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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 26, 2010 at 10:49 AM

A Meryl Streep weekend

Next week it’ll be all Oscars, all the time here at Popcorn & Prejudice, and I’m just going to start things right now with some thoughts about the most Oscar-nominated actor of them all, Meryl Streep. A.O. Scott had a fine article about her in the New York Times last weekend, in which he noted Streep’s regular Oscar-night presence (this year is her 16th nomination; she’s won twice, the last time in 1983) and the way her career has moved in phases: the ’80s/90s Oscar-bait dramas, to which Streep brought discipline and clarity; and the irresistibly playful comedic work that began mid-career and is still blossoming. She seems, Scott says, to reveal a bit of herself in each of these roles, as great actors do; brilliant, yet one of us.
And look what she’s done, just in the past few years: I have seen few funnier performances than Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” and she does it without moving a muscle (who needs Botox when you can act?) or raising her voice. In “Doubt” she commands the screen even with her back to it. In “Julie & Julia,” she makes us miss her when she’s not on screen; her warbling, optimistic presence made us feel wrapped in a blanket of joy. If you missed seeing her in “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” you missed a great comic turn (“Realtors?”); if you missed “A Prairie Home Companion” (and, oh, you missed something if you did), you didn’t see her both ditzy and vulnerable, smoothing out the complicated wrinkles of her life by singing. And look at her, as Clarissa Vaughn, in the last moments of the beautiful “The Hours”: It’s a simple role — no accent, nothing zany — and she makes of it something as perfect as a single pearl. In her last scene, she looks around a room briefly before turning out the lights with a small, quiet smile; it’s as if she’s leaving it, and us, with love.
And, as we’ve learned over the years, this powerhouse of an actress is a riot offscreen, poking delicious fun at her own lofty persona during interviews and speeches (“Sometimes even I think that I’m overrated”) and giving us the sense that she’d be a hell of a lot of fun to have a beer with. (No, I’ve never interviewed Streep; more’s the pity. Some day, maybe.) Though every indication seems to be that Sandra Bullock is going to win the Oscar this year, I’d love to see Streep up there on the podium, as an acknowledgment of a body of work unrivalled on screen today, and as a model for how to give a charmingly off-the-wall acceptance speech. The clips below are Streep unscripted, and they’re a kick (“I’d like to spank . . .”). Enjoy, and we’ll talk more Oscar talk on Monday.

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