When did “late-period: Woody Allen start? Was it with Match Point (when he finally left New York for some new scenery)? Or should we consider these last ten, globe-trotting, years as late‑r Woody? The last ten years have certainly been up and down in terms of quality. Scoop was all-but diabolical. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was robust and surprising. Midnight in Paris was genial but disposable (despite being a massive hit) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was barely even a film.
Now, Blue Jasmine, in which Mr. Allen uses the notorious Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi crimes as inspiration for a story about the fraud’s victims as well as the collateral damage inflicted on a woman oblivious of her own complicity. As the eponymous Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the wife of Alec Baldwin’s shonky NY businessman, their relationship told in flashback while she tries to rebuild her life in her adopted half-sister’s (or something — the relationship seems unnecessarily complicated for something that has no material impact on the story) apartment in an unfashionable area of San Francisco.[pullquote]As they used to say on television about kittens, “a child isn’t just for Christmas, a child is forever.”[/pullquote]Blanchett unravels beautifully and almost maintains our sympathy despite the repeated evidence that she doesn’t really deserve it. In support, Sally Hawkins as the sister is more watchable than usual and others — notably Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. — get moments to shine even though some of those moments can seem a bit repetitive. Mr. Allen’s ear for dialogue seems to have entirely deserted him — these people talk like they’re being quoted in New Yorker articles rather than conversing like living, breathing humans — but the structure is satisfying and Blanchett takes the entire project by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own.
As usual, the vagaries of holiday deadlines mean that, just as you are arriving back at work to gleefully greet the New Year, here I am to tell you all about 2012. The best way to use this page is to clip it out, fold it up and put it in your pocket ready for your next visit to the video shop — that way you won’t go wrong with your renting. Trust me — I’m a professional.
But this year I have a problem. Usually I manage to restrict my annual picks to films that were commercially released to cinemas. I’ve always felt that it wasn’t fair to mention films that only screened in festivals — it’s frustrating to be told about films that aren’t easy to see and it makes it difficult for you to join in and share the love. This year, though, if I take out the festival-only films the greatness is hard to spot among the only “good”.
As usual, I have eschewed a top ten in favour of my patented categories: Keepers, Watch Again, Mentioned in Dispatches and Shun At All Costs. In 2012, only two of my nine Keepers (films I wish to have close to me forever) made it into commercial cinemas and one of them isn’t even really a film.
In Hope Springs, Meryl Streep proves once again that not only can she play any woman, she can also play everywoman. She’s Kay, an unfulfilled Nebraska housewife, married for 31 years to accountant Tommy Lee Jones and resigned to sleeping in separate bedrooms and cooking him his eggs every morning while he reads the paper. Except, she’s not resigned, she’s become determined. Determined to prove that marriage doesn’t just fizzle out after the kids leave home, that the past doesn’t have to equal the future.
So, she signs them both up for “intensive couples counselling” with friendly therapist Steve Carell, in picturesque seaside Maine. Jones is gruffly resistant, of course, and it’s his deadpan sarcasm that prompts nost of the early comedy (their fumbling attempts to spice up their life provides the rest). As a comedy, Hope Springs is extremely gentle — much more gentle than the trailer would have you believe — but that gentleness suits the delicate subject and the script (by Vanessa Taylor) actually burrows in pretty deeply to a subject that, I’m sure, is pretty close to home for lots of viewers.
It’s Back to BOURNE with Jeremy Renner; Meryl Streep gets it on with Tommy Lee Jones in HOPE SPRINGS; Hirokazu Koreeda’s I WISH is a little gem and we talk to the directors of the New Zealand documentary HOW FAR IS HEAVEN.