erik lundegaard

Scott on Streep

There's a nice piece in the Sunday New York Times by A.O. Scott on the career of Meryl Streep and her 16 Oscar nominations—for which she has won exactly two, and not since 1984 (for a 1983 movie)—and he asks the question that probably shouldn't be asked: “Has she received too much recognition or too little?” Then he sheds that awful journalistic ambiguity and gets out with it: “Meryl Streep is the best screen actress in the world.” There we go.

He talks about her progression: “The movies that established Ms. Streep as a formidable, even intimidating on-screen force were marked by heavy themes and deep, dark dramatic moods: Vietnam, divorce, the Holocaust, missing children, nuclear anxiety.” He suggests she's improved: “She began to reveal a playful, mischievous side, an anarchic impulse that, joined to her formidable timing and technique, has blossomed in the past 10 years or so.” I agree. I particularly agree with “anarchic impulse.” That's a nice turn of phrase. But Scott really hits his stride while talking about '80s movies in general:

Sandwiched between the endlessly mythologized Golden Age of ’70s New Hollywood and the now almost equally sentimentalized decade of the American Indies, the ’80s are comparatively bereft of nostalgic movie-fan affection or revisionist critical love. And yet the respectable films of that era may represent the last gasp of a noble middlebrow ideal. They were ambitious, unapologetically commercial projects intended for the entertainment and edification of grown-up audiences, neither self-consciously provocative nor timidly inoffensive. Some of us grew up on movies like “Sophie’s Choice” and “Out of Africa,” and our fondness outlasts the sense that we eventually outgrew them. Nowadays “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “A Cry in the Dark” would be scruffy little Sundance movies. “Out of Africa” would be in French. “Silkwood” would be “The Blind Side.”

He should've excised that last example. I like the others. The “Kramer vs. Kramer” reference reminded me of what I wrote about “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” two years ago (“ the end of its run, 'Cuckoo’s Nest,' a dark film about mental patients—that today would probably get a limited release in art houses—finished second only to 'Jaws' in annual box office”); while, yes, the French still make their nostalgic, dull, magic-hour epics, such as “Un long dimanche de fiancaille.” But the “Silkwood”/“Blind Side” comparison is jarring. Both focus on heroic women but one's very liberal and gritty and anti-corporate and has a sad, ambiguous end, and the other's very conservative and family-oriented and pro-business and has a Hollywood ending that isn't less Hollywood for being real. Scott needed a better editor there.

But noble middlebrow ideal? He's exactly right. See the above link and this post from last year's Oscars that I'd all but forgotten about until I ran into it yesterday. Apologies in advance for the Jeff Wellsian “he's right because I agree with him and I was there first” riff.

As for Streep? Scott's words are good but not as good as Morgan Freeman's in this NY Times video in which various actors talk about the best performances of the decade. Some go obscure. Jeff Bridges picks Mike White from “Chuck and Buck.” Some don't even remember names or movies. Then we see Morgan Freeman, unamused, and he tells us: “Meryl Streep in anything she's done in the last 50 years.” You think he's going to expound but then he looks back at the camera, unamused. End story.

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Posted at 08:25 AM on Sun. Feb 21, 2010 in category Movies  
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