In 1991, Meryl was nominated for an Academy Award for the ninth time in thirteen years. Starring alongside Shirley MacLaine in the adaptation of Carrie Fisher's book Postcards from the Edge, Streep made the top five for films released in 1990 as part of the following group of nominees:
Kathy Bates (Misery)
Angelica Huston (The Grifters)
Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman)
Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge)
Joanne Woodward (Mr. & Mrs. Bridge)
If Meryl were not already considered a perennial nominee, this year sort of solidified her as a perennial "also-ran." This would make it her sixth straight loss, and incidentally was the only time she did not attend the ceremony when nominated. She was close to eight months pregnant with her fourth child Louisa at the time, so maybe she thought she'd sit this one out, considering she has little chance of wining.
I have to figure Kathy Bates was a pretty sure thing for this year. She won the Golden Globe for Actress in a Drama (this was before SAG awards) and a couple of critics' circle awards. Angelica Huston won a few critics' awards as well, arguably more prestigious than Bates, but Huston had already won an Oscar for Prizzi's Honor (supporting) five years prior. Julia Roberts filled the youngin' slot for the year, while Joanne Woodward rounded out the field at the other end of the age range.
Roberts won the Globe for Actress in a Musical/Comedy (beating Meryl), so I imagine she was likely second or third to Bates that year, with Meryl likely fourth or fifth. I haven't seen The Grifters or Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, but Pretty Woman and Misery happen to be two of my all-time favs. Meryl was without question fantastic in Postcards, and it was her first nomination in a comedy, but it wasn't her typical baity role. Bates was a refreshing and very deserving recipient. Meryl would take her longest break from the Academy after this nomination, having to wait five years before her tenth nomination for The Bridges of Madison County.