So I finally saw Mamma Mia! Awful as expected but I went ahead just because Meryl Streep was in it and watching her on screen is never less than interesting. Also nice to see a serious dramatic actress lighten up a little and having just a good time, all the time being very self-aware of the essential inconsequentiality of the whole enterprise.
Apart from that, she gets my vote for the greatest contemporary actress. My other personal favourite would be Isabelle Huppert but she has typecast herself into a very specific set of roles (more on her later). There was a great article by Molly Haskell in film comment a couple of months ago in which she discusses her entire career, her various screen personae and acting style. She has been lucky (and we the audiences have been luckier) that she has been able to get so many great roles late in her career, specially when so much of contemporary mainstream cinema is "tyrannized by the male adolescent demographic," as Haskell puts it. She was brilliant in almost all of her recent films such as The Hours, Angels in America, Adaptation, The Manchurian Candidate, Prime, The Devil Wears Prada or A Prairie Home Companion. As compared to her early successes she seems more natural and less "actress-y" (for example, her turn in Sophie's Choice which I don't like as much as everybody else seems to do.) In fact in films like The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion she is sp natural that it feels she is almost sleepwalking through the role. It is also what enables her to do Mamma Mia!, she doesn't want to "prove" anything right now. As Haskell says:
"She’s proving now, in the freedom and prosperity of a spectacularly attractive late middle age, that she can do effortless as well as strenuous, ensemble as well as star, enjoy rather than hide behind her talent. More than that, it’s as if audiences who’d been lulled into a catatonia of admiration or vexation were forced to wake up and take notice of the dazzling dexterity and audacity of this woman who’s amassed a body of work that’s phenomenal any way you look at it, but especially at a time and in a filmmaking climate tyrannized by the male adolescent demographic. From 1977 to 2007, three decades in which a Hollywood was busy merchandising global franchises and blockbusters and independent cinema was proving its cojones, Meryl Streep made 44 mostly high profile films. And, to borrow the anthem of Shirley MacLaine who plays her mother in Postcards from the Edge (90), “she’s still here”—not just here, but on her own terms, not Hollywood’s. "