Meryl Streep

Generally considered the finest actress of her generation, Streep is the most nominated actor in Oscar history and a two-time winner.

Mary Louise Streep grew up in New Jersey with ambitions to become a UN translator. Her film debut was in 1977's Julia alongside Jane Fonda, and just a year later, Streep was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Deer Hunter. She lost, but bagged a gold statue the next year for renowned tear-jerker Kramer vs. Kramer. Throughout the '80s she continued to be cast in serious, high-prestige films like Sophie's Choice (for which she won her second Oscar) and Out of Africa.

Streep bounced back from some early-90s flops (She Devil, Death Becomes Her) with a string of emotional dramas like The Bridges of Madison County, One True Thing and The Hours. The last few years have been particularly busy for Streep with a diversity of roles, high box office returns, and near-yearly Oscar nominations for The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt, and Julie and Julia.

Streep's name is shorthand for acting cred: she's known for choosing great roles, preparing for them rigorously, and making them her own. Envied for her preternatural adaptability, her skill at accents, from Polish (Sophie's Choice) to Australian (Cry in the Dark) to bitch (Devil Wears Prada), is legendary. [Image via Bauer Griffin]