Total Recall

Meryl Streep's 10 Best Movies

by | January 5, 2017 | Comments

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


Over the course of her prolific and eclectic career, Meryl Streep has racked up a whopping 30 Golden Globe nominations, eight of which she won. She’s also taken home three Oscars and two Emmys, and with the 74th Golden Globe Awards arriving this weekend, we thought it was a great time to look back at her critical highlights. From comedies to musicals to dramas, Meryl’s done it all, so let’s revisit the best-reviewed films from her illustrious career, Total Recall style!

10. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) 88%

Meryl Kramer
American divorce rates spiked during the late 1960s and continued to rise during the 1970s, turning the broken marriage from a private shame into a national phenomenon. And while our growing fascination with America’s seeming inability to stay hitched undoubtedly produced some questionable entertainment, it also inspired some truly touching commentary on modern-day relationships — such as 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, Robert Benton’s adaptation of the Avery Corman novel about an ad exec (Dustin Hoffman) who struggles to establish a connection with — and later fights to keep custody of — his young son after being left by his wife (Streep). A classic tearjerker, Kramer vs. Kramer won five Oscars (including Best Supporting Actress for Streep) and earned raves from critics like Michael Booth of the Denver Post, who called it “definitely a movie to watch together — your kids may well seek shelter under your arm, glad to know their own families enjoy more peace.”

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9. The Bridges of Madison County (1995) 90%

Meryl Bridges
Clint Eastwood, master of cinematic understatement, directing and starring in an adaptation of Robert James Waller’s best-selling, critically reviled tearjerker? It seemed like a pretty daffy idea, at least until The Bridges of Madison County unspooled on screens in the summer of 1995 — at which point disbelieving critics were forced to doff their caps to Eastwood once again, this time for finding the smartly tender love story at the heart of Waller’s book. As sensitive photographer Robert Kincaid, Eastwood was playing against type more strongly than at any point since White Hunter, Black Heart, but his gamble paid off, and if anything, critics were even more impressed with Meryl Streep’s performance as the hausfrau Eastwood sweeps off her feet. It was, in the words of Cole Smithey, “perhaps the only time in history a movie was far better than its source material.”

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8. One True Thing (1998) 89%

Meryl True
A mother-daughter cancer drama with a Bette Midler ballad over the closing credits? As Nigel Tufnel might say, you can get “none more Streep” than 1998’s One True Thing. But even if it makes no bones about adhering to the three-hankie weepie formula, this is one case where that formula works: the story of a woman (Renee Zellweger) forced to put her career on hold in order to care for her estranged mother (Streep) after she learns she doesn’t have long to live. Will the long-squabbling women develop a new understanding? Was Streep nominated for another Best Actress Oscar? You don’t even need to ask. But what might surprise you is how low One True Thing ends up on the schmaltz spectrum. As Kevin N. Laforest pointed out for the Montreal Film Journal, “Thanks to Carl Franklin’s clever direction, which always stays real close to the characters, what could have been a TV movie-of-the-week becomes a thought-provoking and touching film.”

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7. Postcards from the Edge (1990) 84%

Meryl Postcards
In 1990’s Postcards from the Edge, adapted from Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel, Streep plays an actress with a substance abuse problem, issues with her mother (Shirley MacLaine), and a terribly dysfunctional relationship with a sleazy producer who takes advantage of her without the slightest bit of remorse (Dennis Quaid). It was a meaty part, in other words — and one that earned her a by-now-predictable Best Actress Oscar nomination. “In this era of postverbal cinema,” wrote TIME’s Richard Corliss, “Postcards proves that movie dialogue can still carry the sting, heft and meaning of the finest old romantic comedy.”

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6. Adaptation (2002) 91%

Meryl Adaptation
Plenty of writers have suffered writer’s block, or taken an assignment only to realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. It took Charlie Kaufman, though, to turn the experience into a film: Adaptation was inspired by his struggles to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief for Jonathan Demme. Streep played Orlean, while Cage played a fictionalized version of Kaufman, as well as his entirely fictional twin, Donald. It’s the kind of knotty, layered meta-picture that everyone was looking for from Spike Jonze after Being John Malkovich — and that tends to leave unsuspecting audiences befuddled and critics clamoring for more. Adaptation delivered on both counts, racking up an impressive 91 percent Tomatometer to go with its middling $33 million worldwide gross. In the words of the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, “Mr. Cage and Mr. Jonze share a casual, daredevil sensibility, and the two of them — or should I say the three of them? — pull off one of the most amazing technical stunts in recent film history.”

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5. Evil Angels (A Cry in the Dark) (1988) 93%

Meryl Cry in the Dark
By the late 1980s, Streep’s name was synonymous with award-winning, heart-wrenching dramas that, as often as not, required her to speak with an accent — and A Cry in the Dark fit right into that easily mockable subgenre, to the extent that the movie’s best-known line eventually became a Seinfeld gag. Setting all that aside, however, this is the kind of movie actors dream of: a fact-based drama about a mother accused — and ultimately wrongfully convicted of — killing her own child. But while Cry could easily have served as a hollow pulpit for its star, director Fred Schepsi created a sensitive, well-rounded film with a message. As Sheila Benson wrote for the Los Angeles Times, “Streep and Sam Neill are the film’s perfectly matched thoroughbreds. But the film is neither a double star turn nor the best kind of courtroom drama; it is a sort of epic mosaic of national character.”

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4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) 92%

Meryl Fox
These days, it’s a rare animated film that doesn’t boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don’t attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, his stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it “A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children.”

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3. The Deer Hunter (1978) 93%

Meryl Deer
Streep came to The Deer Hunter with only one minor film role to her credit, and according to legend, the screenplay spent so little time on her character that director Michael Cimino suggested she write her own lines. Whatever happened must have worked, because Streep earned her first Oscar nomination for her work in this harrowing classic about the travails of three steel workers (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) during and after the Vietnam War. Although Cimino was criticized by some for allegedly fictionalizing elements of the war, Hunter‘s themes resonated powerfully with the Academy — which awarded it five Oscars, including Best Picture — as well as critics like Wesley Lovell, who called it “A visceral film that says volumes about the horrors of war and its impact on the lives of typically well adjusted people.”

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2. Defending Your Life (1991) 97%

Meryl Defending
Much of Albert Brooks’ best comedy comes from his sharply funny observations of — and reactions to — the stress of modern living. With 1991’s Defending Your Life, he took things a step further, playing an uptight ad exec for whom death is merely a prelude to a court case before an afterlife tribunal where he has to prove himself worthy of moving on. Complicating matters: his budding love for a woman (Streep) who seems a shoo-in for admission past the pearly gates. Expertly blending acid comedy with uplifting drama, Defending won over critics like Desson Thomson of the Washington Post, who wrote, “This is definitely Brooks’s day in court, and he makes comic heaven of it.”

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1. Manhattan (1979) 95%

Meryl Manhattan
Love him or hate him, Woody Allen is one of Hollywood’s best screenwriters when it comes to penning interesting roles for female actors — which is why he’s worked with so many of the best over the course of his distinguished career. With 1979’s Manhattan, Allen gave his neurotic TV writer character an author ex-wife (Streep) and dropped himself in the middle of a love triangle between a teenager (Mariel Hemingway) and an intellectual (Diane Keaton). Unlikely? Perhaps, but as any film buff will be happy to tell you, it’s also smart, exceedingly well-written, and never less than absorbing. As Vincent Canby wrote for the New York Times when Manhattan was released, “Mr. Allen’s progress as one of our major filmmakers is proceeding so rapidly that we who watch him have to pause occasionally to catch our breath.”

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Finally, here’s Streep receiving her 2011 Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama:

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