With 21 Academy Award nominations to her name, Meryl Streep is one of the most celebrated actors in film history. Of those 21 nominations, she has been to the podium three times, for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979, “Sophie’s Choice” in 1982, and “The Iron Lady” in 2011.
The longest period Streep went without a nomination was between “Postcards from the Edge” in 1990 and “The Bridges of Madison County” in 1995. Her nominations come for drama, like “The Deer Hunter,” and comedy, such as “The Devil Wears Prada.” She was nominated for the musical “Into the Woods,” and the musical comedy, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
It’s hard to believe an actress with 21 nominations has any other films to talk about. But this week, with the release of “Mamma Mia 2,” we are taking a look at Streep’s ten best performances that did not garner any love from Oscar.
10. “Lions for Lambs” (2007)
Set in the middle of the Iraq war, this drama from Robert Redford puts Meryl Streep almost entirely in a single location with one co-star: Tom Cruise. Streep is Janine Roth, a reporter for a major DC reporter. Her part of the film isn’t action-packed, and a lot of her screen time is devoted to pensively asking questions. But there is a quiet dignity on display here that we wouldn’t see much of again until she returned to the journalism world in last year’s Oscar-nominated role as Kay Graham in “The Post.”
9. “Heartburn” (1986)
This film from Mike Nichols was written by Nora Ephron, who adapted it from her own novel. The story is supposed to be (at least loosely) autobiographical. Streep stars as Rachel, a divorced food critic who believes marriage is all a lie until she meets Mark (Jack Nicholson), a columnist for a Washington paper. They buy an old house and go through the trials of remodeling, and start growing their family. Everything seems great until Rachel discovers Mark has been having an affair and has to figure out how to move on. There are ups and downs and a lot of drama. It’s not the greatest movie, but Streep is charming in her awkwardness and her resolve.
8. “Mamma Mia!” (2008)
The thing about this musical is that it is just so much fun. You don’t go into “Mamma Mia!” looking for deep drama or riveting performances. But the double-digit nominee brings a lot of joy and heart to this delightfully cheeky show. She plays Donna, a hardworking single mom, and businesswoman who takes pride in her crumbling corner of the world. She sings the songs of ABBA and dances her way around the hearts of Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth. The HFPA recognized her with a Golden Globe nomination, even if AMPAS didn’t take a chance on this one.
7. “Marvin’s Room” (1996)
Meryl Streep is great in family dramas, and this is one that was underrated. She plays Lee, a woman who walked away from her family to start a life with her husband and hasn’t seen her father or sister in more than 20 years. Diane Keaton plays her sister, Bessie, who attempts to end the estrangement when she learns she needs a bone marrow transplant and hopes Lee is an eligible donor. Pre-“Titanic” Leonardo DiCaprio plays Lee’s son, Hank, and their scenes together just drip with animosity. Streep scored the Globe nomination, while Keaton earned a Lead Actress nod as the lone representative for a film that deserved more.
6. “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004)
This remake of the 1962 classic casts Streep as Eleanor Shaw, a role originated by Oscar nominee Angela Lansbury. The second incarnation of Eleanor earned Streep a Golden Globe nomination, but didn’t earn her a ticket back to the Academy Awards. It’s hard to follow in Lansbury’s footsteps, but Streep manages to make the role her own. She’s terrifying and evil, and strikes fear with the slightest of a smile. She and director Jonathan Demme were a great match.
5. “It’s Complicated” (2009)
The title says it all. The plot is, well, complicated. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This Nancy Meyers romantic comedy tells the tale of affairs and broken marriages and reunions and guilt and confusion and romance. Once again, Streep scored the Golden Globe and left it there. The performances are great all around, even if the plot feels a little too contrived.
4. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)
The stop-motion animated movie from Wes Anderson is charming and hilarious and full of heart. And Meryl Streep’s voice of reason is a big part of that. She is Mrs. Fox, the better half of the Foxes. She forgoes her natural fox-like inclinations in favor of family. And she would do anything to protect her family. Playing opposite George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman, she is the perfect calming, rational presence among the impulsive, brash men in her life.
3. “The River Wild” (1994)
Streep became an action star in this watery thriller. She perfected her rowing skills to become Gail, a former whitewater rafting guide who settled into family life. A family trip goes awry, though, when she helps two stranded novices (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly), that turns out to be armed, wanted fugitives. The premise may not sound like much, but it is such a rewatchable film, and that is largely due to Streep’s Golden Globe-nominated performance. When she stares down Kevin Bacon’s menacing criminal, the man holding her family hostage, and says, “I’m going to kill you, Wade,” you definitely believe her.
2. “Angels in America” (2003)
Okay, so technically the HBO miniseries wasn’t actually eligible for any Oscars. But this is absolutely some of her best non-Oscar work. In this adaptation of Tony Kushner’s play, she plays smothering mother Hannah Pitt, a rabbi, an angel and an incarnation of Ethel Rosenberg. She makes each part so distinct, and yet infuses her poise, grace, and a bit of self-righteous indignation. She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the sum of all these parts, might have won with AMPAS too if she could have.
1. “Death Becomes Her” (1992)
Regardless of whether you love the movie or not, Meryl Streep gives the non-Oscar-winning performance of her life in “Death Becomes Her.” Robert Zemeckis’ weird anti-fairy tale gives Streep the opportunity to do what she might actually do best: be utterly wicked. Her Madeline Ashton is selfish and demanding and will stop at nothing to get her way and defeat her nemesis, Helen (Goldie Hawn). There are some traces of Madeline in the edges of the future Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but Madeline Ashton is truly one of the most unique roles, and “Death Becomes Her” is the most unique of her distinguished career.