best film:   Manhattan. This is far from being Meryl Streep’s signature role and film. Hers is a small role and she is no better than the fifth best – or most important – performance in the film. If one is seeking out Streep’s best film where she plays a significant part- look to the best picture winner of 1978. The Deer Hunter is #227 on the all-time top 500 films list so at this level near the top of the best female actors of all-time- this category is still a weakness for Streep. Streep is fantastic in Michael Cimino’s film though and she proves herself with a very game Robert De Niro (right in his prime) and Christopher Walken (the best he has ever been). The next best film would probably be Sydney Pollack’s gorgeous Out of Africa– but- again- this is not a category of strength for Streep.


Meryl Streep in 1978’s The Deer Hunter opposite Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. This was just Streep’s second film after 1977’s debut in Fred Zinnemann’s Julia. Her work in The Deer Hunter earned Streep her first of more than twenty (20) Oscar nominations. Cimino’s film proves to sort of update on Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives – the story of the return home from war.


best performance:   Sophie’s Choice. It is not a good sign to dip down to the level of a film of Sophie’s Choice’s caliber for this category- but Streep practically levitates she is so good in the 1982 Alan Pakula film. This does feel like the single performance for which she will be remembered for.  It features her trademark accent and dialect perfection and it is very far from being an average film even if it is clearly no masterpiece. Sophie’s Choice features that pivotal titular choice flashback scene that would be amongst the minority of scenes one would show to someone if you wanted to showcase just how good screen acting can be. The Deer Hunter, Out of Africa (another highwire accent-laden epic) are fine choices- and both Adaptation and Kramer vs. Kramer (Streep owns the opening and closing of this film in particular) have Streep throwing fastballs in more limited screen time performances.


from Sophie’s Choice– a few times a decade at most an actor gives a performance in a film outside of the year’s top ten of the year that requires mention among the very best. Streep’s close-up confession here- these are probably her finest moments on screen.



stylistic innovations/traits:    Streep is at twenty-three (23) total films in the archives and counting- still going strong. She is the record holder in Academy Award nominations for an actor.  She may lack quality performances in masterpieces (1) but her depth and clear range as an actress is her case. Few if any actors could match Streep’s fifteenth (15th) best performance (maybe something like Ironweed or The Manchurian Candidate) but the flip side of that is comparing Streep’s top with the top of the other actors- and there she suffers.  Her vast range includes those accents and authenticity but she clearly does not need an accent to wallop audiences with her performance either. In fact, in three of her three of her best five performances (The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, Adaptation) she is playing accent-less contemporary characters.



Kramer vs. Kramer– Streep gives Joanna Kramer an impressively rich duality and complexity . Joanna’s perspective in the film is not given the same attention as Dustin Hoffman’s character- and yet- Streep pulls off the triumph of making Joanna a full character and tells her side of the tory in a fraction of the screen time. It is hard to picture another actor pulling this off.



directors worked with:   Mike Nichols (3) and then Michael Cimino, Woody Allen, Alan Pakula, Sydney Pollack, Clint Eastwood, Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze, Steven Soderbergh, Greta Gerwig, Adam McKay all once a piece. This is solid and very long list of collaborators. No disrespect intended to Mike Nichols, but this makes Streep’s path markedly different than many of the previously mentioned actresses here like Masina, Gish, Karina, Vitti, Ullman and a few others that paired up so often with a top auteur.



Streep in 1985’s Out of Africa. Streep’s strengths are her obvious talent, chameleon-like accent work and her depth of filmography. With over twenty (23 and counting) archiveable films Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett are really the others battling her for the most all-time for a female actor.



top five performances:

  1. Sophie’s Choice
  2. The Deer Hunter
  3. Out of Africa
  4. Kramer vs. Kramer
  5. Adaptation



archiveable films

1977- Julia
1978- The Deer Hunter
1979- Kramer vs. Kramer
1979- Manhattan
1981- The French Lieutenant’s Woman
1982- Sophie’s Choice
1983- Silkwood
1985- Out of Africa
1987- Ironweed
1988- A Cry in the Dark
1990- Postcards from the Edge
1991- Defending Your Life
1995- The Bridges of Madison County
2002- Adaptation
2002- The Hours
2003- Angels in America
2004- The Manchurian Candidate
2006- A Prairie Home Companion
2008- Doubt
2017- The Post
2019- Little Women
2020- Let Them All Talk
2021- Don’t Look Up