Nobody will ever accuse me of jumping the gun on 45 Years. I finally saw it (well, most of it) a couple of weeks ago during the Savannah Film Festival, and while I wasn’t entirely blown away by Andrew Haigh‘s film, I was seriously impressed by Charlotte Rampling‘s performance. It started to hit me about…oh, one-third of the way through, certainly by the halfway mark. “Wow,” I murmured without moving my lips or making a sound. “She’s really doing something here with the most delicate of brushstrokes, and it’s building into something greater than the parts.”

I’m only about the 345th critic/columnist/journo to say this, but that’s why they pay me the big bucks…to be 345th in line! And then I was sitting in the front row of the Aero theatre last night and watching sexy, slender Charlotte with her sly, knowing smile and those slim gams and shiny black pumps as she was interviewed by Pete Hammond, and I was thinking “Yeah, I’d also like to be her trampoline…”

45 Years is not my idea of a knockout relationship drama (i.e., everyone cheats, harbors secrets, is less loyal than you’d like them to be), but it does seep into the system like ice water and give you the gradual chills. So maybe it is a knockout relationship drama and I’m just slow to understand that.

Inhabiting the soul of a good woman who comes to realize, 45 years into her marriage, that her husband (played by the doddering, paunchy, white-haired Tom Courtenay)…God, what to make of him?…is more of a shit than she realized and even possibly a kind of monster, Rampling never projects just one thing. At any given moment she’s conveying at least two if not three thoughts or conflicting feelings. Rampling flickers like a candle, like an anxious deer contemplating a pair of not-yet-glimpsed headlights, like a woman starting to consider the horrid possibility that her entire married existence has been…well, not exactly fraudulent but a good deal less and certainly far from glorious.

It’s quite a tour de force, and my sense right now is that right now Rampling may be the one to beat with the critics groups in the Best Actress category. I don’t know about SAG or the Academy but it could definitely happen. I’m just starting to put this together in my head so bear with me. Rampling, Rampling, Rampling for the win.

I realize that JLaw could blow her out of the water in a couple of weeks’ time but other than this possibility Rampling looks like she has the heat, certainly as the leading female recipient of the Academy’s Gold Watch award (with Youth‘s Michael Caine holding down that fort on the male side).

Room‘s Brie Larson is probably Rampling’s strongest competitor, but you have to consider the fact that Larson over-acts a bit plus the feeling in certain quarters that Room…can I say this without jeopardizing my A24 Phase One situation? — is a bit of a problem. For a small but impassioned minority, that is….”We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” I realize that the wimmin folk have us completely surrounded and out-gunned.

In my book the other two major contenders are Brooklyn‘s Saoirse Ronan and Suffragette‘s Carey Mulligan. Despite her masterfully sculpted performances in Carol and Truth, I don’t think this is Cate Blanchett‘s year with her recent Blue Jasmine Oscar fresh in the mind.