Blue Jasmine: How Woody Got His Groove Back 

Cate Blanchett is tragically superb in Oscar-bound performance

Beauty by the bay: Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard smooch it up with an idyllic San Francisco serving as a backdrop in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.

Beauty by the bay: Cate Blanchett and Peter Sarsgaard smooch it up with an idyllic San Francisco serving as a backdrop in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.

Forget Paris. While he's at it, Woody Allen can say cheerio to London, arrivederci to Rome and (gasp) tell New York to fuggedaboutit. The prolific filmmaker has found his 21st century mojo in San Francisco.

Allen has been globetrotting lately, straying far from his halcyon days in New York (by my count, he framed 25 feature films against a Manhattan skyline). He used London as a backdrop for a moderately successful trio of films--Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra's Dream; he won the Best Screenplay Oscar for Midnight in Paris, and just last year, he ventured To Rome With Love. But an exhausting amount of those efforts were overly familiar, with Allen (or another actor as his on-screen id) as a nebbish foil colliding with lovely co-stars.

I'm happy to report that in Blue Jasmine--his latest and best film in decades--Allen, who has built a career on poking fun at his and others' neuroses, presents a refined and highly watchable construction of personality disorder. It may not sound like your idea of an ideal Saturday night at the movies; trust me, it is.

Many actresses have successfully surfed the tide of Allen's screenplays--his movies have won actresses five Oscars--but in his complex and elegant Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett navigates the title role like a steamship through turbulent waters. Her performance, which secures her an aisle seat at the 2014 Academy Awards, is the most fully realized Allen character to-date.

When we first meet Jasmine, she is winging her way from New York to San Francisco. She's all high-wattage energy, constantly tugging at her pearls while boring her first-class cabin mate to tears with tales of shopping, parties, Pilates and more shopping. Ninety minutes later, we see her pale, sans makeup, unkempt hair and in full meltdown. In between, we meet Jasmine's husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), her other-side-of-the-tracks sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and diplomat (and Jasmine's new paramour) Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). Spicing things up are the neanderthal boyfriends in sister Ginger's life--Al (Louis C.K.), Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). Yes, I just said that Andrew Dice Clay is in a Woody Allen movie. And you know what? He's terrific.

Jasmine is a 21st century Blanche Dubois, and while she may not necessarily depend on the kindness of strangers, she exploits any amount of altruism that bumps up against her. In a previous film, Allen might present Jasmine to us as bubbly or absurd in a full-throated comedy. Here, she's a fully realized study in pathology. I winced more than once watching her spiral, and therein lies the courage of this amazing film.

Be forewarned: Don't expect a comedy. Yes, there are laughs aplenty here, but this is a tragedy of the highest order. And it should not be missed.

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