Monday, May 28, 2012

Accents Mastered updated

Two days ago I happened to finish reading Jeffrey Toobin's book The Nine about the Supreme Court.  Flipping through Netflix this afternoon I noticed Meryl's 1979 movie with Alan Alda The Seduction of Joe Tynan.  I barely remembered watching the film many years ago, and didn't realize it was about a senator trying to block a Supreme Court nominee.  That was a good enough reason to rewatch it, and in Meryl's first scene I realized that she's doing a southern accent.  I did not include this film on my original post about "accents mastered."  Of course there are several southern dialects but from what I understand Meryl based hers on Dinah Shore, who was born and raised in Tennessee.  I'll just assume that's the kind of accent Meryl was using.   Here's the updated list:

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)--Tennessean
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)--British (specifically Received Pronunciation)
Sophie's Choice (1982)--Polish (in English and German)
Silkwood (1983)--rural Oklahoman
Plenty (1985)--British
Out of Africa (1985)--Danish
Ironweed (1987)--Irish-American
A Cry in the Dark (1988)--New Zealand (with strong layers of Australian)
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)--Italian (Meryl calls it Iowatalian)
Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)--Irish
Angels in America (2003)--Yiddish and Bronx (in separate roles)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)--Midwestern
Doubt (2008)--Bronx
Julie & Julia (2009)--Boston Brahmin
The Iron Lady (2011)--British (again Received Pronunciation)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Film review: "Postcards from the Edge" (1990)

100th post of Word on the Streep!  I've chosen to review Postcards from the Edge because I realized a couple days ago that on the DVD there is a commentary by screenwriter Carrie Fisher, and since I just posted about Meryl presenting her co-star Shirley MacLaine with the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award next month, I thought it a natural segue.  Despite the often scatterbrain musings from Fisher, we hear some fun insights into the film's genesis and production.  The script is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same title by Fisher, focusing on her experiences in the entertainment industry, the tumultuous relationship with her mother (Debbie Reynolds), and her subsequent struggles with drug addiction.  Fisher explains in the commentary that the mother-daughter relationship portrayed is at times rather exaggerated, in that Reynolds is not quite the dominating stage mom we see from MacLaine.  Evidently Meryl decided to do the role based on a line in the screenplay which reads, "I look around and see so much of my life that's good. But I take it the wrong way.  I can't feel my life."

In one of the first scenes we see Meryl (Suzanne) being rushed to the hospital by her one-night-stand Dennis Quaid, when she wouldn't wake up after an apparent night of indulging in drugs and alcohol.  She eventually checks into rehab where we're introduced to her colorful mother, Doris.  Here begins the back and forth struggle of a mom who fails to acknowledge the real issue at hand, instead perceiving the drug addiction (and possible suicide attempt) as an annoying speed bump on the road to Suzanne's next movie.  I think Meryl does a great job transitioning out of her stupor and into the character's sad, sober reality.

In order for Suzanne to be insured on her upcoming film project, it's determined that the only way this is possible is if she lives with her mother throughout the duration of the shooting.  Probably my favorite scene is when Doris brings Suzanne home from rehab, only to surprise her with a party that Suzanne would clearly prefer not to be a part of.  Here we see Doris at her stage mom best, egging on Suzanne to perform in front of the crowd, and then outdoing her after she too is persuaded to sing.

LOVE Meryl's voice.   And does anyone else think she looks like Susan Sarandon from Thelma and Louise in that denim jacket?  Shoulda coulda woulda!   As the film progresses, we see Suzanne come to grips with the history of her addiction, including confronting her mother's own drinking problem.  A criticism of the film which I agree with a bit is that we never really get a resolution of Suzanne's apparent recovery.  After Doris essentially validates Suzanne's accusations of alcoholism by running her car into a tree, the two have a sort of reconciliation and we can all feel good.  But I'm not sure we truly get to see the transition of Suzanne overcoming her own demons.  We assume it's happened based on the happy ending, again with Meryl's lovely singing.

Interestingly, Meryl's mom has been quoted as saying she thinks this role is the most "Meryl-like" that she's seen.  Of course I don't know and have never met Meryl Streep, but I can certainly agree with that observation.  So often we see Meryl play characters who are extremely varied physically, and I think some people might say that since she doesn't adopt an obvious accent or period look we see more of "her."  I consider this film a great testament to the fact that Meryl is not only great at comedy, but that her exquisite performances are not purely generated from how she changes her appearance or speech.  Meryl earned her 7th Academy Award nomination for lead actress, the 9th overall of her career. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meryl to present MacLaine with AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

Several articles popped up yesterday reporting that Meryl has been chosen to present Shirley MacLaine with the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award on June 7.  Congratulations, Shirley! I'm a big fan, going back to the first role I saw her in, Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux, in Steel Magnolias.  She and Meryl of course starred together in 1990's Postcards from the Edge, and from what I can gather are pretty good friends.

I'm glad to see they're honoring another woman for this award.  I believe MacLaine will be only the 7th since they started giving out the award in 1973.  Meryl was honored in 2004, which was an amazingly fun event to watch.  There was just so much hyperbole about her acting talents from her colleagues, and you know I eat that shit up.  I sort of wish she hadn't been honored already because I would love to see what they said about her great roles that have come after 2004.   The presentation to MacLaine will be televised on TV Land on June 24.

Monday, May 21, 2012


New section!  As the post-Oscar months continue to be a fairly slow period for Meryl news, it's a good time for me to expand my entries to include a section I've had in mind since this blog's birth.   In "Snubs" you'll find my opinions on films for which Meryl was not, but reasonably could have (or should have) been nominated for an Academy Award.  As I've stated before, it's no secret that I favor Meryl's film work over other genres, which makes Oscar races that include her that much more thrilling.  Lucky for me she holds the record for most nominations.  Contrary to what some people believe, Meryl is not nominated every time she makes a movie, about one third of the time in fact.

The first role I will discuss for this section is Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw in a remake of The Manchurian Candidate, released in 2004.   There are of course several factors that go into someone getting an Oscar nomination.  Quality of performance is typically pretty high on the list, but that's a given for Meryl, which suggests that other factors are at play.  I think we can pretty much resign ourselves to the fact that any role Meryl is in, unless the film absolutely sucks or the part is very small, is worthy or being ranked in the top five performances of the year.  So, what stood in the way this year?

Let's break it down.  One of the big things could've been the fact that the film was a remake of the the 1962 version that included Angela Lansbury as Senator Shaw.  Lansbury was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.  I'm not aware of any two people being nominated for the same role in two different versions of a film.   I haven't seen Lansbury's full performance, but clips I have seen of it were superb.

A second factor is the summer release.   July 30th isn't the typical campaign slot for Oscar contenders.  Of course it's certainly not a death sentence, but it shows that the production company may not have thought too highly of its chances for major awards.    Keeping in mind that it was an election year, I wonder if they wanted it released prior to November while interest in political goings-on was still high.  If that's the case, and it makes sense because film makers ultimately want their films to produce revenue, they may well have thought that political climate rather than awards buzz was a better shot of getting butts in the seats.

One certainly has to take into account the other performances that Meryl was up against in the supporting category.  The list of eventual nominees at the Academy Awards that year was as follows:

Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
Natalie Portman (Closer)
Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda)
Laura Linney (Kinsey)
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)

I've actually seen all five of these performances, and believe are all very well deserved.  Blanchett, the winner, had the "due" factor on account of her own snubbed loss in 1999 for Elizabeth.  Portman had won the Golden Globe,  Okonedo was a newcomer in a very powerful film,  and Madsen simply delivered a stellar performance in a fantastic movie.  That leaves Laura Linney.  I have to say that I'm a huge fan of Linney's work and hope that she wins an Oscar someday (Hyde Park on Hudson (2013(?)), but I'm choosing her as the odd woman out on this one.  Yes, she was one of three actresses who was nominated in this category for Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar (Madsen and Blanchett the other two), but I feel if I had to choose, she's the most expendable.   I loved Kinsey, and Linney was great in it.  But compared with the other roles there just wasn't as much punch.  Unlike this:

This clip is from youtube so don't sue me.  Meryl was nominated for a Globe.  Mick LaSalle, a critic for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of her performance, "no one can talk about the acting in 'The Manchurian Candidate' without rhapsodizing about Streep.  She has the Hillary hair and the Karen Hughes attack-dog energy, but the charm, the inspiration and the constant invention are her own. She gives us a senator who's a monomaniac, a mad mommy and master politician rolled into one, a woman firing on so many levels that no one can keep up — someone who loves being evil as much as Streep loves acting. She's a pleasure to watch — and to marvel at — every second she's onscreen."  He was no doubt referencing this scene.

Interestingly Portman, after winning the Golden Globe wasn't even nominated for the SAG.  I think up to that point, she had been the favorite for the Oscar.  Obviously there was a lot of indecision that year among voters.  I don't think the fact that Meryl had been nominated so many times in the past was a huge factor in not voting for her.  Frankly, I think having lost two years prior in supporting for Adaptation to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago would've been a bit of a boost, but to no avail.  Meryl would have to wait another two years (four years total--her second longest span between nominations) to be nominated again for The Devil Wears Prada.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Interesting article and 30 years of "Sophie"

In tpyical fashion I googled Meryl today to see if there was any interesting news, and I came across this article.   It caught my eye because at the beginning it mentions that after Jane Fonda worked with Streep on Julia in 1977, she foresaw great success for Meryl in the film industry.  Thought it was a fun coincidence since I happened to recently discuss Meryl's film debut here.   The article talks a bit about Meryl's early days, particularly about 1982's Sophie's Choice, which we've discussed at length here at Word on the Streep.   It reminded me that this year is the 30th anniversary of the film's release.  Evidently there is a "newly issued" DVD of the film?  I hadn't seen anytyhing about this, but I'll have to look into it a bit further to see if the new edition contains any fun extra footage.  I purchased my current copy of the film on DVD from the Holocaust Musuem in Washington D.C. in 2003.  Check the place out if you ever get a chance, but expect to be bummed out for about three days afterward.

I don't want to get too into the contents of the article.  It's brief and a mildly interesting retrospective on Meryl's film/acting choices, along with a comparison of the two film roles for which she won the lead actress Oscar.  They mention the upcoming film August: Osage County, a project I admit to being especially obsessed with because I love the play so much.  We'll see if the full casting is announced on the 29th as predicted on Twitter by @LindaFort1.  We're still watching, Linda.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Academy Awards analysis (1985)

This was another year where circumstances made Meryl's chances of a third Oscar minute.  Regardless of her performance as Danish author Karen Blixen in Out of Africa, the other actresses in the lead category outshone her for a number of reasons.   Namely, the winner Geraldine Page was, up to that point, 0 for 7 when nominated (I believe a record at the time).  I recently watched The Trip to Bountiful, and while it was a good performance, I wonder (like many others have suggested) if the award was more of a lifetime achievement honor.  Good thing too, as Page was dead from a heart attack just over a year later.  The full list of nominees that year is as follows:

Anne Bancroft (Agnes of God)
Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple)
Jessica Lange (Sweet Dreams)
Geraldine Page (The Trip to Bountiful)
Meryl Streep (Out of Africa)

This was a very strong year for women's roles.  Agnes of God and The Color Purple, both of which I love, together garnered five acting nominations, all for women.  I have seen all five performances in this category, and although I think Meryl is fantastic in all her films, any one of the other four ladies would've been deserving of the honor.  Bancroft was already a winner for 1962's The Miracle Worker, while Goldberg, in a Steven Spielberg film that tied Out of Africa with 11 nominations (and set a record for most noms without a win) was making her film debut.  I've already shared my thoughts about Sweet Dreams to greater extent in my "Shoulda Coulda Wouldas" section.  Lange would go on to win her second Oscar (first in lead) for 1994's Blue Sky.  Despite Out of Africa winning a total of seven Oscars, including best picture, if I had to guess, I'd say Meryl probably came in fourth or fifth in the balloting that year.

If you haven't seen F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, do so.  And is it just me, or does Page seem a little, um, altered?  Maybe that's just how she always acts, but it comes across a bit "Grey Gardens" to me.  Anyway,  I mentioned above that Agnes of God is a favorite of mine.  When I started writing this post, I decided to rent it and have it on in the background on iTunes.   I realized early on in the film that Jane Fonda's character, Dr. Martha Livingston,  might be a good one for my "Should Coulda Woulda" section.  The longer the movie was on, the more I realized how much I wanted to do it.  There are a couple of of hurdles to this role being appropriate for the section, but I think I've found ways around them.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shoulda Coulda Wouldas #3: "Thelma & Louise"

This is quite possibly the mother of all "shoulda coulda wouldas."  For me at least.  This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the first time I saw this film (21st of its release), and Thelma & Louise quickly became very memorable.  In the summer of '92 my sister had a friend over for a sleepover and they rented Lord of the Flies and Thelma & Louise, both on VHS of course.  The selections in retrospect surprise me because we were all under the age of 15 and I feel like my parents would've squelched the idea of anything rated R.  Regardless, I watched Lord of the Flies with them, after which they popped in the second film and swiftly proceeded to fall asleep.  I had no trouble staying wide awake.

I felt easily drawn in by the film's southern setting. Having grown up in a fairly rural area, I spent a lot of time on my grandparents'/uncle's farm, and always associated my upbringing with the country, which made (and makes) Thelma & Louise particularly nostalgic. We follow these two ladies on a journey across the south, on the run after Louise shoots and kills a man who was attempting to rape Thelma in the parking lot of a (Country-Western) night club. Despite the anxiety I felt about how much trouble they were in, the angst turned into almost a sense of relief as the two eventually set their minds to eluding police and making it across the border into Mexico and apparent safety. This film may very well have been the impetus for my ongoing affinity for strong women.

 The film seemed really long at the time, but in a good way.  It's only a little over two hours in length, but the scope and cinematography of the film, its engaging score, the landscape it traversed, and the emotional transitions the two lead characters went through made it feel like a journey for me too, all the way up to their historic plunge into the belly of the Grand Canyon. Seeing Brad Pitt for the first time on screen half naked probably didn't do much to deter my interest either.

So how does Meryl fit into all of this?  Meryl and Goldie Hawn had been interested in doing a movie together for a while. The script, which won Callie Khouri an Academy Award, had been floating around Hollywood for a few years, with plans that Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer would be cast.  There's a great online article from Vanity Fair for the 20th anniversary of the film's release in which it's revealed that Meryl and Goldie asked for a meeting with the production company and evidently loved the script and the characters.   Meryl however thought that one of the ladies should live (always putting in her two cents).

Director Ridley Scott is quoted as saying that he had a long conversation with Meryl and found her "absolutely wonderful," but that she had a "movie conflict."  Okay, the only film released in 1991 that included Meryl was the lightweight romantic comedy Defending Your Life.  I have to wonder if in hindsight Meryl would've reconsidered.   I mean, Buddha bless Albert Brooks, but have you seen that film?  Um, yeah.  The film that ultimately combined the talents of Meryl and Goldie was 1992's Death Becomes Her.  That film had its fans, but certainly not of the magnitude of Thelma & Louise, which garnered lead actress Oscar nominations for both Davis and Sarandon.  Both eventually lost out to Jodi Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (possibly my all-time favorite film).  Click on this link to take a look at the two ladies in action (I again apologize that I was unable to find a clip with the stupid embed enabled).

What's interesting is that in the Vanity Fair article, Ridley Scott states that Meryl would've played Louise.  In other articles I've read, Meryl was considered for either part.  It was hard for me to picture her in the role of Thelma until I recently watched the film with the director's commentary (only mildly embarrassed to admit that).  Scott reminds us of the role reversal that takes place about midway through the film.  Specifically when J.D. (Pitt) steals their money, we see Louise have a breakdown and Thelma sort of take on the role of mother, a place Louise had seemed to firmly establish in the first half.  It would've been fun to see Meryl negotiate that transition in either role. 

Despite my adoration of Miss Meryl and the weird tendency I have to dwell on "what could've been" for her roles,  Thelma & Louise is kind of like sacred ground for me when it comes to movies.  I've no doubt Meryl would've been amazing, and given the chance to see a version of the film including her I would accept in a heartbeat.  But the excellence of the film, its original performances and the nostalgic qualities it holds for me maintain it as one of my absolute faves.  And does anyone else totally get the urge to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes while watching this film?  Christ, it's worse than All About Eve.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"August: Osage County" casting speculation

Son of a bitch.  I was just about to publish a long blog post when I was made aware of some possible news regarding the casting of August: Osage County.  Keeping the integrity of this blog in mind, I felt compelled to comment on it.

It's been tweeted by some chick that the cast listing was going to be officially announced on May 29.   It may very well be, as that would be just after Cannes wraps up.  The twitter account has apparently already been deleted, which makes me think it's bogus.  Regardless, there are some intriguing names included in the "spoiler."  Among the actors listed were RenĂ©e Zellwegger, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Olivia Williams (I had to look her up), Hailee Steinfield, Jeremy Renner, Albert Finney, Dennis Quaid, Frank Langella and Dianne Wiest.

Wiest is the most interesting to me, and would undoubtedly be playing Mattie Fae.  All of these names are rather great choices and I can't say that I would be surprised by any of them, but it's not as if a reasonably informed person couldn't come up with another list just as good.  Time will only tell if the source is legitimate.  Frankly, I'm just so jazzed that Meryl is going to be part of this film that I'm okay waiting a bit for an official press release on the entire cast.  But yes, it's always fun to speculate and have buzz around projects that involve Meryl.  The film awards nerds are watching, @LindaFort1, and they'll be ready to pounce if you're bullshit.  Stay tuned, Streepers.  Tomorrow I'll post my latest "shoulda coulda woulda."  It's a goodin'. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Film review: "Julia" (1977)

The one that started it all.  It's no surprise that I heavily favor Meryl's film work above other mediums.  Julia therefore is an important milestone in her incredible career, as it was her feature film debut.  Granted, it was a bit part, but it was by no means a bit movie.  Jane Fonda starred as former playwright/author Lillian Hellman in a story about her lifelong friendship with an anti-Fascist activist named Julia, played by Vanessa Redgrave.  Fonda was already an Academy Award winner for 1971's Klute, and Redgrave would go on to win for supporting actress in this title role. An interesting role for Redgrave, as she was a vocal supporter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization at the time, and when her Oscar nomination was announced, rabbis started burning her effigy in protest.  Jeepers.

Back to Meryl.  Despite this being her first film, she already had some pretty good acting chops from her years at Yale Drama School and various stage roles.  Her role as Anne Marie in this movie, socialite and friend to Lillian and Julia, was indeed minor, but extremely well-acted.  I can recall reading a quote from Jane Fonda saying that Streep stole every scene she was in. Her scene with Fonda in the bar was particularly foreshadowing of the excellence that was to come.  My best regards to Simply Streep for the use of this video.

So young!  She had only turned 28 a few months prior to the film's release.  Julia would go on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning three, including a best supporting actor triumph for Jason Robards. One year later Meryl would be nominated for her first Oscar in The Deer Hunter, followed by a win in the Best Supporting Actress category for 1979's Kramer vs Kramer.  

If you're wondering why I don't really get into the details of the movie, it's because I don't want to.  My film reviews are of course less about the film itself than Meryl's performance.  Since there is very little screen time for her in this movie, there isn't much of a story, other than the fact that it was her first.  Of course I've seen it, and I happened to watch Meryl's scenes a few days ago, but it's certainly not one I'd watch repeatedly like The Devil Wears Prada or Sophie's Choice.  Not that it's a bad film...quite the contrary.   It's just not very Meryl-centric.  Regardless of how we look at it, her role in this film was a spectacular catapult into the Hollywood stratosphere.