The Lists: Top 10 Meryl Streep performances

Posted by · 10:29 am · December 14th, 2011

What is there left to say about Meryl Streep at this point that someone else hasn”t said already? At the age of 62, the actress who was already earning ‘all-time greatest” citations decades earlier, has the career most of her contemporaries can only dream of.

Still in favor with critics, recently celebrated with a Kennedy Center honor and working like a demon, she is, even more remarkably, a bigger box-office draw than she ever was: pulling vast and varied audiences into the theater for such commercial juggernauts as “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia!,” she breaks every conceivable rule that has been established for middle-aged women in Hollywood. (One imagines Madeline Ashton, the vain, ageing, largely untalented leading lady she played nearly 20 years ago in “Death Becomes Her,” veritably seething with envy.)

She has, of course, broken her own record many times over to amass an astonishing 16 Oscar nominations: a 17th is undoubtedly on the way for her latest headlining role, as the reviled, long-serving British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd”s biopic “The Iron Lady.” The performance has already netted her a fifth New York Film Critics” Circle Award – another rare distinction in a career not short of them, and an obvious subject for another installment of The Lists.

That Streep has managed to convert only one-eighth of her Oscar bids into statuettes-the last of them nearly 29 years ago-has lead to claims in some quarters that she is “underrated” or “taken for granted,” a patently ridiculous way to describe an actress held in such high esteem by the industry that she routinely garners accolades for the kind of populist projects for which few of her peers generally receive any respect. It”s a common line on Streep (one I admit I”ve regularly taken myself in recent years) that she”s often better than the film surrounding her; admittedly, a film usually has to be rather special to keep up.

Streep rarely phones it in as an actress: she”s almost always working in a carefully thought-out stylistic register (often, as has become something of a trademark, with an elaborate and exotic accent) that occasionally divides critics, but is never dull to watch. When she fully connects with a character, as in the 10 performances selected for this week”s list, the “untouchable” claims are fully warranted – and it”s happened often enough over 34 years of big-screen work that whittling this list down was no easy process. (Not to mention small-screen work: anyone see her priceless guest turn in Lisa Kudrow”s “Web Therapy” series?)

So, take a look through our new gallery, and see what I reckon are her finest hours on screen. I imagine everyone”s list will look a little different, so please share your own favourites in the comments section below.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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