Blue Jasmine. 2013. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, and Bobby Cannavale. by: Eric J. Grimm Given the underwhelming nature of some of his output, it's hard to believe that Woody Allen has written and directed a film every year since 1982. Prior to that, there were only a few years since 1971 where he didn't create a movie from scratch. All of the films are original works, though some of them take cues from writers and directors Allen admires. His latest, Blue Jasmine, is a loose, modern take on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a Blanche Dubois-esque fallen socialite who moves in with her grocery store cashier sister, Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins. Allen isn't known for high concepts. His overrated Midnight in Paris may have succeeded in part because it actually had a memorable plot. In that sense, Blue Jasmine, with its simple, recycled plot, should be unremarkable, but it is a surprisingly efficient machine of a movie wherein Allen has a laser-like focus on storytelling and editing in order to best complement Blanchett's devastating acting accomplishment. Allen frames Williams' story within the context of a fall from grace directly taken from the Bernie Madoff scandal. Blanchett plays the unravelling Jasmine not just as a Blanche knock off, but also with Ruth Madoff in mind. Watch the latter's post-scandal interviews, and you can see some of Blanchett's inspiration. It is equal parts saddening and satisfying to realize what an insignificant creature Jasmine is once her world crumbles in front of her. There is no screen actress more apt to show Jasmine weaving in and out of sanity and composure than Cate Blanchett. It's a showy performance-- think Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Years of screen and stage experience have given her the opportunity of a lifetime: to work with a director who plays to her strengths as a performer and who can showcase her at her most glamorous and hideous. I found myself audibly gasping at the way she delivered some lines with the ability to amuse and frighten otherwise unsympathetic onlookers. It is to Allen's credit that he surrounds Blanchett with the best possible actors to play stock characters. Though they let her shine, her costars contribute to efficiency of the project. Sally Hawkins, in particular, knocks it out of the park, yet again, as the tragicomedic working class woman, having laid the groundwork in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. She's always a delight and Allen does a fantastic job of making her unimpressive character stand out as being braver and more adaptable than her once-successful sister. I hesitate to say that it's a "return to form" for Woody Allen, though it's the first film of his that has excited me in years. His lesser efforts make the impressive ones shine even brighter. Taken alone, Blue Jasmine is the kind of gratifying and haunting experience I want from any film, irrespective of the director's previous output. Hats off to Allen for realizing the lengths to which Cate Blanchett would go to present such a fascinating character so grandly and sensitively.