Woody Allen has been making "the best Woody Allen movie in 20 years" for nearly 20 years. In the past decade alone, critics have gone so far as to knight Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and even the totally shitty Midnight In Paris with the dubious title, a critical cliché as lazy as it is meaningless.
I suspect that you'll be hearing this phrase a lot in relation to Blue Jasmine—this year's innocuously titled annual entry into the Allen canon. And if you're anything like me, you'll roll your eyes and reasonably temper your expectations. So let me be the first to say this definitively: Blue Jasmine is not the best Woody Allen movie in 20 years. But it is one of the best dramas he's ever made.
A modest update of A Streetcar Named Desire for the post-Madoff era, the film centers on the fraught relationship between two estranged sisters—one, the kept wife of a disgraced Wall Street executive (Cate Blanchett); the other a down-and-out single mother (Sally Hawkins)—reunited in the wake of the former's fiscal and emotional collapse. But Allen's story isn't really the key to Blue Jasmine's many successes—the real joy of the film is in seeing the septuagenarian director finally overcome the glaring blind spot that has plagued his work for over a decade now: He actually managed to hire a cast. Much has already been made of Blanchett's scenery-chewing star turn, and while I could watch Sally Hawkins watch paint dry for two hours, it is the whole ensemble that anchors the film, with solid performances by Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, a charmingly in-over-his-head Louis C.K., and a straight-up scene-stealing Andrew Dice Clay. It's the first time in memory that a Woody Allen film has succeeded because of, not in spite of, its actors. And it feels like a revelation.