"Wonder Wheel" NYFF bust or a pleasant surprise?

With "Last Flag Flying" all but gone from the Oscar race, hey don't blame me I liked it and gushed about it to director Richard Linklater when I interviewed him, NYFF is about to head into what might possibly be the make it or break it week of the fest, with the screening of Woody Allen's "Wonder Wheel."  People so desperately want it to hit the bullseye and become the winner it has the potential to be. Not many have seen it, but the buzz for Kate Winslet's performance has been deafening. In this industry it's actually quite easy to build up buzz for it to only whimper off into oblivion once the film or performance is actually seen, that's why I remained cautiously optimistic about Woody's 48th feature film when I went to a morning screening of it the other day. 

Yes, he's made 48 movies, I'd say around 2/3 of them are, at the very least, good. His batting average has softened up a bit the last 17 years or so, but he's still found a way to give us "Blue Jasmine," "Midnight in Paris," "Match Point," "Vicki Cristina Barcelona," and, yes, even his highly underrated Joaquin Phoenix/Emma Stone flick "Irrational Man," in which the Woodman gave a damn near-autobiographical contemplation on his fear of death. The slight, delicate "Wonder Wheel" does belong in that upper-tier group, but with reservations.

It is slated to screen for the guild today in L.A. and NYC and again for the press on October 13th in those same cities. 

The film is set in the Coney Island of Woody's youth, as Kate Winslet plays a 1950’s housewife who cheats on her carousel-operator husband (Jim Belushi) with a lifeguard, played by Justin Timberlake. Enter the stepdaughter (Juno Temple) who visits daddy for the summer and, you guessed it, also falls for the lifeguard. The film is a blend of comedy and heavy drama, but it doesn't necessarily resemble Allen's 2013 triumph "Blue Jasmine," in which a Xanax-popping Cate Blanchett's version of A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche DuBois set the screen on fire, Cate won the Oscar. Kate will probably not.

Make no mistake, "Wonder Wheel" is solid Allen, it speeds through its plot in the same way "Bullets Over Broadway" did, mixing gangsters, comedians, clueless thespians to make a whole that feels like it could have only been made by the 81-year-old-filmmaker. And don't miss an incredibly emotional sequence where Winslet's character lets it rip for a fair amount of minutes. Clips from this scene alone could be replayed over and over by Amazon in promotional bits and land Winslet her eighth Oscar nomination.

For the time being, it seems to be part of a select few films remaining to be fully screened this year that has a shot at awards. The others are Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread," Steven Spielberg's " The Post," Ridley Scott's "All the Money in the World" and Rian Johnson's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which I hear is a breathtaking spectacle. 

Embargoes have prevented me from speaking more about the film, but more will be written when it lifts on the 13th.