Poor Meryl didn't have a chance this year. She's probably considered by many as more of a filler nominee in a weak year, having replaced Madonna in the lead role of Music of the Heart. The season was dominated by eventual winner Hilary Swank and Annette Bening. Swank, for her role as a transgendered young man in the ultra low-budget Boys Don't Cry, earned numerous critics awards including the Golden Globe for Drama. While Bening won fewer critics awards for American Beauty, she received the SAG award and BAFTA (although in 2000 the BAFTAs were still held after the Oscars, so their predictive value was null).
As mentioned, I consider Meryl's nomination this year as a bit of an afterthought. Her extensive body of work, the fact that she learned to play the violin and a decent campaign by the studio likely helped to get her recognized. There are a handful of more impressive performances for which she was not nominated that may make this one seem a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to some. I happen to think she's fabulous here as usual, and I actually really enjoy the film. It's just not quite as baity as we typically see from Meryl. I'm actually kind of impressed that the Academy was able to recognize some of the subtlety in her performance as an ordinary woman who accomplished extraordinary things. The full nominee list that year is as follows:
Annette Bening (American Beauty)
Janet McTeer (Tumbleweed)
Julianne Moore (The End of the Affair)
Meryl Streep (Music of the Heart)
Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry)
Swank is sort of like a better version of Anne Hathaway when accepting this award. The end of her speech is fantastic in my opinion but she just seems to come off as a bit too earnest and sanctimonious during the rest of it. Had Bening managed to take the award, American Beauty would have become only the fourth film in history to score wins in the top five categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). The others of course being It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Incidentally this year made it eight straight nominations for which Meryl walked away empty handed. Bring on the 21st century!