A list of women who beat Meryl Streep for Oscars

Meryl Streep has 16 Oscar nominations, more than any other performer in the history of the Academy Awards. She has won in both categories (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress). For the first time in three years, she’s not nominated for an Oscar.

So it seems as good a time as any to examine the cold streak that has seen the best actor on the planet (Earth, specifically) repeatedly ignored by the Academy.

Consider: From 1979 to 1983, Streep was nominated for four Oscars in five years. She lost twice (her first nod was for Supporting Actress in 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” and she lost her first Best Actress nod for 1981’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”) and she won twice (Supporting Actress for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1980 and the lead trophy for “Sophie’s Choice” in 1983). Her 2-2 record was, as far as such things go, impressive, especially considering her youth (she was 33 by the time she netted her second trophy). She had her whole career ahead of her! Countless Oscars would follow!

Since the 1983 ceremony (which honored 1982 movies, remember), she has been nominated 12 times and lost each and every time. She has lost to older actors and younger ones. She has lost in mild upsets and she has lost in races where she was barely a factor. She has never lost to the same person twice, which isn’t really noteworthy because that doesn’t happen very often with the Oscars, but I wanted you to know. Meryl Streep’s cold streak began in 1984, the year after her last win, and will last at least through 2011, meaning it has occurred in four consecutive decades.

Streep has more nominations than any other actor in history, and she also has more nods than any single film in history (the most-nominated films are “Titanic” and “All About Eve,” both of which had 14 nods). Katharine Hepburn and Jack Nicholson both have 12 nominations apiece (a record Streep surpassed in 2003 when she was nominated for “Adaptation.”), and she has that many nominations in her losing streak alone. Streep literally has more Oscar losses (14) than any other actor has nominations.

However, while she has 16 nominations (and counting), she has only two wins, which is half as many as Hepburn and one fewer than Nicholson. (One of Hepburn’s was for “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” so it shouldn’t really count, but it does, so we’re stuck with it.)

So. With her out of consideration for a change, and her run at least temporarily paused, here is an accounting of Streep’s streak, in chronological order. Remember, the years listed correspond to when the ceremonies took place, meaning they honor films from the year before:

1984 Academy Awards

Film: “Silkwood”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Shirley MacLaine for “Terms of Endearment”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low. Streep had just won the year before and was on her fifth nomination in six years before turning 35, while MacLaine was on her sixth nomination spread out over a quarter of a century. She had lost for “The Apartment” and “Irma la Douce,” and here she was carrying the year’s Oscar frontrunner (it won Best Picture and Director, among others), so she was, as they say, Overdue.

1986 Academy Awards

Film: “Out of Africa”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Geraldine Page for “The Trip to the Bountiful”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low. Again, Streep was the young been-there, won-that talent competing against a more august performer. In this case, the 62-year-old Page had been nominated seven prior times over the four previous decades, losing for films like “Interiors” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” She was, again, Overdue. Page would pass away the following year.

1988 Academy Awards

Film: “Ironweed”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Cher for “Moonstruck”

Outrage-o-Meter: Middling. Cher was on her second nomination, and people seemed to like “Moonstruck” as well as Cher. Streep, on the other hand, had already racked up her seventh nomination (and her fifth for a film released in the 1980s). More outrageous was Holly Hunter’s loss for “Broadcast News” (though she would win six years later) and Glenn Close coming up short for her crazypants turn in “Fatal Attraction” (she has yet to win). It was a weird year: Best Picture winner “The Last Emperor” didn’t have any acting nominations, and the winning performance most remembered from this year (Michael Douglas for “Wall Street”) came from a film otherwise ignored by the Academy.

1989 Academy Awards

Film: “A Cry in the Dark”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Jodie Foster for “The Accused”

Outrage-o-Meter: So, so low. Foster, just 26 at the time, had netted her second Oscar nod for this brutal, brutal movie (her first came for “Taxi Driver” a dozen years earlier). She had just graduated from Harvard. And she was a former child star who showed she could handle big things. If she had lost this award, it would have been an outrage. (It was the film’s sole nomination, meaning it was that kind of Ack-Ting Showcase movie we’re still inundated with decades later, but that doesn’t mean she was any less stellar.) If anything, Streep (eighth nomination) had nothing to complain about. The year was rougher for her fellow losers in the category that year: Sigourney Weaver (notching her second and third nods that year, in supporting as well as lead actress), Melanie Griffith (getting her sole Oscar nomination) and Glenn Close (her fifth nomination, for “Dangerous Liaisons”). None of them have been nominated for an Oscar since, whereas Streep was only halfway to where she stands today.

1991 Academy Awards

Film: “Postcards from the Edge”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Kathy Bates in “Misery”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low. (Sensing a pattern? This is how such a streak builds up with little to no fanfare: She wasn’t the frontrunner losing at the last second every year or something. She already had two trophies. She was, and remains, nobody’s object of pity. But, still.) Hey, a new decade! Same result: She loses to a tour de force, this time Bates’s psychotic fan. While Streep’s turn as a thinly-veiled Carrie Fisher (paired with MacLaine as Not Debbie Reynolds) lost to another single performance showcase film (Bates was the sole nominee from her movie), this year could have been much, much worse: Julia Roberts was nominated for “Pretty Woman.” Meanwhile, pity poor Glenn Close, who didn’t even get nominated while her “Reversal of Fortune” costar Jeremy Irons picked up a trophy. Whatever, let’s just be happy they didn’t somehow award Kevin Costner the damn thing.

1996 Academy Awards

Film: “The Bridges of Madison County”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Susan Sarandon for “Dead Man Walking”

Outrage-o-Meter: Relatively low. After a five-year absence (otherwise known as the “Death Becomes Her” and “The River Wild” years), Streep is back with the sole nod for Clint Eastwood’s successful little change-of-pace. (The fact that Streep, not Eastwood, earned the movie’s only nomination should tell you to whom most of the film’s surprising success could be attributed.) However, she’s up against two women playing hookers and one portraying a nun, not to mention Emma Thompson for “Sense and Sensibility.” (Thompson, who had won Best Actress three years earlier, won an Oscar this year for penning the Jane Austen adaptation’s screenplay.) The prostitutes apparently canceled each other out, so Sarandon’s nun (and her notching a fifth Oscar nomination, all in the lead category) wound up winning. Except for Elisabeth Shue, nobody could really complain.

1999 Academy Awards

Film: “One True Thing”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Gwyneth Paltrow for “Shakespeare in Love”

Outrage-o-Meter: High, but not for Streep. While she had locked down her 11th Oscar nod, bringing her one shy of the record held by Katharine Hepburn (and tying her with Jack Nicholson at the time), she was an afterthought in this ceremony. (Seriously, does anybody really remember this film? Anybody?) In reality, Paltrow’s win over Cate Blanchett’s titular “Elizabeth” role was one of the night’s biggest ‘surprises’ (a polite way of saying, it was pretty dumb and inexplicable), overshadowed only by that film’s comical Best Picture win over “Saving Private Ryan” minutes later.

2000 Academy Awards

Film: “Music of the Heart”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Hillary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low, low, low. While Streep made history that night (matching Hepburn’s record of 12 nominations, and needing just 21 years to do it), it was for probably her most forgettable film on this list. Yes, it’s the one where she taught violin to inner city youths. Yes, she fights against the system to teach the kids. Yes, she faces doubters from all sides. Yes, it winds up with inspirational results. Adding to the weirdness, it was directed by Wes Craven (“Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream”). In reality, the night’s bout was between Swank and Annette Bening (and their rematch five years later would go the same way).

2003 Academy Awards

Film: “Adaptation.”

Nomination: Best Supporting Actress

Lost to: Catherine Zeta-Jones for “Chicago”

Outrage-o-Meter: Rising. While her odds were high going into the evening, there was always the likelihood that one of her younger competitors (Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah or Julianne Moore) could snag the award. It’s worth noting that this was a nice turnaround for Streep. Her three prior nominations had come for comparatively middling works, and while “Adaptation.” didn’t live up to the highs of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s prior collaboration (“Being John Malkovich”), it was still an interesting film and she was quite good in it. In other words, she wasn’t just coasting, but taking a risk with a young, interesting writer/director combo, an offbeat project and a role unlike any she’d played before. (This would be Streep’s blueprint for the 2000s and beyond: Take an odd, diverse slate of roles seemingly just to prove she can do pretty much anything. Singing and dancing? Check. HBO’s “Angels in America”? Sure, why not. A drugged-out version of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean? Julia Child? Stop-motion animation? Yeah, let’s knock those out before lunch.) Anyway, Supporting Actress has a tendency to be a left-field category, so it seemed very possible that Queen Latifah’s movie-star-making turn in “Chicago” would win, or perhaps they could have gone with Julianne Moore (since she was also up for Best Actress that year, and the supporting nod could honor both performances).

Streep’s nomination gave her 13 acting nods for her career, moving her past Hepburn and giving her the most nominations all-time. Jack Nicholson’s nomination the same year tied him with Hepburn at 12 nods, and he hasn’t been nominated since

2007 Academy Awards

Film: “The Devil Wears Prada”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Helen Mirren for “The Queen”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low again. Her not-so-veiled take on Anna Wintour in this light, bubbly summer movie proved to be the opening to the unexpected, latest phase of Streep’s career: box office star. She’s had hits with “Prada,” “Mamma Mia!” (which earned $600 million worldwide, at the time one of the 45 biggest movies in global history), “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.” This nomination — her absurd 14th, and her first in four years — was of a piece with Johnny Depp’s for the first “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Their talent recognized in a variety of arty, challenging movies, they were instead nominated for acting’s highest award for taking lightweight mainstream fluff and enhancing the whole damn thing with a captivating performance. But Helen Mirren was a bulldozer that year, untouchable by any of her peers as Queen Elizabeth II.

(While Streep’s record number of nominations might not ever be matched, it’s noteworthy that the two actors likeliest to make a run were also nominated that night: Kate Winslet was up for Best Actress, while Cate Blanchett was up for supporting. Blanchett has a shot, but Winslet is the more likely contender and at 35, she’s six years younger than Blanchett and has one more nomination than Blanchett.)

2009 Academy Awards

Film: “Doubt”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Kate Winslet for “The Reader”

Outrage-o-Meter: Low, yet again. While Streep’s turn as a steely nun was highly praised for “Doubt,” there was, yet again, the element of “She’s overdue” for Kate Winslet. With six nominations before turning 34, Winslet had rapidly become fodder for “Can you believe she doesn’t have an Oscar yet?” discussions (taking the place of Martin Scorsese after he won two years earlier). Was this her best work? It didn’t matter. She was the youngest actress (33) to net six nods, so she was indeed overdue. By comparison, Streep notched her sixth shortly before her 37th birthday. Of course, Streep had won two Oscars by that point, to Winslet’s one, but we’re discussing nominations here.

This year was the same story with Streep. There were the twin theses of “She’ll be back” and “She does have two Oscars, after all.” With this ceremony, she nabbed her 15th nod and also grabbed her 12th for Best Actress (tying her in this regard with Hepburn, who had only been nominated in the lead category).

2010 Academy Awards

Film: “Julie & Julia”

Nomination: Best Actress

Lost to: Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side”

Outrage-o-Meter: This one might be too fresh to properly assess. Time for some equivocating: On the one hand, Bullock had been a reliable performer for years, churning out moneymakers and charming performances, culminating in her career year (“The Proposal” was a big, hit romcom; “The Blind Side” was a behemoth of a family-friendly, uplifting, little-movie-that-could). “The Blind Side” was gigantic, and she was a big part of that. On the other hand…well, could you legitimately argue that Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side” was a better performance than Meryl Streep embodying Julia Child? If you can make that argument, great, more power to you. I can’t see the logic.

“Julie & Julia” was not a great movie, mostly because the Amy Adams parts were bad (though Adams was, of course, charming). But the Julia Child parts were terrific, and if they had released a version of the movie starring just Streep and Stanley Tucci, it might have been a different story. But they didn’t, and so voters were left with the impressive mimicry and skill on display from Streep (and we’ve seen in recent years a tendency to reward portrayals of famous figures; see: “Ray,” “Capote,” “The Aviator”) in a middling movie that was successful but not a supernova, versus a charming “Erin Brockovich Lite” turn from Bullock in a huge, huge movie everybody saw and told their friends to see, apparently, because, seriously. In the end, Streep was better — hell, she was better in conceivably every year she was nominated, except probably 1989 and 2007 and maybe, arguably a few others — but she didn’t have the same storyline.

And that is how you spend 26 years and rack up 12 Oscar nominations in a row without winning.


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