The Kennedy Center Dis-Honors

Even the best of the best have had their lemons

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Meryl Streep

The good stuff: Two Oscars, seven Golden Globes, 41 GG nods combined nominations for those two awards — more than any other actor, ever — and just for the heck of it, two Emmys. Plus universal Tinseltown respect and seeming blood- and/or pact-with-Mephistopheles-based immunity from ever giving a truly bad performance — a record made all the more impressive by the 62-year-old actress’s penchant for risky, eminently mockable character vocal accents.

Career lowlight (I): Sheshared a marquee with Miss Barr in the box-office flop “She-Devil.” Naturally, Miss Streep was solid in her comic role as cheese-ball romance novelist — film critic Vincent Canby wrote that she made viewers believe that “this thimble-sized comedy is an Olympic-sized swimming pool of wit” — but agreeing to team up with the former Mrs. Tom Arnold showed a regrettable lack of judgment.

Career lowlight (II):Miss Streep squandered a Golden Globe-nominated performance on 1994’s “The River Wild,” a paint-by-the-numbers thriller most notable for (a) extensive white-water rafting; (b) her co-starring with Kevin Bacon, thereby reducing her Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon number to one. Also, Miss Streep did most of her own stunt work for the film — of course she did — and at one point nearly drowned.

Career lowlight (III): Released in 2007, the George W. Bush-era agitprop films “Rendition” (war on terrorism) and “Lions for Lambs” (war in Afghanistan) weren’t box-office duds because they had a liberal slant — they were duds because they were deadly dull.

Relevant statistic: A Streep-sung version of the ABBA song “Mamma Mia” — from the eponymous hit film, also starring Miss Streep — reached No. 8 on the Portuguese music charts. Frankly, this doesn’t tell us much about Miss Streep. On the other hand, it does confirm that Portuguese taste in vocal pop is no better than the taste of the rest of the world.

Quotable: Sam Leith wrote in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper: “My heart sinks into my boots when I catch [Miss Streep‘s] name on a poster for a film. … Perhaps it’s just the idea of her I can’t stand: she has become Hollywood’s fixed idea of a Classy Actress, just as Morgan Freeman is Hollywood’s fixed idea of a Dignified Old Black Guy, and the Holocaust is Hollywood’s fixed idea of an Important Subject. [Miss] Streep is the anti-exploding helicopter.” Yep, that’s about the only legit criticism one can level at Miss Streep: She’s never been in a Michael Bay film.

Yo-Yo Ma

The good stuff: Quick — without consulting Siri, name five other world-class cellists. Or anyone else once named People magazine’s Sexiest Classical Musician. Our points exactly.

Career lowlight (I): To the gauche, unwashed Kardashian-watching masses — read: us — the world of high culture can be intimidating and inscrutable. Actually, so can “The Nutcracker.” As such, we wouldn’t dream of slagging the 56-year-old Mr. Ma’s work. Instead, we’ll leave that to Harvard professor Christoph Wolff, a friend and teacher of Mr. Ma‘s. In 1998, Mr. Ma paired his rerecordings of six Bach suites with a series of videos for the multimedia project “Inspired by Bach” — for instance, one video had Mr. Ma playing within computer renderings of 18th century architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s prison engravings; another featured ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Said Mr. Wolff, summarizing the feelings of a music community that otherwise praised Mr. Ma’s musicianship: “I found a number of things rather embarrassing in those videos.”

Career lowlight (II): Entertainment Weekly magazine gave Mr. Ma’s 1992 album with Bobby McFerrin, “Hush,” a D-plus rating, with reviewer Lisa Sanders calling it “actively painful.”

Career lowlight (III): During President Obama’s inauguration, freezing outdoor temperatures meant that television viewers actually heard prerecorded music from the all-star string quartet that included Mr. Ma — nobody’s fault, really, but still a bit tacky.

Relevant statistic: Last year, 65 percent of voters at the website amiannoying.com voted “yes” for Mr. Ma.

Quotable: Not to keep picking on “Inspired by Bach,” but deceased musical giant Leon Kirchner called Mr. Ma’s accompanying videos “baloney, unworthy of a supreme musician like Yo-Yo. I told him he should have saved a suite for Tiger Woods.”

Barbara Cook

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