The Best Movie Ever: Best Meryl Streep Movies
There is no other actor as consistently acclaimed as Meryl Streep, which is doubly impressive considering she’s outright prolific. When she isn’t racking up Oscar nominations (19 in total, more than any other thespian in history) she still finds time to perform in smaller, or even populist pictures. She’s made history with films like Kramer vs. Kramer, Out of Africa and The Iron Lady. But she’s still the feel good headliner in this weekend’s Ricki and the Flash, and hey – check it out – she even was in that young adult sci-fi drama The Giver last year too.
But whether you love Meryl Streep for her art house classics or for elevating films like Into the Woods, Mamma Mia or She-Devil, you just gotta love her. That’s why this week dedicate Crave’s The Best Movie Ever to Meryl Streep, and ask our three film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – to pick just one of her classic films, if they could only pick one, to stand out as her very best work.
Best Meryl Streep Movies Ever
Check out what they picked as the best Meryl Streep movies ever, read their rationalizations, and let us know what you’d pick. Then come back next Wednesday for an all-new, highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Check Out: The Best Movie Ever: Writers
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Sophie’s Choice (1982)
When I come to the task of summarizing Meryl Streep’s amazing talents, I find myself at a bit of a loss. Most big-name “movie stars” – a term that should most certainly be partitioned off from from the descriptor “actors” – are perhaps more noted for their in-born charm and allusive “it” qualities than they are, perhaps, for their raw talent. In other words, actors act, while movie stars more frequently play on-screen versions of themselves.
Streep has never once been the latter. She may possess an ineffable, watchable quality, but she’s more alluring a performer because, well, she performs so well. She looks at her every role with a serious eye, giving all her characters – be they biographical, fictional, or fantastical – the most accurate, realistic, down-to-earth, relatable qualities the characters can warrant… and then some. She finds the emotions, the accents, and the looks, and cracks them out with an ease that can easily be described as genius.
It’s insanely difficult to choose one role that perhaps define her, or can be called her best, so I will select, as her “Best Movie Ever,” the Streep performance that – at least in my recollection – serves as her declaration of intent, as it were. 1982’s Sophie’s Choice, directed by Alan J. Pakula, is about a young Bohemian writer who meets a mysterious Polish woman named Sophie (Streep) in the wild environs of 1947 New York. Sophie is harvesting a horrible secret and hidden wounds, as we see in her subtle interactions with her asshole boyfriend (Kevin Kline). Yes, we eventually learn the horrors of what her choice was, and how it wounded her. Although Sophie’s Choice wasn’t Streep’s first notable performance (it was preceded by The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman), I see it as the final declaration that she was an enormous talent that was here to stay; no flash-in-the-pan she.
And thank goodness. 33 years on, we’re still getting awesome performances from her.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Adaptation. (2002)
Meryl Streep is a great actress who—at this point in her career—has been the trademark Great Actress™ for multiple decades, sometimes close to an acting monopoly. She’s been nominated for 19 Oscars. Whenever she isn’t, we should probably suggest SAG trust busting. Like your favorite brand, Streep has earned your trust and delivered the exact goods you expect. She can sing, she can scowl, she can clutch pearls, she can furrow her brow, she can swap out accents — goddammit — she can act!
Streep has elevated the bar for actresses younger and older alike—younger, for striving to have a career that stays leading-role relevant for decades, and older by showing that indeed, older women can still be the main characters in films and folks will go. You buy a Streep ticket and you get the Great Actress™ you paid for. The last film where Streep truly transcended the trademark—through a poetically wide array of vulnerabilities, inadequacies (and drug-induced lust and bloodlust)—was Spike Jonze’s Adaptation.
Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman followed up their brilliant freshman mindbender Being John Malkovich with another mindbender, and somehow, Streep—our greatest Great Actress™—didn’t get enough credit for blowing our minds, or as much as they did for bending it. As Susan Orlean, Streep is a successful writer who has lost the ability to look. She strives to find meaning, and finds it in another man’s drive to retrieve beauty (orchids). In the mind of Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), a balding, recently successful screenwriter who can’t write simple—and who is tasked with adapting her book, The Orchid Thief—she’s an orchid-snorting adulterer who finds harmony in dial tones and protects romantic harmony through attempted murder. Streep has to sell these two personalities in order for the climactic car chase—that asks us to embrace storytelling clichés—to work. In her most nuanced, and reserved Great Actress™ performance, Streep makes every cliché shift believable. Goddamn that’s acting!
William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
20th Century Fox
Picking just one Meryl Streep performance is like picking just one Skittle. It behooves us to taste the whole damned rainbow. But whereas I have admired Streep’s incredible characters, her wit and her insight, for many years – and as much as I love the river rafting kidnapping thriller The River Wild – I can think of no finer example of her charisma and talent than The Devil Wears Prada.
It may seem like an odd choice, especially given a career full of Nazis and doubt and orchid thievery, but the fun films aren’t always the flighty ones. David Frankel’s film is a spirited and challenging one, in which a free-thinking college graduate (Anne Hathaway) takes an assistant position underneath a diabolical fashion magazine editor (Streep), under the assumption that the superficial world of glamour will be a cakewalk, and change little more about her than the number of times she will roll her eyes.
But as monstrous as Miranda Priestley is, Meryl Streep never devolves her into outright villainy. She is a hardened woman, a powerful figure in a cutthroat world, and as spiteful as she can be she is also trying to teach her young protégée important lessons. The realm of high fashion is more complex and far-reaching than it seems, and conquering it took strength of character that Streep exudes in every frame, even when she’s forcing her assistant to acquire the latest Harry Potter book before it’s publish, with her job on the highly sharpened line.
We get glimpses of sensitivity from Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, but we see her only from the perspective of a less experienced young woman who mostly hates her guts. We have to seek out the character within the cliché, and Streep rewards us for our perseverance. It is a fun film, a film that dashes expectations and builds them back up again, only to dash them all the more. It finds humanity inside its monster, and then yet another monster much deeper down. But it is a smart, wonderful film and it features – if not Streep’s best performance – then at least her most entertaining work, and arguably her most memorable.
Don’t forget to let us know what you believe to be the best Meryl Streep movies ever in the comment section below!