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Meryl Streep receives top honors at this year's AFI Awards. Photo courtesy American Film Institute

MERYL’S MOMENT

What can you say about legendary actress Meryl Streep that hasn’t been said already? It’s not easy, but some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters gave it a try at the American Film Institute’s 32nd Annual Life Achievement Award at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

The evening got off on a high note as funnyman Jim Carrey serenaded Streep with an off key rendition of “Simply the Best.”

Carrey, who plays opposite Streep in the upcoming “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events,” recounted his professional encounter with the actress. “I was a little nervous about working with her,” he mused in that loveable way that only Carrey can, “but lucky for me, she was open and willing to learn.”

Throughout the evening, snippets were screened from some of Streep’s most memorable performances, including “Sophie’s Choice,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Out of Africa.”

“This is the part of the show where they show clips of when you were just starting out, trying to make you squirm,” Carrey said. “But we’re talking about someone who cut her teeth in ‘Julia’ and ‘Manhattan.'”

“Where are the bad movies?” he implored. “There are no bad movies.”

The accolades kept coming with words of praise and wonder from co-stars like Kurt Russell (“Silkwood”), Jack Nicholson (“Ironweed”), Robert De Niro (“Deer Hunter”), Clint Eastwood (“Bridges of Madison County”) and Shirley MacLaine (“Postcards from the Edge”).

“I have a theory,” MacLaine said, “she knows more about channeling than I do.”

Streep, meantime, looked resplendent in a billowing, black taffeta skirt and crisp, white bodice. The guest of honor sat amid a sea of pink and red roses accompanied by her husband, Don Gummer, and children Henry, Mary, Grace and Louisa.

Streep is one of the most honored actresses in movie history. She won not one, but two Oscars for her performances in “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Sophie’s Choice.” She was nominated for 11 others, 13 in all. She’s demonstrated her range in everything from period drama to contemporary comedy in almost every kind of role imaginable.

“In the category of best actress….ever…,” Carrey said,” the nominees are … Meryl Streep, Meryl Streep and Meryl Streep.”

Streep joins a prestigious roster of AFI’s previous honorees, which includes the likes of Gregory Peck, Billy Wilder, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Barbra Streisand and Bette Davis.

Mega-director Mike Nichols, who worked with Streep in several films, said there is more to Ms. Meryl than just superb acting ability, a luminous complexion and great cheekbones. “She is a life force that defines what is possible for an actor as an artist, a parent and a citizen. “Everyone who knows Meryl falls in love with her,” he explained. “If not, there’s something wrong with them.”

In the words of De Niro, Streep is genuine article. “You are the real thing,” he said. “I love you for it.”

And there’s no question that those exact sentiments are shared by millions of movie fans the world over.