Meryl's performance of Clarissa Vaughan in the 2002 adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours earned her nominations for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and several critics groups awards...but not for Oscar. The chances at a nomination for lead actress in this role, in this year, were stacked against Meryl. For one, she was nominated in supporting for Adaptation that year (another "snub" for not winning imo), and the Best Actress category was kind of crowded. The nominees were as follows in lead:
Salma Hayek (Frida)
Nicole Kidman (The Hours)
Diane Lane (Unfaithful)
Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven)
Renée Zellweger (Chicago)
Kidman's role was arguably supporting if we look only at screen time, considering it was under 30 minutes if memory serves. But her character of Virginia Woolf is sort of intertwined with the other two main characters (Meryl and Julianne Moore), so it's passable. Moore was nominated in supporting for her role as Laura Brown. So yes, Moore was nominated in both categories that year. For Meryl to be nominated in The Hours it would've happened in lead, which means she too would've been nominated in both categories that year. Adaptation was a slam dunk as far as Oscar noms go, so unfortunately, she was the odd woman out in lead despite moments like this, courtesy of Simply Streep:
Had this film been released in a year where Meryl had no other performances of her own to contend with, her chances at a nomination would've certainly been much better. That, coupled with the fact that there was a more baity lead role in the same film (Kidman) meant it just wasn't going to happen.
So, who should've gotten the axe had Meryl been nominated? This is a really tough one. Despite Moore being nominated in both categories, her performance in Far from Heaven was too good to dump. My choice would unfortunately have to be Diane Lane. I've seen her performance and it is fantastic. But researching pre-season awards and nominations, Lane seemed to have the fewest, despite getting Globe, SAG and Oscar nods. Like I said above, this year was pretty packed and all five honorees were well-deserved. Meryl had to settle for her supporting nomination in Adaptation, eventually losing to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago, whose awards campaign was (stealthily) switched from lead to supporting mid-season. Well played, Harvey.