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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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If We Picked the Winners 2016: Best Actress

In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Christy Lemire goes to bat for the Best Actress of 2015, Charlotte Rampling. Stay tuned for our Best Director and Best Picture choices tomorrow.


Doing the small things on camera can be the hardest of all, actors often say. It’s easier to play it big, to give in to those hammy, ego-driven instincts. But to be still, quiet and observant—just to BE on screen—can present a significant challenge.

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Charlotte Rampling’s performance in “45 Years” is a master class in controlled, minimalist acting. As a retired schoolteacher who begins to question everything she thought she knew about her husband (Tom Courtenay), just as they’re about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, she is simply exquisite in the efficiency of her choices. And yet, Rampling conveys so much with just the slightest glance, eyebrow lift or wry smile. Her character, Kate, goes about her daily routine in the couple's quaint English village. She tries to remain cheerful as she makes last-minute party plans. But fear and doubt slowly gnaw away at her glowing confidence. The power of her feminine wisdom—and, ultimately, her melancholy—is formidable.

It’s sort of amazing to think this is the first Academy Award nomination for the veteran British actress over an esteemed and eclectic career. It’s also unfortunate that Rampling’s comments about the lack of black Oscar nominees—she called the uproar “racist to white people” in a French radio interview—seem to be overshadowing her chances at winning Sunday night. (She later said her remarks were misinterpreted.)

In an ideal world, we could separate the art from the artist’s off-screen life—but in the high-stakes world of awards campaigning, that seems unlikely. Nevertheless, Rampling’s work in Andrew Haigh’s beautifully written and directed “45 Years” should stand the test of time as a performance for the ages. It’s the best we saw from a lead actress all year—and perhaps from any actor, period, regardless of gender.


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