Though she’s since become widely known as the premier Oscar-bait actress of our time, or any other for that matter, there’s something to be said for the filmography of Meryl Streep.
Filled with diverse characterizations and stellar performances, it’s hard to deny the prowess she brings to a project. And with such a vast array of roles, it’s tough to pick just 10 that top all others, but, as is the tradition of this site, I must. So, from her impeccable accent work in countless period dramas to her less lauded but equally refreshing comedic stylings, here are the Top 10 Meryl Streep films.
10. The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995)
Though some write it off as just another weepfest courtesy of chick-lit author Robert James Waller, this tale of lonely Italian-American housewife Francesca Johnson and her encounter with a wayward photographer is simple, quaint, and rather beautiful by film’s end. Who knew Iowa could serve as such a romantic backdrop?
9. A Cry in the Dark (aka Evil Angels) (Schepisi, 1988)
Buoyed by that incredibly memorable Dorothy Hammill ‘do that would later be popularized by Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Streep’s work as Lindy Chamberlain, an Australian woman accused of murdering her baby but blaming it on a wild dingo, gave the actress perhaps one of her most iconic quotes (“The dingo took my baby!”), but it also served as a great series of monologues and character studies in the courtroom scenes that followed.
8. Doubt (Shanley, 2008)
Though supporting player Viola Davis truly stole the show here, Meryl Streep’s lead role as Sister Aloysius Beauvier was made for the stage (where it of course originated). But unlike may play adaptations in the past, the film translated quite nicely to the big screen, with an ensemble performance rivaling most others in the aughts.
7. The Hours (Daldry, 2002)
Assembling what would become a who’s who of prestige actresses for the new millennium (Moore? Kidman? Streep? Oh my!), the expertly edited and adapted The Hours may’ve read overlong to some, but the depressive plotlines only gave the very able cast some meaty material with which to work. Though Kidman came out of the gate with all the accolades (and the Oscar), it was Streep’s and Moore’s work that proved most memorable.
6. The Devil Wears Prada (Frankel, 2006)
It’s always refreshing to see a romantic comedy land that isn’t all about harmless fluff. At last launching the career of the genius Emily Blunt, Prada was also responsible for showcasing Streep’s lesser-known talents as a comedic foil for bumbling Anne Hathaway. Her Miranda Priestley will certainly go down as one of the actress’s most memorable roles, and rightly so – she’s terrifying and terribly funny all at once.
5. Postcards from the Edge (Nichols, 1990)
Telling the story of a troubled actress whose dabbling with drugs leaves her at a loss for decent roles, Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical effort gave Streep the chance to play spoiled screen star Suzanne Vale with such unlikable joie de vivre, and her on-screen mother played by Shirley MacLaine proved an excellent partner in chemistry throughout the comeback story.
4. Marvin’s Room (Zaks, 1996)
Another play adaptation, the beauty of Marvin’s Room lies in its usage of a host of talented actors in simplified, heartfelt roles. When her sister falls ill, Lee (Streep) must return home to help her sibling Bessie (Diane Keaton) care for their elderly father and aunt Ruth (the legendary Gwen Verdon). Lee and Bessie are polar opposites (one rebellious and one angelic), and Streep and Keaton play the roles to a tee. This one’s a forgotten gem that perhaps was brushed under the rug because of its sentimental nature.
3. Adaptation. (Jonze, 2002)
Utilizing the quirkiest of directors (Spike Jonze) and the quirkiest of screenwriters (Charlie and “Donald” Kaufman) was a great start for a film about as convoluted as possible – it follows the exploits of a screenwriter who is faced with adapting the impossible (a real-life book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean) and instead writes a film about himself adapting the book. And yet somehow it works to great effect. Chris Cooper rightfully won an Oscar for playing said “orchid thief,” and Nicolas Cage, playing the Kaufman “twins” himself, has never been better.
2. Silkwood (Nichols, 1983)
Adorned with a stellar ‘80s mullet and buckets of gumption, Streep owned the role of Karen Silkwood, whose work at a plutonium processing plant led to illnesses amongst its workers and followed with a legal battle for the victims. In what seems like an overdone story nowadays, Streep’s Silkwood is scrappy and likable, but she’s hardly a saint. But no amount of goofing off at the plant can justify the harrowing chemical shower scenes that come later in the film.
1. Sophie’s Choice (Pakula, 1982)
Sure, it’s an endlessly obvious choice for number one, but it’s too great to pass up. Never has an actorly showcase proved this effective. Streep is incredible as the Polish immigrant Sophie who is hiding a terrible secret about her time in Europe during World War II. There’s a reason it’s considered her greatest performance to date and that the film has gone down as one of the all-time great tearjerkers. It’s artfully filmed and wonderfully adapted from William Styron’s novel.
Written and compiled by Luke Tatge
Luke Tatge is the writer of blog Journalistic Skepticism.
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