Friday, July 10, 2009

Streep Nom #9 and Act III: Funny Lady

Streep at 60: We've been looking at each Meryl Streep Oscar nod and its competition. Previously 78, 79, 81, 82 and 83, 85, 87 and 88

I believe that Meryl Streep's film career can be divided into five chapters or acts (thus far).
After the High Drama years it came as a shock to many when Meryl was suddenly making comedies. Some felt it was a career crisis and there was some backlash going on. This is possibly hard to comprehend for her new young fans but great success always leads to it and many people were sick of Streep's total dominance as the Eighties wound down. It was somewhat common wisdom at the time that her run at the top was ending, having turned 40 in 1989. Several younger stars were coming into their own and beginning to hog the attention: Meg Ryan (27) and Julia Roberts (22) were suddenly fighting for the America's Sweetheart crown, Michelle Pfeiffer (31) was beginning her short run as the dramatic actress, Winona Ryder (18) was inarguably in great demand; Melanie Griffith (32), Geena Davis (33) and Holly Hunter (31) were expected to soar in the Nineties; Ellen Barkin (35), Mimi Rogers (33), Madeleine Stowe (31), Mary Stuart Masterson (23) and Laura Dern (22) were question marks. The list goes on.

Though Meryl had often delivered funny beats in dramatic roles, She-Devil (1989) was her first purely comedic screen role. Some felt she was too broad and few liked the movie as a whole but that didn't slow Meryl on her new course. She followed it up with three more comedies: Postcards From the Edge, Defending Your Life and Death Becomes Her (1992). The fourth, very silly and quite entertaining (which I'll talk about next week), was her first substantial hit since Out of Africa (1985).

Off and onscreen mother & daughter duos at the Postcards From the
premiere: Meryl, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Maclaine & Carrie Fisher.
Photo via Simply Streep

The second, Postcards..., the best and most dramatic of the comedies, was a minor success financially and gave Meryl her ninth Oscar nomination. This historic event put her ahead of Geraldine Page (8 noms) and behind only Bette Davis (10 noms) and Katharine Hepburn (12 noms) as Oscar's all time favorite gal. For a great write up on Postcards I suggest Nick Davis's astute piece on Meryl as Entertainer. I also suggest reading the original book by Carrie Fisher which is much different than the movie but just as entertaining.

1990 the nominees were

  • Kathy Bates, Misery
  • Anjelica Huston, The Grifters
  • Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman
  • Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge
  • Joanne Woodward, Mr & Mrs. Bridge
Other 1990 women for context: The snubbed Drama Globe nominees numbered two: Michelle Pfeiffer (Russia House) and Susan Sarandon (White Palace). The snubbed Comedy Globe nominees numbered three: Demi Moore (Ghost), Mia Farrow (Alice) and Andie MacDowell (Green Card). Other leading women that year were: Debra Winger (The Sheltering Sky), Sandra Bernhard (Without You I'm Nothing), Maria de Medeiros (Henry & June), Cher (Mermaids), Goldie Hawn (Bird on a Wire) and Tracey Ullman (I Love You To Death)

Nathaniel's list: I have still not caught up with Woodward's performance (?Why?) but otherwise my 1990 choices are the nominees Bates, Huston and Streep with the other spots going to two of these four: Mia Farrow, Laura Dern (Wild at Heart), Jessica Lange (Men Don't Leave) and Victorial Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down).

How do you feel about Meryl's first four screen stabs at comedy and who makes your Best Actress ballot for 1990?


Fernando Moss said...

Now this is (for me) the best of Streep's performances. She should have won the Oscar that year.

as runner-up I would have put Victoria Abril (I heve stated before that I love her, specially in ATAME).

and the other 3 nominees for me would have been:

Kathy Bates (Misery), Laura Dern (Wild at Heart) and María Rojo (Rojo Amanecer).

NicksFlickPicks said...

Thanks for the link! - though this one's better.

I've never seen The Russia House but are you implying I needn't? And are you maybe forgetting Men Don't Leave? I know you love that one, but you maybe you love all these other gals better than Lange...

Joe Shetina said...

Love Kathy Bates, but this should have been Meryl's year. Bates is still a close second, though.

Alfred Soto said...

A very weak year. My nominees: Angelica Huston, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joanne Woodward, Debra Winger, and Laura Dern.

Kathy Bates did far better work later than this schticky, sticky performance.

I used to love Men Don't Leave in college, but the director can't decide on a tone, and the collapse into whimsy in the last thirty minutes destroys Lange's performance.

Anonymous said...

You say everything I'm thinking, but more eloquently.


The 1990 Best Actress line-up is my favorite in the last 30 years. And I too have only seen four of the five performances. I think Julia belongs there. Come on. Highest grossing film of the last 30 years (with inflation adjusted thank you very much My Big Fat Greek Wedding) with a story driven primarily by a woman (Titanic was steered by a ship) in a star-making performance. Ok, not her best work, but a seminal moment. Still, If you can take away Laura Dern's Rambling Rose nom and give it to her for Wild at Heart ... I could be convinced.


Fernando Moss said...

I think Julia Roberts is a close 6th taht year for me haha...

and about Jessica Lange... she's good but I think she wasn't best of the year...

Curtis said...

Great lineup, minus Roberts. Bates, Huston and Streep would have been at the top of my list and all three performances go down as some of their best in their respective careers.

Mike said...

With all due respect to the other ladies, I think the Oscar belonged to Anjelica Huston, who gave two fantastic performances in the same year. She was fabulous in The Grifters, and brilliantly inspired as the Grand High Witch in The Witches. I think a split in votes between the presumed front-runners, Huston and Woodward, was what allowed for the somewhat surprise victory of Kathy Bates (whose victory I don't begrudge, but Anjelica was better.)

Curtis said...

This going to sound harsh but can you list Act IV as "Mediocre" or "Fumbling", excluding "The Bridges of Madison County", obviously.
See, "Music of the Heart", "The House of Spirits", "Before and After", and "Marvin's Room" as examples.

Jim T said...

Well, I really cannot be objective on Meryl's funny roles. I was a kid when I watched them (except for Postcards in which I liked her a lot) and loved them all. Especially Death Becomes Her. So bitchy!!

"Could you just not breathe?"

Alex said...

I think of that mid to late 90's period as Meryl just doing (mostly family) melodramas. "The Bridges of Madison County", "Marvin's Room", "One True Thing", "Music of the Heart", "Dancing at Lughnasa", and "First do No Harm" all sorta fit that mold, no?

I love "Postcards from the Edge" and it's my runner-up for Best Picture in 1990 (behind only "Goodfellas") and I think Shirley MacLaine was robbed of a nomination. I would've given the trophy to Anjelica Huston, mostly because I think that's such a career defining performance. Meryl and Kathy Bates (silver and bronze medalists) have both done a lot better work, and Huston just wows me every time with that performance.

I have yet to see "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" so I would fill that spot with either Mia Farrow or Laura Dern (probably Dern, since I snubbed her for "Rambling Rose") as I am a Julia Roberts supporter (at least in the case of that performance).

Definitely a fun year, but didn't it seem that there were too many gangster flicks? "Goodfellas", "The Godfather: Part III", "The Grifters", "Dick Tracy", and "Miller's Crossing" immediately jump to mind. I know that last two aren't conventional gangster films. I need to see more Supporting Actor performances from that year, but currently my line-up is Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro ("Goodfellas"), John Turturro and Albert Finney ("Miller's Crossing"), and Bruce Davison ("Longtime Companion") and Gold, Silver, and Bronze going to Pesci, Davison, and Turturro respectively.

Co said...

oh, yes. I love meryl doing comedy as she love too.

Mine was :

Kathy bates
Angelica Huston
Meryl streep
Michell pfieffer

(well, I've seen pretty woman, But I can't get julia in this list)

anyhow, then next would be 95 oscar,right? oh so exciting.
cuz francesca should have won!

Fernando Moss said...

Oh, I forn in got about Huston in THE WITCHES... Fantastic

Fernando Moss said...

forn in got = forgot


nick I think pfeiffer is really good in Russia House (love the accent) but i find the movie a bore and I guess I just like 7 other performances better (and I still haven't seen Woodward's).

and i did forget about Men Don't Leave (!) but so many of these movies are distant memories. The only ones I've seen in recent years are Postcards (I heart. I heart a lot) and The Grifters (I thought Huston deserved the Oscar that year ... at least at the time. Now it's between Meryl and her)

Steolicious said...

In such career as Streep has, you have to switch from drama to comedy or you are going to bore.

Steolicious said...

Oh, I forget to say who my favorite performance of the year was: Even if Kathy Bates character is a litle bit over the top, I just love her work in "Misery". Behind her are Shirley MacLaine (Postcard), Anjelica Houston (The Grifters), Meryl Streep (Postcard), Cher or Winona Ryder (Mermaids).

And yes, in my option they are all lead!

Eric Henderson said...

"Death Becomes Her (1992). The fourth, very silly and quite entertaining"

... and perhaps one of my very favorite of her performances, though I admit to having a pretty high tolerance for broad, vulgar diva antics.

MrW said...

Anjelica Huston's performance in 'The Grifters' probably is my very favorite performance by any actor or actress from the 1990s. That being said, I'm fine with Kathy Bates winning that year for a great performance that seems an unlikely choice to be an Academy favorite.

And Mia Farrow being ignored yet again for a great performance is incomprehensible, but she probably was used to getting snubbed by 1990.

jc valencia said...

although postcards was the highlight of this period, i also love the campiness of death becomes her and i thought she was lovely in she-devil.

only houston had the right to take the oscar away from meryl that year.

Anonymous said...

my line-up:
Mia Farrow
Anne Parillaud (la femme nikita)
Julia Roberts
Meryl Streep
Joanne Woodward

other performances I cherished: Bates, Huston, Winger, Fox (An Angel at my table), italian beauty Ornella Muti (The Voyage of Captain Fracassa...I'm from Italy...), MacDowell (actually I appreciated some of her perfs...), the ever stunning Pfeiffer and the ever hot Sarandon

Parillaud is my favorite of the line-up...that's another movie driven by a female character, and a quite strong one, and besides in an action-movie, a genre not always generous with actresses...

I really loved Streep in Postcards and I was happy she had received a nomination for a brillant perf. The duets with MacLaine and Bening are awesome and the final with that song is remarkable (what a pity Streep didn't perform it at the Academy could have been an historical moment for Oscar...thanks to Streep's shyness Madonna could have the spotlight just for SOONER OR LATER moment!!!). it wasn't the first time Streep tryied with comedies (She Devil, anyone?) but Postcards proved that it wasn't true that Streep was better as drama queen...many years later we have known that she wasn't just a good comedienne, but also a quite lucky one (Prada, Mamma Mia!).

Woodward? well...even if Mrs Bridge is an unbearable character I always thought Woodward was touching. In Italy I remember many journalists quarreled she didn't win the Best Actress prize at venice film festival...what a pity her career after that has not been very interesting...she was much more than just Newman's beloved wife


cal roth said...

Bates. Bates. Bates.

There's no competition.

Howler said...

My no. 1 in 1990 is definitely Victoria Abril in "Atamé!": crazy, extremely funny and totally believable with a character that doesn't really make much sense. It might be actually my favourite performance in Almodóvar film.
I'd keep Streep, Huston and Roberts in the shortlist, the fifth spot going to Dern. I somehow never really liked Bates in "Misery".

mrripley said...

other 1990 candidate glenn close hamlet.

i have watched this film a few times and i am still not a huge fan but i recently rescreened it and can remebr significant parts unlike my other 5th nominee joanna woodward so streep is in and woodward out so my top 5 wins*

roberts - a true movie star arrivla perf and for the dinner table scene.

mrripley said...

93 - 2001 the lost tears to me all her perf bar bridges fine her at her weakest.

mrripley said...

my fave line from death becomes her "NOW! a warning."

mrripley said...

why all the lack of love for bates i though that was universally liked performance although i did like huston just as much and thought julia was sensational for a number of reasons.

Anonymous said...

why the julia snub.

mrripley said...

in response to alex 1990 supp actor winner*

steven lang - last exit to brooklyn
joe pesci - goodfellas
bruce davison longtime companion*
hector elizondo - pretty woman
ron silver -reversal of fortune

Victor S said...

My heart is completly divided between Lily Dillon and Suzanne Vale. Two outstanding performances, so diferent in every level, but both amazing.
I truly think that if Huston or Streep had not won before they would probably be the favorites for the win.
Meryl already had 2 oscars, dominated the previous decade, so there was no sentiment of guilty or discovery on Postcards, which always help on winning an Academy Awards. Some can say that there was a surprise element on her comedic performance being so good, but after the 80's everyone knew she could do anithing.
Anjelica, if had not won for Prizzi's Honor, would have a better chance than Kathy Bates at winning. The Grifters got 4 nominations on big categories (director, adapted screenplay, actress and supporting actress), which means it wasnt far from the best picture race. And Misery, as good as it was, only got the best actress nomination. So, I think that already being an Oscar winner worked against Anjelica in the race for the win.

alluhrey said...

"postcards from the edge" is my third among meryl streep's comedic performances so far. "adaptation" and "the devil wears prada" are my first and second.

but for that year, i'm actually torn between streep and anjelica huston. the latter was riveting in "the grifters", but annette bening stole the film from everyone else.

i've seen and enjoyed tremendously "mr. and mrs. bridge" and joanne woodward made it really poignantly funny.

kathy bates in "misery", on hindsight, is too one-dimensional and card-board perfect scary, which to me is not good.

i wouldn't have put julia roberts among these four...

Agent69 said...

Anne Parillaud in Nikita is my win with Anjelica Huston close second, Bates #3.
The rest - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Scott said...

Huston should have won this year. Stunning performance.

VonCastle said...

Though most always I'd vote for Meryl (hmmm, being objective while doing so), I would also vote for Huston this time. Bates #2, Meryl#3, Woodward #4 and yes, would keep Julia on the list.

Victoria is good, but doesn't quite match up with Carmen Maura (or Cecilia Roth) as Almodovar's leading lady. What about that fabulous - always supporting - Chus Lampreave? This woman should have at least 2 Oscars by now!

Wayne B said...

I ADORE Death Becomes Her, was first Meryl performance ever saw. Her and Goldie make a great broad comedy team. Haven't seen her '90 performance yet so my ballot would be: Bates, Hawn, Huston, Roberts and Ryder (Edward Scissorhands.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathaniel

When describing Postcards from the Edge, why no mention of her vocal performances. She was top rate in singing both the songs. Postcard is one of my favorite films of hers, especially the scenbes where she is kissing Quaid on the patio and cracks one-liners to his every goofy come-on.

Looks like we will see more comedy from Meryl this summer when Julie and Julia opens. Word has it that she is funny and the top draw of the film.

Fernando Moss said...

Voncastle.- Right there with ya on Chus Lampreave... she's absolutely terrific in Matador (and so many others, but that perf is great).

mrripley said...

i'd like someone to explain how bates is 1 dimensional,please.

if she had been just a wacko from beginning to end fair enough but she does not she subtley reveals this woman to us and the dinner scene i actually liked her for a few moments and she never lets us know if annie spilt the wine on purpose or not.

adelutza said...

I think it was between Bates and Streep. Very close call. But as for me Postcards From the Edge is so much more entertaining than Misery, and good comedy is really so much more difficult then drama (imho, of course) I would have gone with Meryl on this one.
For the rest, Angelica Huston for sure, Victoria Abril (but at that time nobody would've nominated a foreign language actress yet) and Joanne Woodward. Julia Roberts is very close, tough.

mrripley said...

shame no one mentions the 1 role susan sarandon should've been nominated for white palace.


ANON 12:49 -- streep's singing in postcards is something i basically live for ;) I could listen to her rendition of "you don't know me" like every day of the week.

but i was just talking 'bout the Oscar race so didn't have time to go to into detail.

Agent69 said...

I just feel obligated to say this: in no way, shape or form did Annette Bening steal The Grifters for Huston.

Kent said...

Nat, did you really like Kathy Bates in MISERY? I thought she was solid, but not great.

I love POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE. I'm starting to think that the film's a co-lead between Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. But MacLaine can go supporting as well.

My top three for 1990 would for sure be:
Anjelica Huston, THE GRIFTERS
Mia Farrow, Alice

Hayden said...

I wish more people could see Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, because Woodward takes my personal win in a cakewalk in this strong year.


kent i loved Bates at the time but i have to admit the performance hasn't aged all that well in my head. so maybe i'd have to boot her out of my list with rewatches. I'm not sure.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Of COURSE Postcards is the only one of the four I haven't seen. I love all the others. Rediscovered She-Devil just two years back, and man do I love Sylvia Miles. Defending Your Life was a great surprise, and Death Becomes Her...oh man. I effing love that movie. Bruce Willis's delivery is AWESOME.

adam k. said...

Funny how you could listen to Streep's "You Don't Know Me" every night of the week, Nat, cause there was a period in my life when I actually did that. Great, great song. And such a wonderfully spontaneous, lived-in, live musical moment on film. Right up there with Ewan's "Gimme Danger" in Velvet Goldmine (but SO different ; )

Huston and Streep totally owned 1990. Both deserved to be the globe winners, and neither were. I think Meryl's relative lack of overdueness (at the time) + Huston's Grand High Witch tip it to Huston (man do I love her Witches performance). But it's a gross injustice that Meryl had to wait 16 years for the Comedy/Musical globe she deserved for this one.

I never could get into Kathy Bates in Misery. I only watched it relatively recently and found her rather flat and cliché, and the film not particularly oscar-worthy. It's entertaining enough, but I really don't get what oscar was thinking with that one. I guess it's good that they embraced such a non-typical star in a non-typical genre, and both Streep and Huston already had oscars, so it doesn't anger me per se. Just leaves me with a feeling of "whaaaa---?"

Rick said...

No way Bates should have won .. it was a very entertaining movie and she was very good in a role that was true over the top acting...

Many other actresses that year should have won .. to me Streep was great in "Postcards" because she was funny and heartbreaking throughout the movie.

Rick said...

I agree with Curtis ... only on "House of the Spirits" and "Before and After". THe others were not great performances, but good ones. Yopu cannot expect every actor to be GREAT in each and evry movie...

Andrew K. said...

Not to say that the performance deserved (or did not) deserve to be nominated - what does anyone think of Glenn Close in Reversal of Fortune? The movie is a bit flimsy, and it's not exactly her show, but I think she did a good job (along with her performance in Hamlet.

My favourites (in order)
Anjelica Huston
Kathy Bates
Julia Roberts
Glenn Close
Andie McDowell
Meryl Streep

I should probably see Alice...

Rick said...

It was late when I wrote this and really needed to proof read.. I am very ashamed!!

/3rtfu11 said...

Currently, I’ve been seeing a lot of Kathy Bates’ backlash. Mainly, from the internet – many are finding fault that she took the lead in a Tyler Perry movie, some are saying she forgot how to act with her character in Revolutionary Road, and her laughing character from Cheri.

I’m a big lover of character actresses. Huston, Bates, and Goldberg are especially my favorites – and more often than not all of these women get written off for a variety of reasons – but most are angry they don’t receive better material and are as awesome as they can be when inspired coupled with great material.

Unknown said...

I'm really not well acquainted with Mia Farrow's work, so can anyone out there PLEASE tell me how many Oscar noms she's supposed to have had by now?

Kent said...

Mia Farrow is so terrific in ALICE. See it. It's her best performance in the 1990s. She should at least have one win and 5 nominations by now.


Yavor. AT THE VERY LEAST (i consider this part inarguable) she should have two nominations
THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO. I've never heard a convincing argument that five people were better in either year. She's magnificent in both films.

But you can also make cases for:
ALICE (extremely difficult part requiring tons of range)
HUSBANDS AND WIVES (an actress they loved might have been nodded on sympathy alone... but she's also very good in the film)
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (against type -- you hardly recognize her -- and she totally pulls it off and she's funny)

those are the main ones.

VonCastle said...

Fully disagree with any mention of Andie McDowell as Best actress anywhere. She is sometimes pleasant, but mostly only when her screen persona matches the (apparent)real one.
IMO Andie's best performance - and I saw most - was in "4 Weddings"... where she still is, by miles, the weakest of the whole bunch. Amazing how any man would prefer her to Scott Thomas' Fiona... hehehe, but quite matching real life then.

For some reason she is now advertising shampoos and cutting ribbons only...


voncastle i actually think she's a-ma-zing in sex lies and videotape but it's the only one of her performances that i think is actually "special" as opposed to good. you know? I might have nominated her in 1989

VonCastle said...

She promised a lot in Sex, Lies and Videotape, but then she repeated every single mimic and pose after... for me then it was one of those cases of match Andie & Character, not really a performance. And I suppose we were all fascinated by this new face and sense of "naturalness" in SL&V... I revised down that performance after the rest... :)

Congrats for this blog and thanks for sharing it with us all!

Anonymous said...

At that time, Brazilian Ana Maria Bahiana was a member of the Hollywood Foreing Press Association (The Golden Globes) and she wrote in a Brazilian newspaper the day after the nominations were announced that when Julia Roberts's name was listed for best actress, a few journalists in the room started laughing, they saw it as a joke. When they announced Ghost for best picture, they could not control themselves.

I can only think of these three making the cut.
Kathy Bates (Misery)
Anjelica Huston (The Grifters)
Michelle Pfeiffer (The Russia House)

I love Meryl Streep's performances, but I thought, at the time, that Shirley MacLaine deserved to be nominated more than Streep.

Marcelo - Brazil.

Alex said...

I actually also really liked Farrow is "Hannah and Her Sisters." It's not her best by a long shot, but I would've given her a supporting nom for it.

ctrout said...

Best Actress - 1990

1. Meryl Streep - Postcards From the Edge
2. Anjelica Huston - The Grifters
3. Laura Dern - Wild at Heart
4. Mia Farrow - Alice
5. Demi Moore - Ghost