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.
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.
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.
directors worked with: Mike Nichols (3) and then Michael Cimino, Woody Allen, Alan Pakula, Sydney Pollack, 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.
top five performances:
- Sophie’s Choice
- The Deer Hunter
- Out of Africa
- Kramer vs. Kramer
|1978- The Deer Hunter|
|1979- Kramer vs. Kramer|
|1981- The French Lieutenant’s Woman|
|1982- Sophie’s Choice|
|1985- Out of Africa|
|1988- A Cry in the Dark|
|1990- Postcards from the Edge|
|1991- Defending Your Life|
|1995- The Bridges of Madison County|
|2002- The Hours|
|2003- Angels in America|
|2004- The Manchurian Candidate|
|2006- A Prairie Home Companion|
|2017- The Post|
|2019- Little Women|
|2020- Let Them All Talk|
|2021- Don’t Look Up|
curious, would you say Sophie’s Choice is a top 20 female performance of all time or would it fall lower in your estimation?
@Ce- Thanks for the comment. I do plan on putting together a list of the best performances after this list.
Love this list so far! I am very curious to see where my favourites Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams fall in the list.
@Anirudh Arun Madappallath- Thank you for visiting the site and the kind words here.