Saturday, November 14, 2015
1982: Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice
There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most incredible, powerful, moving performances ever captured on screen. No performance that I've blogged about thus far so thoroughly deserved the Oscar as this one. Streep's flawless Polish accent alone would be Oscar-worthy, not to mention the fact that she actually learned to speak German and Polish for the role. Add to that the way she expertly handles the incredible complexity of her character, revealing emotions exactly when they need to be expressed, and her performance almost defies description. She's simply amazing.
When people talk about this movie they mainly focus on the heart-wrenching climax. This is completely understandable; it's an extraordinarily powerful, horrendous scene, and Streep was able to emotionally insert herself into that horror so completely that she was only able to film it once and never voluntarily watched it afterwards. But it's not just that scene that makes her performance one of the best. Sophie's coping mechanism consists of lying and concealing her past. The way it's ultimately revealed to the audience is by peeling away one layer at a time. When we first meet her, we have no idea of the depth of terror in her past, but she does. At all times, Streep has to keep track of what the audience is allowed to know, still allowing what we don't yet know to inform her character's actions and emotions without revealing anything too soon. Considering that movies are filmed out of sequence, this must have been ridiculously difficult to keep straight in her mind, and a few minor slip-ups in consistency would have been very forgivable. Granted, I've only seen this movie twice, so it's possible I might have missed something, but as far as I can tell her performance is completely consistent, and as close to perfection as possible throughout. I would be curious to hear from a native German speaker how convincing her German was. Could you tell she was American, or did she sound like a native German speaker, or did she go all the way and speak German with a Polish accent? Regardless, I'm still impressed that she could convincingly pull off so many raw, emotional scenes in a language that she doesn't even really speak.
Meryl Streep is such a talented actress that it feels like she gets nominated for an Oscar every year, but she makes acting look so effortless that she hardly ever wins. To date, she has been nominated for a record 19 acting Academy Awards - 4 Best Supporting Actress and 15 Best Actress - and I will be extremely surprised if she doesn't receive several more, but she's only actually won three times. Before winning for Sophie's Choice, she had received two of her supporting nominations, winning for 1979's Best Picture Winner, Kramer vs. Kramer, and one leading role nomination for 1981's The French Lieutenant's Woman. She was then nominated 12 more times - 1 for supporting, 11 for leading roles - without winning, until she finally won one more Best Actress Oscar for 2011's The Iron Lady. I haven't seen that yet, and I've heard it's not one of her best, but regardless I think that by then it was high time she won again. I'll let you know more when I get there. But first, I'm going to talk about Shirley MacLaine, in the seventh Best Picture winner to feature a Best Actress winning role.