They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
What NYFF Told Us About the Oscar Race
By J. Don Birnam
October 26, 2017
With the end of the New York Film Festival, the early fall slate is complete and it is as good a time as any to take a look at where things may have shaken down since that last fest. We already saw how Telluride augured in contenders like Darkest Hour and Lady Bird, and how even TIFF surprised a little with festival acquisition I, Tonya, which surely has its eyes on some prizes. But what of our pals in the Big Apple?
New York: A Tale of Two Entries
The only true world premieres at NYFF this year were the Opening Night gala and the Closing Night gala. And while the Closing Night gala, Woody Allen’s Wonderwheel, probably will not go the way of past releases (think The Lost City of Z, which went nowhere, or that jazz movie whose name I can’t even remember), it still is not enough to make a lot of noise in the Best Picture race.
Last Flag Flying: Linklater is Back Without a Vengeance
Last year, after being a few outs away from winning the World Series against the Cubs, most predicted the Indians would come back with a vengeance and win it all this year, but it was not meant to be. Richard Linklater himself came oh-so-close, or at least such is the view amongst the intelligentsia, only to see his hopes dashed by Alejandro González Iñárritu’s band of Birdman misfits. I am not sure why of all things I thought of a baseball analogy, but it fits. Thus, while some may have thought that there was an IOU to Linklater after his crushing Boyhood loss, it just doesn’t work that way.
You have to have the goods, and while Last Flag Flying is good, it is purposefully quiet and lacks the emotional punch that the 12-year spanning movie had. The story centers around Steve Carell (who could get an Oscar nod in this weak Best Actor field) as he seeks to former buddies from the service while in Vietnam to help him bury his own son, who died in Iraq. The journey becomes a road trip of forgiveness about the past and philosophizing about the pointless nature of war. The movie is quietly and subtly political, but it is effective and does have an emotional conclusion.
Ultimately my prediction is the movie comes and goes Oscar night, a first for the NYFF after getting at least one if not multiple nods for its past six Opening Night galas.
Oscar Potential: Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Carrell), Best Editing
Wonderwheel: And So Is Woody Allen
Nor do I think Woody Allen is back with another winner a la Midnight In Paris or even Blue Jasmine, which at least netted a couple of Oscar nominations and a big win for its lead start. In Wonderwheel, Allen returns to New York, this time to that outer place called Coney Island, and returns to the 1950s setting he seemed to be hinting at with his last offering, Café Society. The film has a lot of the same tricks as many of his past movies, including the competition between two women for the same man (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), the mob playing a pivotal role (Café Society) and a boozy woman who is losing touch with reality (Blue Jasmine). Kate Winslet stars at the center of it all, the aging woman who falls in love with a younger guy while married to an unsatisfactory, dopey husband. She gives one of her best performances (and that is saying a lot), and is completely immersed and believable in this character. You may even find amusing the clever innuendos and reflections in the screenplay, the oh-shucks humor that has characterized Allen’s entire career.
But to say that he breaks no new ground is to put it kindly. The movie goes exactly where you think it’s going to go at every step. It is a remake, a rehash, a prequel, a sequel, a reboot of his entire body of work. He is content to do this, to work for the love of the art, and that is fine. But this won’t be his Starry Night or his Mona Lisa. It will be a lesser, later in life work that will be respected but not admired.
Oscar Potential: Best Actress (Winslet), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costumes