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Originally published Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Who will be the next Meryl Streep?

Emily Blunt, Abbie Cornish, Carey Mulligan, Ellen Page, Amanda Seyfried, Audrey Tatou: Who will be the next Meryl Streep? Head to the cinema this fall and decide for yourself.

Seattle Times movie critic

t was a summer of Transformers, Vulcans and wizards — and yet, a lot of us are still talking about one singular special effect: Meryl Streep. In "Julie & Julia," the now-60-year-old Greatest Actress of Her Generation revealed to us yet another voice, another indelible characterization, another way of twisting our hearts. Her name is now shorthand for the best of a category (not long ago, I saw a magazine article describing a search for "the Meryl Streep of toasters"); her work stands alone.

As we look at the fall movie schedule, it's for the most part Streep-less, though we'll hear her voice in the children's film "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." (She'll star in the romantic comedy "It's Complicated," arriving for the holidays.)

But it seems a good time to ponder who might be the next Meryl Streep, as the season features a number of leading roles for up-and-coming young women. Some names are familiar; some less so; all have the potential to make a Streep-like impact. Note that all opening dates are tentative.

Emily Blunt

I first noticed this young British actress in "My Summer of Love" four years ago and she was mesmerizing, playing a cool, glamorous teenager sophisticated beyond her years — sometimes. And then I saw Blunt doing a note-perfect comic turn opposite Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," holding her own as an eye-rolling assistant, and I didn't recognize her. And I saw her in "The Jane Austen Book Club," "Dan in Real Life," "Charlie Wilson's War" — ditto. Like Streep, she disappears into her roles, changing her voice, her carriage, her presence. (She seems taller in some movies than others; the mark of a true chameleon.) This fall, she'll star in "The Young Victoria" (opening Nov. 13), playing the British queen in the early years of her reign.

Abbie Cornish

"A Good Year," the inheriting-a-vineyard-in-France Russell Crowe vehicle from a few years back, is looking more interesting by the day. Appearing in it as Crowe's love interest was a then little-known French actress, Marion "La Vie en Rose" Cotillard. And, in a featured role, was an even-lesser-known young Australian named Abbie Cornish. She's since turned up in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and doing a soft Texas accent in Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss," making an underwritten character into something warm and urgent. Her breakthrough role comes this season, as Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion's "Bright Star," opening Sept. 18. Brawne was the young neighbor of the poet John Keats and fell in love with him, despite opposition to their relationship. In a quietly lyrical performance, she shines — yes, like a star.

Carey Mulligan

I know — you're asking "Who?" Soon, you won't be asking. But trust me, you've seen this Brit before: Mulligan was a young Bennet sister alongside Keira Knightley in "Pride & Prejudice," and has a small role in "Public Enemies." But she'll make her name with the upcoming "An Education" (opening in November), as a teenage girl in '60s London growing up a little too fast. Though 23, Mulligan effortlessly becomes 16 on the screen, in that one-minute-mature, one-minute-giggly way of all 16-year-olds. She'll make you think of Audrey Hepburn — and she'll make you think you've seen someone completely new. Remember this name.

Ellen Page

She's the only name on this list who already has an Oscar nomination next to it — for her sweetly sardonic work in "Juno." Like Kristen Stewart and Zooey Deschanel, Page's performances tend toward a coolly quirky deadpan, but there were moments in "Juno" and "Hard Candy" where her composure broke just a bit, letting us see the vulnerable character within. Talented, poised and just 22, Page seems ready to challenge herself — if her signing on for the title role of a big-screen BBC production of "Jane Eyre" last year is any indication. This fall, we'll see her falling in love with roller derby in Drew Barrymore's "Whip It" (Oct. 2).

Amanda Seyfried

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You want versatility? Just look at three roles for this ethereal-looking blonde: "Mean Girls," in which Seyfried delivers a masterful comic performance as a dimwit; TV's "Big Love," hauntingly uncertain as the teen daughter in a polygamist family, feeling her way into adulthood; and a sweetly natural singing ingénue in "Mamma Mia!" — playing, let us note, Streep's daughter. This fall she's tackling horror in "Jennifer's Body" (Sept. 18) — written by Diablo Cody, whose "Juno" made a star of Page — and drama in the title role of Atom Egoyan's "Chloe" (no release date yet set).

Audrey Tautou

Better known than many others mentioned here, this Frenchwoman (whose looks inspire comparison to another famous Audrey) has been quietly amassing some impressive credits since charming moviegoers in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's enchantingly quirky "Amélie." She's done a romantic comedy ("Priceless"), a crime thriller ("Dirty Pretty Things"), a big Hollywood blockbuster ("The Da Vinci Code"), a historical drama ("A Very Long Engagement"), each time with conviction and skill. So why do we still think of her only as the doe-eyed, love-struck Amélie of eight years ago? Perhaps soon we'll think of her as Chanel: She stars this fall in "Coco Before Chanel" (opening in October), a tale of the great French fashion designer's early years.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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