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The Meryl Streep method of attracting Oscar nominations

 The Meryl Streep method of attracting Oscar nominations
Meryl Stree (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The film academy's actors branch may be loath to admit it, but landing an Oscar nod is a fairly precise science. Almost without exception each year, Academy Award nominations are handed out to performers who take on a finite number of boilerplate character parts. And while all actors have dabbled in one or two such roles, none has covered the spread like Meryl Streep. No, she didn't get a nomination this year for her work in "Suffragette," but that's only because voters blinked and missed her brief scenes. Certainly, all the hallmarks were there (see Foreign Accents and Historical Figures). Over her storied career, the actress, now 66, has earned three Oscars from among her 19 nominations — 19! She is widely considered the greatest actress of her generation, or perhaps she is just the most cunning? Either way, how can any actor go wrong following in her footsteps? To that end, The Envelope presents this analysis of Streep's career choices to provide a taxonomy of movie archetypes — the ones historically proven to land Oscar nominations:

Meryl Streep ventures in the movie "Into the Woods."
Meryl Streep ventures in the movie "Into the Woods." (Peter Mountain / Disney)

The ugly one

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Movies: "Into the Woods" (2015 supporting actress nomination), "Ironweed" (1988 lead actress nomination)

Oscar loves when gorgeous actresses bravely apply bad makeup. In "Woods," Streep looks every inch the evil witch of storybook lore, and in "Ironweed" she's convincing as a rheumy-eyed drunk with awful teeth.

Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher in "Silkwood."
Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher in "Silkwood." (ABC Motion Pictures, Inc.)

The whistleblower

Movie: "Silkwood" (1984 lead actress nomination)

Portraying a union activist in Mike Nichols' bio-drama, Streep's character threatens to blow the lid off nuclear power plant no-nos imperiling her fellow workers.

Ellen Gulden (Renee Zellweger, right) a journalist living back at home with her parents, Kate (Meryl Streep, left) and George (William Hurt, not pictured), soon discovers that they are not the people she thought they were, in Universa's "One True Thing."
Ellen Gulden (Renee Zellweger, right) a journalist living back at home with her parents, Kate (Meryl Streep, left) and George (William Hurt, not pictured), soon discovers that they are not the people she thought they were, in Universa's "One True Thing." (Eli Reed / Universal)

The dying

Movie: "One True Thing" (1999 lead actress nomination)

The calculus is simple: dying = suffering, and suffering = exquisite drama. Here, Streep plays a mother brought low by cancer who loses all her hair but never her bottomless joie de vivre.

Meryl Streep stars as Danish writer Karen Blixen in Sydney Pollack's "Out Of Africa."
Meryl Streep stars as Danish writer Karen Blixen in Sydney Pollack's "Out Of Africa." (A Mirage Production)

The foreign accented

Movies: "A Cry in the Dark" (1989 lead actress nomination); "Out of Africa" (1986 lead actress nomination); "Sophie's Choice" (1983 lead actress winner); "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1982 lead actress nomination)

They should teach a class on her accents at Julliard. Streep lends her inflection perfection to, respectively: an anguished Australian whose baby, she insists, has been snatched by a dingo; a Danish aristocrat; a Polish immigrant; and a Victorian Englishwoman.

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in "August: Osage County."
Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in "August: Osage County." (The Weinstein Company)

The mentally unstable

Movies: "August: Osage County" (2014 lead actress nomination); "Postcards from the Edge" (1991 lead actress nomination); "Ironweed" (1988 lead actress nomination)

Streep has almost as many speeds for cray-cray as Eskimos have words for snow. In "August: Osage" she's a pill popper with senile dementia. In "Postcards" she plays a mentally fragile actress battling a cocaine-LSD-Percodan addiction. In "Ironweed" the clinical diagnosis is dipsomania.

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Meryl Streep in a scene Miramax Films' "Music of the Heart."
Meryl Streep in a scene Miramax Films' "Music of the Heart." (Kerry Hayes / Miramax)

The survivor

Movie: "Music of the Heart" (2000 lead actress nomination)

Devastated by her husband's desertion, Streep's character picks up the pieces by moving to East Harlem to teach violin to inner-city students. She loses her man but gains the whole world in the process (plus Oscar benediction).

Meryl Streep stars in "The Iron Lady."
Meryl Streep stars in "The Iron Lady." (Alex Bailey / The Weinstein Co)

The historical figure

Movies: "The Iron Lady" (2012 lead actress winner); "Julie & Julia" (2010 lead actress nomination)

By this point, the elevator pitch for each film was almost enough for a nomination on its own: Streep as gourmet cookbook pioneer Julia Child and as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Fashion editor/maven Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is unhappy with the latest designs in the movie "The Devil Wears Prada."
Fashion editor/maven Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is unhappy with the latest designs in the movie "The Devil Wears Prada." (Barry Wetcher / Twentieth Century Fox)

The sociopath

Movies: "August: Osage County" (2014 lead actress nomination); "The Devil Wears Prada" (2007 lead actress nomination)

Streep can play both ends of the psychopath spectrum. In "Prada," she's the mother of all horrible bosses: a sadistic fashion magazine editor dripping icy disdain and issuing no small number of unreasonable demands. Enveloped in cigarette smoke (despite a cancer diagnosis) in "August: Osage," the actress chews her fingers as well as the scenery, spouting profanity, chugging booze and railing against family members: the matriarch as madwoman.

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