This Sunday night, the Golden Globes will do what they always do: serve modestly portioned dinner and copious amounts of drinks to Hollywood’s most well-publicized celebrities. They’ll afford Oscars-race momentum to the actors, actresses, and films upon which they bestow their prizes. And they’ll call Meryl Streep to the stage to accept an award for being the best actress in the world. That’s just what they do.
Meryl Streep’s 21 Oscar nominations are often discussed as a figure of excess. “Did she really deserve to be nominated ALL those times?” the wags scoff. (Imagine their surprise if anyone ever told them there were times Streep was Oscar-worthy but didn’t get a nomination!) But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t have anything on the Hollywood Foreign Press when it comes to showering Meryl Streep with accolades. How about 32 career nominations, eight wins (to Streep’s puny three Oscar triumphs), and a Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement? How about THAT?
This year, she’s up for win No. 9, in the TV Supporting Actress category, nominated for her performance of exquisite toothy villainy in Big Little Lies. Her competition is formidable (Helena Bonham Carter, Toni Collette, Patricia Arquette, Emily Watson), but you bet against Streep at your peril. And with 32 nominations under her belt, the temptation to rate is great. Too great for us to resist. So from her first nomination for 1978’s The Deer Hunter to her namesake nomination as Mary Louise on Big Little Lies, here are all 32 Globe-nominated Meryl Streep characters, ranked.
32. The Manchurian Candidate, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (2004)
Meryl is never bad in a movie, but the closest she gets to not good comes in one of two flavors: baseline competence and bad-idea big swings. Her performance in Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate counts among the latter, trying to evoke a Peggy Noonan–esque conservative villain (though her haircut made everybody think she was going for Hillary Clinton).
31. The Iron Lady, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (2011, Winner)
Meryl’s most recent (competitive) Globe win came for this burlesque of a take on Margaret Thatcher, a performance that’s not as far removed from British drag queen Baga Chipz’s impersonation than any of us would like.
30. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1981, Winner)
In between Globe/Oscar triumphs for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice, Streep won another Globe for this misshapen and dull costume drama. The movie’s worse than her performance, but she doesn’t do a whole lot to save it.
29. Florence Foster Jenkins, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (2016)
Meryl’s most maligned recent Oscar nomination was less of a target for derision at the Globes, both because it didn’t deny actresses like Amy Adams (Arrival) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women) and because it was the same night as Streep’s Trump-shaming DeMille Award speech.
28. Mamma Mia!, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2008)
Should Meryl sing more or less in movies? Her renditions of ABBA’s greatest hits tend to argue for the latter.
27. Marvin’s Room, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1995)
The interesting thing here is that when Oscar nominations came around, it was Streep’s co-star Diane Keaton who got the nomination instead, a moment of silently devastating shade that we don’t discuss nearly enough.
26. Music of the Heart, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1999)
The Florence Foster Jenkins of the ’90s for Meryl, in that it was the marginally unjustified nomination that turned the awards-watching community against her (for like two and a half years, max).
25. … First Do No Harm, Best Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television (1997)
Imagine Meryl Streep doing a made-for-TV movie on ABC nowadays. That’s exactly how weird it was back in 1997, because she was definitely already Meryl freaking Streep by then. (She lost to Alfre Woodard for Miss Evers’ Boys, and rightly so.)
24. Into the Woods, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (2014)
As a Meryl Sings! movie, it’s definitely better than Mamma Mia!, but not as good as A Prairie Home Companion (for which she was never nominated, boo!). She’s not quite the lone bright spot in the generally uninspired Sondheim musical adaptation, but she carries off the “greens, greens, and nothing but greens” rapping-granny stuff better than you might expect.
23. It’s Complicated, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2009)
Great kitchens, beautiful kitchens.
22. Hope Springs, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2012)
An underrated movie, and Streep herself is underrated, playing a frustrated wife to Tommy Lee Jones as they both seek marriage counseling. Streep had to miss this Golden Globes because there was a weird flu going around Hollywood that year, so she wasn’t there to witness Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig refer to her character as a “sassy sheriff.”
21. One True Thing, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1998)
A mother-daughter-cancer weepie with Streep and Renée Zellweger playing the central roles. Honestly, both probably deserved recognition, but this was while Zellweger was still in her overlooked-in-favor-of-co-stars awards era. For Streep, it’s a performance that too often gets boiled down to its tear-jerking elements, but the way she plays her character’s cheery façade in the face of her daughter’s disrespect is what you hire Meryl for.
20. She-Devil, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (1989)
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the idea that Meryl Streep could do comedy was weirdly controversial. And so a performance like the one she gives in She-Devil — single-handedly elevating the film around an amateurish Roseanne Barr and playing a knives-out villain with delicious aplomb, was seen as typical Globes star-fuckery. So wrong!
19. Out of Africa, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1986)
The epitome of High-End Streep, in a movie that was basically The English Patient of the ’80s. Elaine Benes would’ve hated this one too.
18. Doubt, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (2008)
A divisive performance, with some detractors thinking Streep overdid it with the Bronx accent and the Big Acting stuff, but when you’re acting opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis (in full nose-drippy crying mode), and where the text requires you to dominate Amy Adams so explicitly, it’s hard to accuse Meryl of hamming it up for no good reason.
17. August: Osage County, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2013)
Another divisive performance, for almost all the same reasons as the Doubt performance, actually. If the film itself had been better, Streep’s scenery-chewing might not have stood out so much, though, again: This is what happens when you cast Meryl Streep in a big, loud role that originated on the stage. You either ride the ride or you don’t.
16. Big Little Lies, Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series (2019)
Here’s where I maybe fall into the “you don’t” category from above. The problems with Big Little Lies’ second season weren’t Streep’s, and her appearance on the show was one of the few things that justified its existence. But after the meme value of that dinner-table scream and her office-chair showdown with Laura Dern, there isn’t much else that was worth ruining that perfect first-season ending.
15. The Deer Hunter, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (1979)
Meryl’s first brush with awards attention. The movie ends up being dominated by the men and the war and the Russian roulette of it all, but this is a deeply solid and supportable nomination.
14. Postcards From the Edge, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (1990)
Streep playing the Carrie Fisher to Shirley MacLaine’s Debbie Reynolds is the kind of fantasy casting we’d do on Twitter while avoiding real work. But it happened! In 1990. And they both sang, and it was great, and the Globes nominated them BOTH, while the Oscars only nominated Meryl, which is why the Globes sometimes do it better.
13. The Bridges of Madison County, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1995)
The “Meryl does accents!” thing has been downplayed a bit since her run over the last 20 years has been less accent heavy (and when she does do them, like in last year’s Mary Poppins Returns, they’re more cartoonish than they used to be), but her Italian-accented work as an immigrant housewife in the Clint Eastwood adaptation of the popular novel of the same name was the epitome of Foreign Accent Meryl.
12. Death Becomes Her, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (1992)
Comedy Meryl at her most unhinged, playing the vain, desperate Madeline Ashton with breathy villainy and showing some clockwork timing to boot. Her line readings opposite Goldie Hawn (“I can see right THROUGH you!”), Bruce Willis (“Flaaaacid!”), and Isabella Rossellini (“Now a warning!”) have ALL stood the test of time.
11. A Cry in the Dark, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1988)
This performance is so much more than “the dingo took my baby,” with Streep ferociously digging into the role of a defiantly unlikable mother of a tragically dead child, upon whom the entire country of Australia turned like a pack of … well, you know.
10. The River Wild, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1994)
Perhaps Meryl’s most underrated performance? Even for people who see Curtis Hanson’s crackling thriller for the gem that it is, too few people see the tiny miracle in Meryl Streep, her generation’s most acclaimed and rarefied actress, picking up a pair of oars and powering her family down the rapids while pursued by thugs.
9. Angels in America, Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television (2003, Winner)
Streep plays a domineering Mormon widow and mother who travels from Salt Lake to New York City after her son comes out to her, the vengeful ghost of Ethel Rosenberg out to haunt Roy Cohn into his grave, a eulogizing rabbi with thoughts about emigration and generational ties, and an overwhelmed angelic bureaucrat. No other performer in Mike Nichols’s cast better sells the interconnectedness of the narrative, and her scene with Ben Shenkman saying Kaddish for Cohn’s recently vacated corpse is a stunner.
8. The Post, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (2017)
Streep’s Katharine Graham is the most full-bodied, deeply considered performance of the decade, and it’s kind of maddening that the post–Iron Lady phase of her career kept the acclaim for it somewhat muted. As muted as a Globe- and Oscar-nominated performance can be. This is one of the great ones, though, as history will hopefully show.
7. Adaptation, Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (2002, Winner)
This was the performance that lit a spark under Streep’s career and launched her into the 2000s with both awards momentum and the sense that she could work with a cutting-edge auteur like Spike Jonze. It’s a strange enough role that you get a kick watching Meryl Streep, of all people, get stoned and stare at her feet. But, as expected, Streep finds drive and faults and humanity at the core of her fictional Susan Orlean.
6. Silkwood, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1984)
Of all of Streep’s Globe-nominated Mike Nichols collaborations, this ranks the highest. Playing the crusade of a whistle-blower as a more internal battle between courage and fear is what makes this performance stand out, though sharing scenes with the likes of Cher and a dead-sexy Kurt Russell doesn’t hurt.
5. Julie & Julia, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2009, Winner)
Exactly the kind of performance built to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy, which is in no way a backhanded compliment. Streep perfectly embodies Julia Child in all her unabashed enthusiasm, cheerfully domineering physical presence, and quiet pain. Streep and Stanley Tucci playing the most delightfully suited married couple in all of cinematic history also helps.
4. The Devil Wears Prada, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (2006, Winner)
The single most iconic performance of Streep’s post–Sophie’s Choice career, at least from a public-consciousness perspective, and it doesn’t seem to be a particularly close race. She put the stamp not just on a character but on a whole species of character.
3. The Hours, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (2002)
Only Meryl Streep could give a performance of such specificity, complex emotions, small gestures, big gestures, deliberate phrasing, and scarves as Meryl does in The Hours — and have nobody cry out at the injustice when she gets overshadowed by her co-stars. Yes, she’s been amply rewarded over her career to the point where you should go to jail for even thinking the word “underrated” in her vicinity, and yet: How else to explain this?
2. Sophie’s Choice, Best Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama (1982, Winner)
At some point, what can you say about Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice? It’s the Citizen Kane of acting performances, if for no other reason than when people try to defend bad acting performances, they say “[He/She]’s no Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, but …”
1. Kramer vs. Kramer, Best Supporting Actress — Motion Picture (1979, Winner)
The performance that set the Meryl Streep standard for all time, whose esteem has only grown since. Her first of eight competitive Golden Globe wins, with No. 9 possibly on the way this Sunday.
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