When Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for La Vie en Rose, it was one of the least-seen Best Actress performances in history, up there with Jessica Lange for Blue Sky. The win also left some pundits blaming that year's low TV ratings on a disconnect between Academy voters and the tastes of their audiences. But anyone familiar with Cotillard's earlier career -- an even smaller list -- would marvel at the utter transformation she underwent to portray Edith Piaf during the most sputtering, sallow, and irascible stages of her life. And that's just one of the ways in which recognizing Cotillard is consistent with Oscar standards. Beautiful enough to make her living as a model, Cotillard was just past 30 when she played Piaf. Yet her performance is so ragged and lived-in, it's hard to believe the singer was as young as 47 when liver cancer claimed her. (Thanks also go to the Oscar-winning makeup by Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald.) As saucy as her characterization is, and as precisely as she impersonates Piaf's emotive showmanship, Cotillard does not have to carry this film, thanks to the terrific production design and the bravura of director Olivier Dahan. He's strong throughout, smoothly transitioning the action through the years to the tune of Piaf's incomparable voice. But in one particular sequence, when Piaf learns that her lover has died in a plane crash, he sustains a single traveling shot through her apartment, taking in her range of deteriorating emotions over the course of several minutes. It's in the same category of achievement as the more widely celebrated long takes in Children of Men and Atonement. La Vie en Rose is a biopic that's world-class in every sense, and Oscar's ability to recognize that says more, rather than less, about its contemporary relevance.