Even before receiving her 21st Oscar nomination Tuesday—a best-actress nod for The Post—Meryl Streep made history as the most-nominated performer in the history of the Academy. Throughout her career, she’s also won three Oscars: best supporting actress once, for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980, and best actress twice, for Sophie’s Choice in 1988 and The Iron Lady in 2012.
These are two incredible accomplishments, with one pesky downside. Streep, you see, also bears the dubious distinction of being the biggest-losing performer in Oscar history, having failed to claim an unimaginable 17 Academy Awards over the years. But Streep’s in-the-moment reactions to her (many) losses are actually our best evidence as to why she’s such an acclaimed and beloved performer—she’s boundlessly gracious and poised even in defeat, as you’ll see from our detailed analysis of her composure during every near miss.
1979 – 51st Academy Awards Meryl Streep lose nominated Oscar
Almost four decades ago, presenters George Burns, 83, and a flower crown-wearing Brooke Shields, two months shy of 14, take the stage to announce Streep’s very first loss. The co-stars of Just You and Me, Kid—a movie whose inciting incident involves Burns’s character finding Shields naked in the trunk of his car—joke about being romantically involved. It is not un-uncomfortable.
Streep may be more than two Brooke Shieldses old at 29, but she’s nevertheless the youngest performer recognized in her category. “Perfect,” Burns says when Shields reads Streep’s name aloud—though he’s referring to the teenage actress’s delivery. When Maggie Smith wins for California Suite, her face is almost entirely obscured by the gray hair of somebody in the row ahead of her. But we can still see Streep mouthing “Oh!” and beaming with what seems like genuine pleasure as she applauds for Smith.
1982 – 54th Academy Awards – The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Best Actress) Meryl Streep lose nominated Oscar
Presenter Jon Voight gives the Oscar to Katharine Hepburn for On Golden Pond, although she doesn’t bother attending the ceremony—just as she hadn’t the three times she’d won previously. In a truly egregious misstep, the Academy neglects to show each category’s nominees on screen when the winners are announced, so a chapter of petty facial drama is lost to the ages. Still, we have this clip of Streep brushing her curly bangs from her forehead when her name is read—a gift.
1984 – 56th Academy Awards – Silkwood (Best Actress)
Best actress is presented by Liza Minnelli and Rock Hudson. By this point, Streep has won two, count ‘em, two Oscars. She radiates a new confidence, whispering to husband Don Gummer, with future Ironweed co-star (and rumored lover Jack Nicholson seated on her left. Shirley MacLaine wins for Terms of Endearment;Streep’s reaction is shot from a bizarre rear-profile angle, but she nevertheless makes a regal impression, clapping with warm recognition at the very first syllable of MacLaine’s name.
1986 – 58th Academy Awards – Out of Africa (Best Actress)
Meryl is wearing many necklaces, or perhaps one very elaborate necklace, which is a fun choice either way. Geraldine Page wins for The Trip to Bountiful; presenter F. Murray Abraham’s voice cracks with emotion when he opens the envelope. “I consider this woman the greatest actress in the English language,” he says, which is exactly the sort of thing that, before long, Oscar presenters will be saying about Streep. Meryl is the first nominee to leap to her feet and give Page a standing ovation.
1988 – 60th Academy Awards – Ironweed (Best Actress)
Paul Newman presents the Oscar to Cher, in all her Bob Mackie glory, for Moonstruck. We sympathize with Sally Kirkland, nominated for Anna, who rolls her eyes and sticks her tongue into her cheek before self-consciously recovering into a smile as Cher’s name is announced. But there’s no disguising the joy Streep takes in Cher’s win—hey, the two of them once stopped an attempted mugging together!—as she leaps out of her seat and entirely out of the frame.
The feeling is mutual: this is the first time Meryl gets a shout-out in the winner’s speech as a fellow nominee. Cher thanks “Mary Louise Streep,” with whom she appeared in Silkwood. “. . . I did my first movie with her and now I was nominated with her and I feel really thankful,” she says. Streep blows her a kiss from the audience.
1989 – 61st Academy Awards – A Cry in the Dark (Best Actress) history of Meryl Streep losing nominated Oscars
Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman present Jodie Foster the Oscar for The Accused. Meryl opens her mouth with happy surprise—with a decade of Oscar ceremonies under her belt, this has become signature Meryl move No. 1—maybe in part because losing means she won’t have to go up there and schmooze with Hoffman, who slapped her on the set of Kramer vs. Kramer. Also, we award 100 points to fellow nominee Sigourney Weaver for looking so deeply unimpressed by the results.
1991 – 63rd Academy Awards – Postcards from the Edge (Best Actress)
Daniel Day-Lewis presents the Oscar to Kathy Bates for Misery. Pregnant with daughter Louisa at the time, Meryl Streep does not attend the ceremony—but she looks lovely in that stock photo, doesn’t she?
1996 – 68th Academy Awards – The Bridges of Madison County (Best Actress)
Tom Hanks presents the Oscar to Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking. treep throws her head back and clasps her hands together in good cheer: let’s call this signature move No. 2.
1999 – 71st Academy Awards – One True Thing (Best Actress) history of Meryl Streep losing nominated Oscars
Underdog Gwyneth Paltrow wins for Shakespeare in Love, over Elizabeth star and period-piece rival Cate Blanchett. Nominees Fernanda Montenegro and Emily Watson don’t look particularly thrilled. This is the closest even Meryl comes to external disappointment, making meaningful eye contact with her husband as she claps.
Paltrow calls Streep “the greatest one who ever was” in her infamously teary speech. In response, Meryl clutches the sides of her face, as though someone just demanded she act out the emotion of “humility.”
2000 – 72nd Academy Awards – Music of the Heart (Best Actress)
Host Billy Crystal introduces presenter Roberto Benigni as having just had nine espressos; “I wish I possessed a tail I could wag, in order to demonstrate my joy to be here! I would like to be a dog!” says the indefatigable Benigni. She’s no match for Benigni’s energy, but Meryl still embraces Hilary Swank’s win for Boys Don’t Crywith signature move No. 1.
2003 – 75th Academy Awards – Adaptation (Best Supporting Actress)
With this, her 13th nod, Streep becomes the most-nominated performer in the annals of the Oscars. But she seems even happier to be joined by daughter Louisa Gummer for the evening. She whispers conspiratorially to her 11-year-old date as Sean Connery, wearing a Seinfeld puffy shirt, fiddles with the envelope. Sir James Bond presents the Academy Award to a radiantly pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jonesfor Chicago, a development that Streep receives with a particularly enthusiastic signature move No. 1, plus a full-on tickled laugh.
2007 – 79th Academy Awards – The Devil Wears Prada (Best Actress)
Meryl wears a giant, glorious orange-beaded necklace and a giant, glorious smile, both of which Miranda Priestly would hate. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman presents the Oscar to Helen Mirren for The Queen. Streep celebrates with a variation of signature move No. 2; neither a hint of surprise nor dismay registers on her face.
2009 – 81st Academy Awards – Doubt (Best Actress)
This award is jointly presented by Oscar winners Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Shirley MacLaine, and Sophia Loren, each of whom reads a little praise for one of the nominees. “It’s hard to know where to begin with the next nominee,” Loren says. “Her name itself has come to represent a whole world of unmatched excellence, so it’s probably best to simply start there: Meryl Streep.” Streep is joined again by Louisa—she looks so much older now!—who offers her own take on signature move No. 1.
Kate Winslet wins for The Reader. This is among Meryl’s less emotive reactions, probably because it takes six damn minutes for somebody to actually open the envelope. In her speech, Winslet says to her fellow nominees, “I think we all can’t believe we were in a category with Meryl Streep at all. I’m sorry, Meryl, but you have to just suck that up.”
2010 – 82nd Academy Awards – Julie & Julia (Best Actress)
This is the occasion of one of Streep’s best Oscars looks ever, a glamorous cowl-neck white gown. Presenters Michael Sheen, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Stanley Tucci, and Peter Sarsgaard are tapped to gush over the nominees; this time, Tucci (her co-star in both Julie & Julia and The Devil Wears Prada) takes on Streep. “Meryl, what can I say?” Tucci says. “That, like most people in the world, I’ve been in love with you for years? That the two movies we did together were the highlights of my career?” In response, Streep laughs and gapes and covers her face with her hands while her eyes well with tears. He praises her “great good humor” as well as her brilliance and humility, then teases her for her “selfishness” in racking up so very many nominations.
Sandra Bullock wins for The Blind Side. Meryl’s evolved signature move No. 2 also involves smiling like she’s heard a truly funny joke, but one just short of making her laugh out loud. Bullock shouts out each of the nominees in her speech, but none more memorably than Streep: “Meryl, you know what I think of you, and you’re such a good kisser.” (Two months earlier, Streep and Bullock had tied for best actress, then smooched on stage at the Critics’ Choice Awards.)
2014 – 86th Academy Awards – August: Osage County (Best Actress)
Hollywood is a small town. Daniel Day-Lewis presents, again. Fellow nominee Judi Dench doesn’t show up, again, just as she did not when nominated beside Meryl in 2007. Cate Blanchett wins for Blue Jasmine. Streep looks very pleased, snapping her head to her left to look for Blanchett so quickly that it raises minor medical concerns.
2015 – 87th Academy Awards – Into the Woods (Best Supporting Actress) Meryl Streep lose nominated Oscar history 17 times
Jared Leto and his Jesus hair present Patricia Arquette with the Oscar for Boyhood, but not before cracking a joke that Meryl Streep has been nominated “in accordance with California state law.” Streep’s demeanor does not change when she hears the results, but it’s hard to recall if she’s ever clapped as vigorously as she does for Arquette. By this point, it’s probably safe to say she seems much more nonplussed when people publicly compliment her than when she publicly loses an award.
2017 – 89th Academy Awards – Florence Foster Jenkins (Best Actress)
Leonardo DiCaprio awards Emma Stone the Oscar for La La Land. Streep’s expression as she awaits the opening of the envelope is different than usual—worried, almost, with her eyebrows raised. But she greets Stone’s name with what might very well become signature move No. 3 if she keeps it up in the future, nodding her head and bobbing forward like she physically can’t contain her excitement.
On March 4, it’s possible that we could see Streep accept her fourth Oscar, tying Katharine Hepburn’s record for the most Academy Awards won by a performer. But if another name is inside that envelope, you can rest assured that no one will be clapping louder than Meryl.
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