20 Years of Streep: 2014 ("Into the Woods")

After scoring Oscar nomination #18 with August: Osage County in 2013, Meryl Streep lined up a trio of promising projects for the following year. That 19th nod would, no doubt, be lurking around the corner.

First, there was The Giver, the long-awaited film adaptation of Lois Lowry's best-selling dystopian young adult novel. The project paired Streep with, for the first time, two Hollywood heavyweights - Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges and Australian director Philip Noyce, who, on occasion, will crank out a real gem of a motion picture (see Dead Calm and The Quiet American, among others). A late summer release, The Giver mustered decent box office receipts but was resoundingly trashed by critics.

Garnering warm reviews but a chilly box office reception was Streep's second 2014 release, The Homesman, directed by Hope Springs co-star Tommy Lee Jones. Streep's modest supporting role in the western went largely unnoticed, with most acclaim directed to leading lady Hilary Swank and Jones' rich filmmaking and performance.

Streep's third and final 2014 picture would at last triumph on both critical and financial fronts.

While Rob Marshall's film adaptation of the beloved Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods may not have garnered the same glowing reception as the original 1987 Broadway production (or Marshall's Oscar-winning Chicago), the film at the very least marked an improvement over the director's Nine, which was laughed off the screen five years prior. A healthy box office success, Into the Woods would prove Streep's second highest-grossing picture to date, behind only (sigh) Mamma Mia!

The 2014 Oscar nominees in Best Supporting Actress were...

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Arquette portrays Olivia Evans, single mom of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). In 2003, Olivia moves the family out to Houston, Texas, so she can obtain a degree and find a fulfilling job. The decade to follow proves an eventful one, as Olivia weds her professor (Marco Perella), an affluent man ready and willing to provide for the Evans but battling inner demons that threaten the wreck their marriage and the childhoods of Mason and Samantha. This performance, which won her honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Circle, plus a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and BAFTA Award, marked Arquette's first (and to date, final) Oscar nomination and win.

Laura Dern, Wild

Dern portrays Bobbi Grey, the late mother of Cheryl Strayed (Oscar-nominee Reese Witherspoon). During Cheryl's remarkable hike across the Pacific Crest Trail, she is overcome with memories of her mom, a bright, loving woman whose sudden death from cancer nearly shattered her daughter's spirit. This performance marked Dern's second (and to date, final) Oscar nomination.

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Knightley portrays Joan Clarke, a brilliant cryptanalyst who assists mathematician Alan Turning (Oscar-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch) in breaking Nazi Germany's secret communications. When Joan plans to leave the project, on the wishes of her parents, Alan proposes marriage, which she accepts, even knowing of his homosexuality. The performance marked Knightley's second (and to date, final) Oscar nomination.

Emma Stone, Birdman

Stone portrays Sam Thomson, estranged daughter of and assistant to Riggan (Oscar-nominee Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor preparing for the opening night of his new Broadway play. A recovering addict, Sam does not hold back in blaming her father for a rough upbringing, even as he frantically stresses over his latest project. This performance marked Stone's first Oscar nomination.

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Streep portrays the Witch, once gorgeous but now the most ghastly of sights. Desperate to restore her beauty, she sends the Baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on a journey to find the ingredients that will bring it back. This performance marked Streep's 19th Oscar nomination.

Overlooked: Lindsay Duncan, Birdman; Rene Russo, Nightcrawler; Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Won and should've won: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood


The 2014 Oscar ceremony was not without its pleasures, namely the exhilarating Whiplash managing to score three prizes, but this Best Supporting Actress race was and is awfully tough to get excited about. What's perhaps most remarkable about the line-up is it sports, in my opinion at least, the weakest of all 20 Oscar-nominated Streep turns - and even her worst nomination still places a respectable third for me!

The most anemic honoree here - and nearly the least compelling performance to grace the 20 Streep categories - is Knightley, sleepwalking her way through the otherwise-compelling The Imitation Game. It's a vapid turn by a limited actress to begin with but, to be fair, I'm not sure even the greatest of performers could've made much of Clarke, as she's written here (which is to say very thinly). This is the epitome of a coattail nomination, even more egregious than a Milford in Coming Home or Latifah in Chicago.

Also riding her picture's awards momentum to an inexplicable nomination is Stone, not great but at least there's some blood flowing through the veins, unlike in Knightley's case. I don't get the hooplah for Birdman at all and frankly, if I had to recognize any supporting female from the film, it'd be Duncan, who graces the film's one terrific scene as a scathing film critic who has it out with Keaton's Riggan. Stone does get one bonafide Oscar scene, a shouting match with Keaton, but the writing is so on the nose and both actors, terrific as they've been in many other films, overplay it.

A little less eyebrow-raising a nomination (though still not a deserved one) is Streep's.

Like Birdman, Into the Woods is not a picture I'm terribly enamored with. Less headache-inducing than Nine but not as satisfying as Chicago, Marshall's Into the Woods is exceedingly workmanlike, overstuffed with CGI and, on occasion, performed with some enthusiasm. The Stephen Sondheim score has for sure seen better days. I actually think, among the cast, Cordon and Blunt are the MVPs here, both very charming. Streep, no doubt, had heaps of fun taking on the Witch but it's not a terribly inspired performance and she's constantly upstaged by the scenery. Likewise, she sings well but Marshall's staging of the musical numbers is haphazard and unflattering to all of the actors.

So, I suppose I was wrong, The French Lieutenant's Woman - you aren't, despite still being a complete drag, the absolute bottom of the barrel in the Streep Oscar echelon.

At last of praise in this category (and virtually interchangeable) are the remaining two nominees, Dern and Arquette.

Dern, vis a vis, Arquette is the superior actress for sure and I'm nearly tempted give her the win here as some sort of career victory. Alas, while Dern's presence is a critical one in Wild, it doesn't have the feel of a full performance. Instead of complete scenes, we're mostly treated to mere glimpses of Bobbi. When she does grace the screen, Dern is in vivid, arresting form - we feel her warmth and the love Cheryl so painstakingly misses. But while this utilization of the actress proves an effective one for the film itself, cutting back and forth between the past and present, it also somewhat undercuts Dern's efforts. Bobbi's presence is deeply felt throughout Wild but Dern never gets that extended scene that could have put her in contention for the win.

Arquette, while the more rangebound performer, is all over Boyhood, practically a co-lead for much of the proceedings. Like Dern in her picture, Arquette gives Olivia a wonderful authentic, lived-in feel. It's an unaffected performance that's right at home in such a documentary-like film. While Arquette somewhat fades into the background toward the picture's home stretch, she's a paramount presence in the film's first half, especially during Olivia's hazardous marriage to her professor.

One of the all-time great Supporting Actress Oscar winners? Hardly. In a less barren year, I would ideally throw all five of these performances overboard. Alas, given the circumstances, the Academy got this one right.

The performances ranked (thus far)...

  1. Jessica Lange, Frances
  2. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
  3. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
  4. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
  5. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
  6. Meryl Streep, Silkwood
  7. Jane Alexander, Testament
  8. Sally Kirkland, Anna
  9. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
  10. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
  11. Mariel Hemingway, Manhattan
  12. Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction
  13. Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist
  14. Cher, Moonstruck
  15. Marsha Mason, Only When I Laugh
  16. Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas
  17. Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment
  18. Kathy Bates, Misery
  19. Anjelica Huston, The Grifters
  20. Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
  21. Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station
  22. Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
  23. Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie
  24. Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
  25. Sharon Stone, Casino
  26. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
  27. Viola Davis, The Help
  28. Diane Keaton, Reds
  29. Meryl Streep, Kramer vs. Kramer
  30. Meryl Streep, The Deer Hunter
  31. Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria
  32. Meryl Streep, A Cry in the Dark
  33. Melanie Griffith, Working Girl
  34. Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
  35. Meryl Streep, Postcards from the Edge
  36. Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
  37. Helen Mirren, The Queen
  38. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  39. Sissy Spacek, Missing
  40. Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth
  41. Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
  42. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
  43. Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  44. Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  45. Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
  46. Judi Dench, Philomena
  47. Jane Alexander, Kramer vs. Kramer
  48. Meryl Streep, Adaptation
  49. Penelope Cruz, Volver
  50. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
  51. Meryl Streep, Doubt
  52. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
  53. Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
  54. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
  55. Meryl Streep, One True Thing
  56. Jodie Foster, The Accused
  57. Susan Sarandon, Atlantic City
  58. Helen Mirren, The Last Station
  59. Annette Bening, American Beauty
  60. Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
  61. Meryl Streep, Out of Africa
  62. Holly Hunter, Broadcast News
  63. Julie Walters, Educating Rita
  64. Candice Bergen, Starting Over
  65. Maggie Smith, California Suite
  66. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
  67. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  68. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  69. Julianne Moore, The Hours
  70. Katharine Hepburn, On Golden Pond
  71. Laura Dern, Wild
  72. Kathy Bates, About Schmidt
  73. Angelina Jolie, Changeling
  74. Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
  75. Kate Winslet, Little Children
  76. Meryl Streep, Ironweed
  77. Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
  78. Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman
  79. Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
  80. Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility
  81. Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant's Woman
  82. Dyan Cannon, Heaven Can Wait
  83. Carey Mulligan, An Education
  84. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago
  85. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
  86. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
  87. Kate Winslet, The Reader
  88. Penelope Milford, Coming Home
  89. Queen Latifah, Chicago
  90. Barbara Barrie, Breaking Away
  91. Emma Stone, Birdman
  92. Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman
  93. Amy Adams, American Hustle
  94. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  95. Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love