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“Wonder Wheel” closes NYFF with a commanding Kate Winslet turn

Just a few short hours ago, the New York Film Festival wrapped up its 2017 slate with the Closing Night Selection, Woody Allen’s latest film, the Coney Island set Wonder Wheel. In many ways, this is a coming home for the legendary filmmaker, while also managing to do something a bit different than usual. Eschewing his normal Cannes Film Festival bow before a summer release, Allen took this flick to NYFF, with a winter awards season release to come at the end of the year. He does have a contender on his hands, but perhaps not in the way we initially thought. Read on for more…

The movie is a period piece set in Brooklyn’s historic Coney Island during the 1950’s. Lifeguard Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake) narrates this story of passion on the boardwalk. Carousel operator Humpy (James Belushi) and his rather beleaguered wife Ginny (Kate Winslet), eke out a low class and unhappy living, one that’s disrupted when they are visited by Humpty’s estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple). She’s on the run from the mob and is taken in, something that sets in motion a rather unexpected chain of events. Affairs will be had, betrayals will ensue, and a happy ending is far from assured. The less said, the better. There’s something play-like in this one, so discovering it all as it happens is best. Allen writes and directs, with supporting players here including Max Casella, Jack Gore, Debi Mazar, Steve Schirripa, Tony Sirico, Bobby Slayton, and more. Cinematography is done by none other than the legend Vittorio Storaro.

Having just watched it, this is mid level Allen. It might be his best looking film ever, with some strong performances, but it’s an oddly pedestrian script. His direction makes up for it, not to mention the turn by Winslet, though the writing prevents it from truly soaring. Winslet is as good as advertised, while Belushi and Temple are terrific as well. Timberlake is somewhat miscast, but he does his best. Truly though, the MVP is Storaro and his cinematography, which is luscious. If there’s one thing that Oscar should notice here, even more than Winslet, it’s the cinematography. It’s just to die for. Don’t think I’m shortchanging Winslet though, as she’s phenomenal. Rarely better, she plays a bitter dreamer with full dedication. Winslet commands the screen and your attention.

A targeted campaign would serve Amazon Studios and Wonder Wheel best. Initially, I thought that Amazon Studios would be aggressive with this one, launching campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Allen), Best Actress (for Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (for Belushi and/or Timberlake), Best Supporting Actress (for Temple), Best Original Screenplay (for Allen as well), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. Now, I think they’ll still do For Your Consideration ads for all that, but really are going to focus in on Winslet in Actress and Cinematography. Those should be getable nominations. Time will tell, and more is possible, but those are the fields to focus efforts on.

This is how I would rank everything that I saw at NYFF this year:

18. Sea Sorrow
17. First Reformed
16. Wonderstruck
15. Thelma
14. The Rape of Recy Taylor
13. Lover for a Day
12. The Square
11. Ismael’s Ghosts
10. The Rider
9. BPM: Beats Per Minute
8. Spielberg
7. Call Me By Your Name
6. Wonder Wheel
5. Mudbound
4. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
3. Lady Bird
2. Last Flag Flying
1. The Florida Project

Wonder Wheel doesn’t open until December, so it’s hard to know how it’ll play, but Winslet fans should be more than satisfied. Allen lovers too will get a lot out of this one. This is the most playwright like he’s been in some time, while also his most visual. Seriously, this is some of 2017’s very best cinematography, without question. The Oscar race will once again include Woody to one degree or another, and that’s never a bad thing. December 1st will be when audiences first get a crack at this one, so expect another piece on it then, at the very least. Sit tight for now…

Stay tuned for more on Wonder Wheel as the year progresses!

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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