dws1982 wrote:We've talked before about how Meryl Streep has racked up all of these nominations over the years usually in movies that are far out of the Best Picture race (Florence Foster Jenkins) or in movies that were supposed to be bigger contenders than they ended up being (Into the Woods). Unless I'm overlooking something, this is her fourth Oscar nomination for a Best Picture nominee. And yet...it's still basically Meryl having another solo triumph, because the only other nomination the movie has is Best Picture.
That's a very sharp observation, one I wouldn't have thought of.
A couple of things about Meryl's pattern, though:
I think people understate how strongly her initial run -- that first decade -- was tied to the best picture category. Deer Hunter and Kramer vs. Kramer were of course best picture winners, as was Out of Africa, but her nominations in-between were for very strong also-rans -- The French Lieutenant's Woman and Sophie's Choice had five nominations apiece, including screenplay, and would very likely have been best picture nominees under the current expanded system. Silkwood seemed like it should have been nominated even in a field of five -- it got screenplay/director/editing, all the earmarks of a best picture nominee, making it seem more Academy fluke than a knock on Meryl that it wasn't on the best picture slate. (Mark Harris is arguing on Twitter today that some of Meryl's best picture non-correlation has to do with the Academy's preference for male-oriented narratives; it's ghetto-izing of "women's subjects" -- which is a broader argument, but related.) Even Ironweed wasn't just a Meryl one-off, but more like failed Oscar bait -- Babenco was coming off Kiss of the Spider Woman, the novel was a Pulitzer winner, and right up until the film's December opening it was viewed as prime Academy material. NIcholson's nomination right alongside should be enough to exclude it from the Meryl-rides-solo narrative.
After that, of course, she did start racking up nominations that seemed personal rather than film-related. Only a few of the 14(!) subsequent mentions were for films with broad support -- Adaptation and Doubt, most notably (I'd make a case that in another year, Bridges of Madison County might have been a bigger deal -- its reviews were quite good, at least compared to what had been expected, given the novel's low reputation. But 1995, as I've noted many times, was a film with about 30 credible contenders, and many were left by the wayside.) You can definitely draw a line from Music of the Heart and The Devil Wears Prada through The Iron Lady and August: Osage County, and declare that Meryl dwells in a separate Academy county from anyone else. What I'm saying is, she got there via initially legitimate means.
Denzel -- a interesting analogy -- has had the misfortune of being mostly attached to fizzled Oscar bait. Cry Freedom was Richard Attenborough's attempt to recapture his Gandhi triumph, but voters seemed to see through it this time (perhaps chastened by the retroactive critical lambasting Gandhi had taken); Denzel's charismatic Biko was all that survived for nomination. Glory actually seemed like it would be up the Academy's alley -- the Globes had nominated it in all the glamour categories -- but it scored a meager five, mostly below-the-line nods (though it won three prizes, not bad for a non-nominated film). When Malcolm X opened in November '92, I'd have bet on its getting all the major nominations. I'm still not sure why it diddn't -- not to say it's brilliant, but compared to Scent of a Woman and A Few Good Men? Again, Denzel survived, but the pattern was established. The Hurricane was even more a bust -- it was seen mostly as a crappy movie with a powerful Denzel performance (this was still good enough to win him a Golden Globe). With Training Day, there wasn't even a pretense the movie was much: it was strictly the Denzel show, and he got important people (including the LA critics) to rally behind it as "time for a lead Denzel Oscar". In retrospect, it's kind of amazing he's achieved this -- racked up so many nominations and two wins -- despite never having even close to the best picture narrative most of his compatriots (and even Streep) have established.