After a five year break between Oscar nominations (her longest to date), Meryl received her 10th nod for her role as Francesca Johnson in 1995's The Bridges of Madison County. This was a highly coveted role for many Hollywood actresses, with star/director Clint Eastwood notably quipping that when it came casting Francesca, he only made one call.
Looking back at the awards season in early 1996, the leading women's group was fairly strong that year. Of course I wasn't following things then as closely as I do now, but from what I can gather, Meryl was pretty much a shoe-in for an Oscar nom. She had just come out of her "wilderness years" of the early 90's, and hot off the moderate box office success of 1994's action film The River Wild, Streep donned another accent to embody this Italian war bride.
Eventual winner Susan Sarandon was a pretty safe bet that year, however. She had never won before, and this was her fourth nomination in five years. While Sharon Stone won the Golden Globe in drama for Casino, Sarandon won the SAG (where Stone was not nominated). Streep was nominated for both. The full list of Academy Award nominees is as follows:
Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking)
Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas)
Sharon Stone (Casino)
Meryl Streep (The Bridges of Madison County)
Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility)
With the above list and despite Stone winning the Globe, I think Meryl was realistically #2 behind Sarandon that year, be it a distant #2. By this point Meryl had gone thirteen years without a win and this made it six straight losses. Thompson had won just three years earlier and I think Shue likely came in fifth. I'm a fan of Sarandon (and Thompson) and think this was well deserved. It would take Meryl another seven nominations over sixteen years before winning again for The Iron Lady, her 17th overall.