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Top 20 Meryl Streep Performances Ranked

The Top 20 performances by Meryl Streep, as voted for by you, is like a treasure chest of golden acting. On the flip side, so sad to see those that did not quite make the final list. But there’s plenty to be in awe of here. Thanks to all who voted. And a huge, huge shout out to the quad-role in Angels in America – sadly not included here due to its television format. In case you were wondering.

20) The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Jonathan Demme’s retelling of the 1962 film, but also adapted from the novel by Richard Condon, is a return to form for the director. The Manchurian Candidate is a taut, engaging political thriller, depicting an eerie military and government scandal, were soldiers are brainwashed like puppets.

Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber are terrific, but it’s that Meryl Streep once again, who even in limited screentime seems to pack the greater punch.   The venom and all-conquering nature of this woman, a U.S. Senator I might add, is ruthless terror personified. Angela Lansbury earned an Oscar nod for her portrayal in 1962, but incredibly Streep was nowhere to be seen in the 2004 Best Supporting Actress line-up. – – – Robin Write

19) One True Thing (1998)

One True Thing was based on a real-life struggle between a daughter unable to grab her own life and her mother who is diagnosed with cancer. The candid novel by Anna Quindlen was adapted for the screen by Karen Croner, and Carl Franklin took on the directing duties. Meryl Streep has good acting competition the shape of Renee Zellweger and William Hurt, but once again proves her worth as the finest actress year after year.

The decline in Kate’s health is a painful journey, and Streep exposes the pain and hope once can only imagine in such a torrid situation. The film slipped under the net in 1998, and were it not for Streep’s performance may have got lost altogether. Another Oscar nomination came her way too. – – – Robin Write

18) Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Such an emotional significance Postcards from the Edge holds now. The cracking screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on the relationship she had with her mother Debbie Reynolds, is smart, funny, and rich in character. Directed by Mike Nichols, it is Meryl Streep playing the daughter, Suzanne Vale, attempting to salvage her acting career and live life after rehab. Having to return under the roof of her mother Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), Suzanne appears to be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The chemistry between Streep and MacLaine is infectious, both delivering lines with such droll humor and bitterness. Streep has done comedy elsewhere of course, but in Postcards from the Edge she explores with ease a new layer of wit, such a dry sense of humour and naive outlook make her a fascinating character. – – – Robin Write

17) Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

You watch Florence Foster Jenkins, and you likely have that same conversation. How good is Streep in this? Well, it’s Meryl Streep. It’s a flamboyant, tongue-in-cheek performance from the actress netting her 20th Academy Award nomination for this. Playing a somewhat out of tune heiress in New York, the lady just wants to sing, opera no less.

The facade that she is actually good at singing is paper thin, but those around her, including husband St. Clair (a strikingly good Hugh Grant), try their damnedest to keep her sweet. Streep delivers a comic turn given the plot, but that underlying vulnerability, and illness, brings a poignancy to the table that’s tough to resist. – – – Robin Write

16) Death Becomes Her (1992)

Beauty is everything in Hollywood, and this film follows narcissist actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) who when we first meet her has stolen her rival Helen Sharp’s (Goldie Hawn) fiancé Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), who is a plastic surgeon. Seven years later, Helen is now an obese lonely woman in a psychiatric hospital and obsessed in seeking revenge on Madeline.

However, unknown to Helen, the marriage of Madeline and Menville is on the rocks and he is no longer a surgeon but an alcoholic caretaker. The couple attend a party celebrating Helen’s new book, discover that somehow, Helen is now slim, youthful and beautiful. Distraught, Madeline visits a mysterious Lisle von Rhoman, a woman specializing in youth rejuvenation who gives Madeline a potion which gifts eternal beauty, but at what cost? This excellent dark comedy,  which has some dazzling special effects, has aged very well indeed. – – – Bianca Garner

15) Out of Africa (1985)

Sydney Pollock’s Best Picture winner Out of Africa stands as one of the most unremarkable  victors of the big prize. That said, it has done truly breathtaking cinematography, and that score from John Barry is an absolute classic. Meryl Streep turns in a fine performance too donning a Danish accent, further demonstrating her range as an actress.

Her portrayal of Karen is an emotionally charged one, providing a spark to what turns out to be a somewhat labouring motion picture. That spark though is channeled through a woman’s struggle with ownership, hardships, farming, and loss. And Streep more than does her justice. – – – Robin Write

14) August: Osage County (2013)

Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) has cancer and a propensity for pills and alcohol. She’s a difficult woman to deal with and her husband has finally had enough. Violet’s family gathers including middle daughter Ivy, (Julianne Nicholson) youngest daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis), eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts), and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale). A family tragedy causes tensions to run high and secrets to come out. The Weston women will be forced to examine themselves and their lives whether they want to or not.

Adapted from the play by Tracy Letts, this film centres around a family of despicable people, which may be a turn off for someone. However, this film is worth watching because the acting is so terrific, and Streep’s performance is a tour de force, despite her character is so unlikable. The outrageous, violent, destructive behavior of the characters and between the characters may hit a little too close to home, but it is a realistic portrayal of a dysfunctional family, trust me! – – – Bianca Garner

13) The Deer Hunter (1978)

In an epic tale of men preparing, experiencing, and recovering from the horrors of war, The Deer Hunter could be forgiven for depicting women in a smaller light. In fact, the character of Linda, played by Meryl Streep, was almost made obsolete from the screenplay, until director Michael Cinimo suggested Streep write many of her own lines. Essentially making the character hers then (but when when does she not?),

The magnetic, enticing Streep brought a ray of sun to the enduring picture. The attraction not acted upon between Linda and Mike (Robert De Niro), aside from the core friendships, remains the heart of the film in some ways. Even though their intentions become blurred by the absence of Nick, his buddy, and her intended. In her movie breakout role, Streep manages to balance the brutality and loss with glimmers of hope and innocence. – – – Robin Write

12) A Cry in the Dark (1988)

This film is based on the infamous true crime story of Lindy Chamberlain played her by Meryl Streep. During a camping trip to Ayers Rock in outback Australia, she claimed that she witnessed a dingo stealing her baby daughter, Azaria, from the family tent. Azaria’s body was never found. Police noted some apparent inconsistencies in her story, and she was charged with murder. The case attracted a lot of attention, turning an investigation into a media circus, with the public divided in their opinions.

Streep becomes Lindy and embodies what she actually went through. Apparently Streep even had speaking classes, so she could sound Australian. Streep presents us with an accurate version of Lindy who shows no emotion when she is going in and out of court, which is what the real Lindy Chamberlain did. The press are alarmed by the mother’s seeming “lack of emotion”, and are suspicious about her religious beliefs,  and as a result they accuse her of murdering the baby. The sentiment against her begins to grow, and soon the whole continent is talking about the case. Although, this is an average film, it is made stronger by Streep’s performance. – – – Bianca Garner

11) The Post (2017)

When American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), realizes the depths of the US government’s deceptions about the futility of the Vietnam War, he decides to take action by copying top-secret documents that would become the Pentagon Papers. Later, Washington Post owner, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), is still adjusting to taking over her late husband’s business when editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) discovers the New York Times has scooped them with an explosive expose on those papers. Determined to compete, Post reporters find Ellsberg himself and a complete copy of those papers.

However, the Post’s plans to publish their findings are put in jeopardy with a Federal restraining order that could get them all indicted for Contempt. This is a highly impactful, committed and strong performance by Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post who helped crush gender barriers in journalism. In these uncertain times this film seems very relevant and shows the indispensable role of the press in a democracy. Truly gripping stuff. – – – Bianca Garner



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One Comment

  1. Horace Jones Horace Jones June 24, 2018

    Underrated: She-Devil!

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