This morning I was roughing out my review of Thomas Vinterberg‘s rooted, disciplined and highly beguiling Far From The Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight, 5.1) and thinking about Carey Mulligan‘s invested, spot-on performance as Bathsheba Everdeen, and about how I’ll soon be catching her reportedly first-rate performance on the New York stage in David Hare‘s Skylight, and about how she’s really defined herself as a kind of young Meryl Streep-like actress — gifted, gutsy, poised, refined — since her big breakout in ’09’s An Education.

And then it hit me that there are actually four top-tier actresses who exude that drop-dead, crack-of-the-bat Streepitude, each occupying their own decade along with their naturally unique shadings. There’s Streep herself, of course — now 65 (born on 6.22.49) and in no way slowing down, probably game for another 20 years of performing or even beyond. Cate Blanchett, 45 (dob: 5.14.69) and totally at the top of her game, genius and skill to burn. Jessica Chastain, 38, also peaking with absolute command, exuding by any yardstick the same degree of class and expertise as her two elders. And Mulligan, who turns 30 on 5.28. I suppose some would argue that Rooney Mara, only a month younger than Mulligan, belongs on the same marble pedestal but I’m not yet perceiving the same stillwater + whiplashy quality that I’ve long sensed in the other four.

Is my basic shorthand correct? These four or five at the top, first pick of the best scripts, everyone else gets sloppy seconds? Or am I missing someone? What actress in her late teens or early 20s is good enough to rank alongside the Four (or Five) Streeps?  Alicia Vikander?