HOLY SHIT THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST BRACKET OF THE SWEET SIXTEEN AND IT IS ALREADY SO DIFFICULT. How am I supposed to pick between these two extraordinary performances??
Tbh, I am still salty about the fact that I paired "Kramer v. Kramer" against "Deer Hunter," which is easily in my top 5 favorite films from the entire bracket. When it came down to the wire, I felt I had to go with the movie that gave us more Meryl screen time: and ultimately, those few extra scenes in "Kramer" are what edged "Deer Hunter" out.
"Kramer" was actually on the short list of Meryl movies I'd already seen, and remains one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE performances from her ever. She is able to take a somewhat villainous character: a mother who abandons her child for AN ENTIRE YEAR, and then fights like hell to get FULL CUSTODY - and somehow is able to make us feel enormous sympathy for her. She is vulnerable and honest and authentic AF, and you actually come to feel very strongly that she did the RIGHT thing leaving her kid, because she was miserable and genuinely at risk of a mental breakdown (or worse). The court scenes where she has to literally defend herself in front of a judge are HARROWING. This is pure, unadulterated Meryl: no accents, no wigs, no prosthetics, just a bare-faced, young, hurting woman doing her goddamned BEST. Frankly, it's my favorite kind of Meryl. There's a reason she won her first Oscar for it.
There is a phenomenal Vanity Fair article about young Meryl and her journey towards "Kramer" that, if you've made it this far in #MerylMadness, is absolutely worth the read (excerpt below).
You should also give that Vanity Fair article a read because it describes just how HARROWING the filming process was for the cast and crew - because of Dustin Hoffman. I had always been a fan of his work (The Graduate is one of my favorites), and over the years I'd heard a few rumors of his - shall we say, sub-optimal behavior, but I always assumed it was just the somewhat self-indulgent behavior of a method actor, benefiting from his white male privilege. IT WAS SO MUCH WORSE THAN THAT.
At different points during filming, Hoffman taunted her about Cazale's death, told the child actor that he'd never see any of his friends ever again to make him cry, and slapped Meryl Streep in the face JUST TO NAME A FEW. He took it upon himself to go to whatever means HE saw "necessary" to procure the "best" performances from his co-stars, and whenever Meryl fought to make Joanna the well-rounded, sympathetic, human character that we see in the film today, he attacked her every step of the way.
Oh yeah, and remember that ICONIC glass-smashing scene in the restaurant? Yeah, he NEVER FUCKING TOLD HER HE WAS GONNA DO THAT.