios gave up trying to shoehorn her into that box. Think about it. At 62, Meryl Streep is practically her own sub-genre. Like Meg Ryan movies used to be in the 1990s. But, you know, really good. A “Meryl Streep Movie” has recognition value. Women flock to see her in fluff like It’s Complicated, Mamma Mia!, and The Devil Wears Prada — films that might blow away without her at the center.
An actress’ viability was supposed to plummet after 40, but Streep has turned that conventional Hollywood wisdom on its ear. And it’s not just that she’s still carrying legitimate box-office hits; she’s still delivering one indelible performance after another. Compare her past decade with her male contemporaries, legends like Pacino, Nicholson, and De Niro, who seem more and more inclined to play parodies of their past portrayals. Streep has Julia Child, Miranda Priestly, Sister Aloysius, and Susan Orlean, to say nothing of her multiple roles in Angels in America. (For the record, she has more Oscar nominations in the last 15 years, six, than the three guys combined, two.) And that’s not even accounting for a grab-bag of eclectic un-nominated turns in The Hours, The Manchurian Candidate, and A Prairie Home Companion.
We’ve reached the point in her brilliant career where when someone now says, “Meryl Streep has two Oscars,” the only reasonable immediate response is, “Only two?” She deserves more. (I mean, Hilary Swank has two Oscars.) This is her year, an opportunity to celebrate an amazing performer. It’s her turn. Again.