Oct 7, 2009

Meryl Streep, nominated for brushing her teeth

According to Wikepedia "Streep has received 15 Academy Award nominations and 23 Golden Globe nominations (winning six), more than any other actor in the history of either award show". Really. The best screen actress of all time. Better than Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunway, Diane Keaton, Holly Hunter and Julia Roberts. Really. You're sure about that.

You don't have to be a Streep agnostic like me to wonder if the Academy hasn't got itself into a bit of a bind here, caused by a combination of two factors: 1) their acknowledgement of the brilliance of Meryl Streep, in perpetuity. And 2) the fact that she won't stop making films. It's irresistable force meets immovable object. The same thing happened to Jack Nicholson. There came a point, around the time of Terms of Endearment, when the academy simply decided that Jack Nicholson, in himself, was a good thing, a national treasure — not the roles he played, not the performances he delivered, but Jack himself. In fact the performances they most liked were the ones where he tipped the wink to the audience, behind his character's back, saying, essentially, "Jack's back." And once he figured out this, he never stopped. He's not dumb. Every performance he gave was a "Jack's back" performance the academy had no choice but to nominate him: Prizzi's Honour Ironweed, The Witches of Eastwick, A Few Good Men, As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt, The Departed. He had them by the short and curlies.

Meryl's worked her way into a similarly powerful position. Around about the time of Adaptation (Meryl does surrealism!) they saw that she was pulling in the kids again and went: national treasure. So she did The Hours (Meryl does modernism!) and got nominated for that; she did Mamma Mia (Meryl sings Abba!) and got nominated for that; she did Doubt (Meryl in a wimple!) and got nominated for that; and now she's done Julie and Julia (Meryl cooks!) and It's Complicated (Meryl does Alec Baldwin!) and the Academy don't know which way to move. My guess is they'll for for Julia and Julia— a performance that reminds me of one of the Monty Python men, like Terry Jones doing Mary Magdalenein The Life of Brian. ("He's not the messiah he's a very naughty boy". Try it.)

This is the problem with rewarding people for being themselves. They never stop being themselves. Which means you have to go on rewarding them. What are you going to say? "I don't know Meryl, I just don't think you're very like yourself this year"? "I think you may have lost some essential Streepiness"? Of course not. You're going to put a tick in that box and give the woman another Oscar. The whole thing is abominable, completely unmeritocratic, tyrannical even. The cycle must be broken. The towers must come down. Vive la revolution!

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