Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2011: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady

In her second Best Actress winning performance, Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, the highly controversial first female Prime Minister of the UK, who, as an aging woman suffering from dementia, reflects on her life.

I don't think this is as good as her previous winning performance in Sophie's Choice, but that's not saying much. I mean, this is Meryl Streep we're talking about; she's always fabulous, no matter what. There's a lot about this performance that's very impressive, but I think it's somewhat less demanding than her other winning role. She doesn't have to speak a different language (although she does have a different accent), and she doesn't have to survive a concentration camp. Also I feel like she's in less of this movie because in a lot of the flashbacks, particularly towards the beginning, there's a different actress playing Thatcher. But beyond that, it's still an incredible performance.

Streep is very convincing as both the old lady Margaret Thatcher and the middle-aged Margaret Thatcher, and particularly in uniting the two. It really seems like the different portions of the movie were filmed decades apart, or at least that she aged decades between them. The makeup helps a lot, and also won a very deserved Oscar, but it's her voice and walk and posture that really convince us that she's truly aged. Yet we can always see elements of the younger woman in her, so we never question that she's the same person. She looks so frustrated by her struggles with her mind that we are firmly convinced both that she has a neurodegenerative disease and that she is used to being in complete control over her brain, as she was during her term as Prime Minister. While she made some questionable and controversial decisions, she was always extremely confident in her reasoning behind them, and now she has trouble remembering her children's names. All the frustration and pain and sadness that this causes is clearly visible in Streep's eyes.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of this performance is it makes Margaret Thatcher seem very human, and not at all made out of iron. I know the script was written this way, but still it would have been very easy to make her seem cold and unfeeling, as Thatcher is often remembered, particularly in the Prime Minister scenes. But even when she's not playing an old lady that you feel bad for, even when she's acting rude or argumentative or unsympathetic to the needs of others, she's still a real, thinking, feeling human being. That's all Meryl Streep. No one else could have played this role like she did.

Even if this had been a less worthy performance, it was about time Streep actually won again. It confused me at the time, and confuses me still, that in her acceptance speech she said that people were probably thinking, "not her, again," since it had been nearly 30 years since her last Oscar. But by this time she had already broken the record for most acting Oscar nominations - this was her 17th - and for most Best Actress in a Leading Role nominations - this was her 14th. Since this win she has been nominated twice more - for her leading role in 2013's August: Osage County and her supporting role in 2014's Into the Woods - thus adding to her significant lead in number of nominations (second place is currently a tie between Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson, with 12 each). Last year, presenter Jared Leto joked that she was nominated "in accordance with California state law," but for once she's actually not nominated this year. Personally, I feel like she has to be nominated at least once more to make it into the 20s. Given her talent, it's a pretty safe bet, assuming she doesn't randomly decide to retire, that that will definitely happen within the next couple of years.

Up next: Jennifer Lawrence, the first and so far only Best Actress winner who is younger than me

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