Filmgoers at this year’s Berlin Film Festival knew about the power and poignancy of Andrew Haigh’s 45 Yearsbut I didn’t until catching this extraordinary drama of a longtime marriage thrown into crisis on the eve of a 45th wedding anniversary party. The movie deservedly has already won prizes for its veteran British stars, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay with Pete Hammond badgethe pair taking the Best Actress and Best Actor Silver Bears at Berlin earlier this year. The film made its North American premiere over this weekend at the Telluride Film Festival (before hitting Toronto next week) and for me it was one of the true highlights of my moviegoing orgy at this always-great fest that wraps up today in just a few hours. It opened late last month in the UK and will roll out this fall across Europe before hitting American shores. IFC Films plans a late-breaking awards season U.S. release on December 23rd. Rampling is immediately thrust into the Best Actress Oscar and BAFTA conversation because of her heartbreaking, wise and luminous work as a woman whose faith in all she thought she knew about her marriage is shaken to its core when memories of her husband’s long ago relationship with another woman come to the surface as a letter is delivered.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay the Silver Bear in handThis now 69-year-old and very vibrant actress has been in the cinema spotlight since breaking into our consciousness with the mid-60’s mod films The Knack and the wonderful Georgy Girl. She was brilliant in so many others but her role here is perhaps her best ever, certainly since her memorable turn in 2000’s haunting Under The Sand. She has never been nominated for an Oscar. That HAS to change this year. 

Courtenay exploded on to the world cinema scene in the unforgettable 1962 British classic  The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner and John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar the next year, followed closely by high profile films including Doctor Zhivago around the same time Rampling was getting started. He has been Oscar nominated twice, for Zhivago  as Supporting Actor in 1965 and Best Actor in 1983’s The Dresser.

IFC, which normally hasn’t played the Oscar campaign game in a very big way, did make a large splash last year with their Best Picture contender Boyhood, which ended up winning only Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette. They also landed a surprise (I think even to them) 11190557_oriBest Actress nod for Marion Cotillard in the Belgium film Two Days, One Night. This  year, using Cynthia Swartz’s  Strategy PR, which helped guide their 2014 campaigns, IFC plans to get actors-branch voters to see 45 Years in hopes that Rampling will finally join the Oscar club in the Best Actress category. Her character is Telluride Film Festival 2014 Lineupthe driving force in the film, which Haigh (Weekend), speaking at a post-screening Q&A (he also wrote the screenplay based on David Constantine’s In Another Country) said he designed the film version to give the wife’s character the story thrust rather than the man (as in the original source material). He calls the movie a different kind of “ghost story.” The actors have equal duo billing but, I think correctly, IFC plans to campaign Courtenay, who plays Geoff, in the Supporting Actor category, where he could be a formidable contender. He belongs there, as there is no question Rampling’s Kate drives the narrative. Both deserve nominations, not just for careers going back well beyond 45 Years, but for a movie that should resonate with Academy voters, 2015 Telluride Film Festivalparticularly older ones who may find lots to identify with in this touching, ever surprising  story. This is shaping up to be quite a year for veteran stars, as I noted in an earlier piece about the Actress race where Blythe Danner, Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin and others are going to be formidable, but also with senior-themed films like Youth, starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda on the horizon along with the art house hit Mr. Holmes  featuring a brilliant Ian McKellen performance.

And now after its initial Fall Fest splash , we have 45 Years. As a revealing movie about a marriage it ranks right up there with some of my favorites in the genre, including Stanley Donen’s brilliant 1967 dissection of a 12-year union, Two For The Road; Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage in 1974; the recent Oscar and Palme d’Or winning Amour; and Mike Nichols’ biting and unforgettable 1966 film version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? I could also throw in the lesser-known 1969 The Happy Ending from Richard Brooks, as well as the Neil Simon comedy Barefoot In The Park in which Robert Redford and Jane Fonda joyously showed us the beginnings of a marriage.

Now — thanks to 42-year-old writer/director Haigh and these two performances for the ages
— I have a new member of my classic-marriage movie club. Next stop for 45 Years  on the Festival circuit will be Toronto. The same goes for me. It has been a swell Telluride.