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Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel” to close the 2017 New York Film Festival

Last week, rumors were swirling around that the last piece of the major New York Film Festival gala puzzle had been filled, namely that Woody Allen’s new project Wonder Wheel was going to be the Closing Night selection. Well, a few days later, that was confirmed, so the big three titles at NYFF are now set. Allen’s Wonder Wheel joins Opening Night selection Last Flag Flying from Richard Linklater and Centerpiece selection Wonderstruck from Todd Haynes to lead the way. We’ll have a full NYFF slate soon enough, but for the moment, the focus will be on Allen, his film, its Oscar possibilities, and the Closing Night selection historically.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in terms of this particular festival, getting to be the closer is traditionally a pretty big deal for a flick. NYFF just seems to usually end on a bang. Unless this year turns out to be an anomaly like last year or two have been, it more or less launches you straight into the heart of the Oscar race. Over the past nearly two decades, almost nothing in this slot has failed to garner at least one citation from the Academy, with everything being true contenders in multiple categories, excluding 2015 and 2016 (provided that The Lost City of Z doesn’t score anything this year). In fact, we have one Best Picture winner, five Best Picture nominees, and over a half dozen that have taken home Academy Awards in one category or another. It’s probably even more important of a spot to be in than the Opening Night Selection, even if that one is a bit glitzier. Just look at what the pick to finish off the fest was three years ago…Birdman. Enough said (though yes, Miles Ahead two years is the exception that basically proves the rule, give or take how The Lost City of Z turns out, citation wise). Below you can see what the past 16 years have looked like with this slot at NYFF, for comparison’s sake:

2016 – The Lost City of Z
2015 – Miles Ahead
2014 – Birdman
2013 – Her
2012 – Flight
2011 – The Descendants
2010 – Hereafter
2009 – Broken Embraces
2008 – The Wrestler
2007 – Persepolis
2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth
2005 – Caché
2004 – Sideways
2003 – 21 Grams
2002 – Talk to Her
2001 – In Praise of Love
2000 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

There’s some excellent taste on the part of the festival programmers on display here, isn’t there? There’s a distinct possibility that Wonder Wheel will fit in nicely with many of those honored titles, but that obviously remains to be seen as the year progress…

Thinking about awards, Wonder Wheel could certainly make a play. Look for Amazon Studios to be aggressive, launching campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Allen), Best Actor (for Justin Timberlake), Best Actress (for Kate Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (for Jim Belushi and/or Timberlake if he goes Supporting), Best Supporting Actress (for Juno Temple), Best Original Screenplay (for Allen as well), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and maybe even more. Picture, Director/Original Screenplay for Allen, and Actress for Winslet seem like categories to keep an eye on. I’m bullish on this one, especially knowing how the Academy enjoys Woody.

Here’s what the festival has put out about the movie, so you can get a taste of what’s to come:

“In a career spanning 50 years and almost as many features, Woody Allen has periodically refined, reinvented, and redefined the terms of his art, and that’s exactly what he does with his daring new film. We’re in Coney Island in the 1950s. A lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) tells us a story that just might be filtered through his vivid imagination: a middle-aged carousel operator (James Belushi) and his beleaguered wife (Kate Winslet), who eke out a living on the boardwalk, are visited by his estranged daughter (Juno Temple)—a situation from which layer upon layer of all-too-human complications develop. Allen and his cinematographer, the great Vittorio Storaro, working with a remarkable cast led by Winslet in a startlingly brave, powerhouse performance, have created a bracing and truly surprising movie experience.”

Overall, Wonder Wheel is yet another movie to really keep an eye on during this fall festival season. Allen is a filmmaker who always is in play when his work is up to snuff, so perhaps heading home to the Big Apple will give this one an extra push? Not debuting at the Cannes Film Festival was a bit of a surprise for this flick, but it now has an even better spot to debut. Time will tell, of course, but this is without question the NYFF premiere so far that I’m most excited about. The festival’s announcement only has me more pumped. Allen could have another special film to share with us. Sit tight for potentially learning about the whole fest’s slate in the next few days…

Stay tuned for lots more on Wonder Wheel and NYFF in the near future!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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