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Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn” Is The Closing Night Selection For The 2019 New York Film Festival

Throughout the week, the New York Film Festival has been announcing their top tiles for this year’s installment of the fest. I’ve been waiting for the final NYFF shoe to drop, and yesterday, it did. Around this time every year, NYFF has announced their Closing Night Selection, paving the way for the full slate to be revealed, so this is no huge surprise. Still, now we know, and it’s Edward Norton’s adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn that gets the nod. This represents the last of the big three titles for the festival, giving us a glimpse of what NYFF has up its sleeve. It joins Opener The Irishman from Martin Scorsese and Centerpiece Marriage Story from Noah Baumbach to present quite a trio this time around…

This is what the press release from the festival itself had to say, in part: In an unusually bold adaptation, writer-director Edward Norton has transplanted the main character of Jonathan Lethem’s best-selling novel Motherless Brooklyn from modern Brooklyn into an entirely new, richly woven neo-noir narrative, re-set in 1950s New York. Emotionally shattered by a botched job, Lionel Essrog (Norton), a lonely private detective with Tourette syndrome, finds himself drawn into a multilayered conspiracy that expands to encompass the city’s ever-growing racial divide and the devious personal and political machinations of a Robert Moses–like master builder, played by Alec Baldwin. Featuring a rigorously controlled star turn by Norton and outstanding additional supporting performances by Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Leslie Mann, and Cherry Jones, plus a haunting soundtrack (featuring a score by Daniel Pemberton, with orchestration by Wynton Marsalis, and an original song by Thom Yorke), Motherless Brooklyn is the kind of production Hollywood almost never makes anymore, and a complexly conceived, robust evocation of a bygone era of New York that speaks to our present moment.

New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “Edward Norton has taken Jonathan Lethem’s novel as a jumping-off point to craft a wildly imaginative and extravagant love letter to New York, a beautifully told hard-boiled yarn grounded in the mid-20th century history of the city. What a way to close the festival!”

“NYFF has been my hometown festival for nearly 30 years, and it’s consistently one of the best curated festivals in the world,” said Norton. “Every year I look forward to meeting up with old friends and colleagues to go watch the year’s best films in their program. NYFF always perfectly straddles everything I love about the movies. They balance serious audiences and thoughtful conversations about film with just the right level of glamour and celebratory fun. To have this particular film—which grew out of my love affair with New York—selected for Closing Night is just a huge thrill . . . a dream come true, actually.”

My friends, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, especially 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 a recent dry spell over the last three years (one that At Eternity’s Gate broke last year). Beyond that, it’s a solid haul more often than not. 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, The Lost City of Z, Miles Ahead, and Wonder Wheel in recent years are the exceptions that prove the rule). Below you can see what the past 18 years have looked like with this slot at NYFF, for comparison’s sake:

2018 – At Eternity’s Gate
2017 – Wonder Wheel
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 Motherless Brooklyn will fit in nicely with many of those honored titles, but that obviously remains to be seen as the year progress…

Stay tuned for lots more on Motherless Brooklyn 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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