People win acting Oscars for a variety of different reasons, and rarely is it because of the agreed upon quality of the performance. One of my least favorite reasonings is that an actor is perceived as overdue for winning. Either the actor has never won or has not one in a long time, and based on their career, the absence of hardware becomes incredibly notable. Meryl Streep is pretty universally considered one of the best — if not the best — living actor, and “The Iron Lady” was her 17th nomination. Basically, every other year she would get nominated for an Oscar and lose. She won two very early in her career, and for awhile, her nominations became perfunctory. Another year, another nomination. Then around the time of “The Devil Wears Prada,” the perception changed. People came to realize that they were perhaps taking this acting titan for granted, and she needed to win another Oscar.
For the next few years, she was bumping against women who had their own overdue narratives, but they had never won before: Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, and Sandra Bullock, all of whom starred in Best Picture nominees. (There was an overdue actor this year as well, which I will get into in a bit). In 2011, the lane to victory for Streep was far more open than usual. Plus, she had the benefit of playing an extremely recognizable real person in Margaret Thatcher, and the Academy loves to award a biopic performance. They like seeing the technical skill of replicating another human being they already know because they can easily see the transformation. Having an overdue narrative with a biopic performance? You are set up for glory.