Total Recall: Meryl Streep's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Iron Lady star.
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 Orleans, 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."
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."
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, is 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."
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."
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."
In case you were wondering, here are Streep's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. The Deer Hunter -- 91%
2. Manhattan -- 91%
3. Sophie's Choice -- 86%
4. Kramer vs. Kramer -- 85%
5. Out of Africa -- 84%
6. The Hours -- 83%
7. The Bridges of Madison County -- 83%
8. Adaptation -- 82%
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox -- 80%
10. The Devil Wears Prada -- 76%
Finally, here's Streep receiving her 2011 Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama: