Every once in awhile cinema has a stellar year: 1939, 1940, 1941, 1950, 1957, 1962, 1967, 1976, and 1994 spring to mind. I now feel confident that we can add 2011 to that esteemed list, primarily because of such films as The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, A Separation, In Darkness, and today’s entry: Hugo. Granted, some are better than others, but taken as a whole they serve to make 2011 one of the best years for film in almost two decades. It is my opinion that director Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is the standout production from this illustrious year.
Based on Brian Selznick’s 2007 novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Hugo is about an orphaned Parisian boy (Asa Butterfield) who keeps the Paris Gare Montparnasse Railway Station’s clocks moving. Apprenticed to his drunk, absentee uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo is an extremely lonely boy whose only friend appears to be a broken automaton (think Metropolis) that he and his father (Jude Law) were attempting to fix before Mr. Cabret was killed in a fire. To attain parts to the automaton, Hugo steals them from the railway station’s toymaker, Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who begrudgingly befriends the boy after witnessing his mechanical acumen. Hugo also become friends with Méliès goddaughter and ward, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who happens to possess the key (quite literally) to fixing the automaton. Once fixed, the automaton draws the now iconic symbol of the spaceship in the eye of the moon from A Trip to the Moon (1902). The children set off to discover what the drawing means, and this adventure leads them to discover that the toymaker was once one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. There’s much more to the story, but I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.
Scorsese, along with acclaimed cinematographer Robert Richardson (who won an Oscar for this film), shot Hugo is 3-D. My words can not do justice to the sheer beauty of what they put up on the screen. Without a doubt this is Scorsese’s visual masterpiece, it is a shame that he didn’t win a Best Director Oscar, but obviously the Academy was in love with The Artist in 2011. From the shots of the interworking of the clocks to the spectacular railway shots, everything seems so much crisper and fluid than what I’ve seen in other 3-D films. Hugo deservedly won five Academy Awards for its visual and audio mastery: cinematography, art direction, visual effects, sound editing, and sound mixing. The only technical award that it didn’t win was for film editing, which went to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (I haven’t seen this yet, so I can’t make a judgment on which deserved the Oscar more).
But this movie isn’t just visually stunning, it also has an engaging and endearing story. Watching all of the plot elements come together at the end was perhaps a bit oversentimental, but still highly enjoyable. For a film filled with so many emotionally (and in one case, physically) broken people Hugo never becomes overburdened by melancholy. I was especially pleased with the care Scorsese and Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan took in developing Méliès’s backstory. Yes, they took a few historical licenses in this depiction, but for the most part they were fairly accurate. Few directors have as much reverence for the history of film as Scorsese. By inserting clips of the most important films prior to 1931 (when this story takes place) Scorsese showcases the grandeur of early cinema. On a side note, I must thank The 1001 Book for my ability to recognize just about every film referenced in Hugo.
In addition to outstanding visuals and a moving story, Hugo is also loaded with a number of standout performances. Both Butterfield and Moretz show great range for such young actors. Butterfield, in particular, has what is known as screen presence (of course, that could have been an added advantage to being shot in 3-D). Not surprisingly, Kingsley is mesmerizing as Méliès. If you’ve seen any old photos of the famed director then you know the make-up department did a fantastic job transforming Kingsley into Méliès. The most surprising performance came from Sacha Baron Cohen as Inspector Gustave. Who knew that the man who created such idiotic caricatures as Borat, Ali G, Bruno, and General Aladeen, could play a complete buffoon with so much restraint? I have to admit I was completely shocked by how nice of a job he did with this role.
I could go on and on about how much I liked Hugo, but I expect you are tired of reading (if you’ve made it this far), so I’ll end by saying that it is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last ten years. It is truly a monumental piece of cinematic vision.
Kim - I am so glad you loved this film! It is such a treat (especially for movie lovers). It hits all the marks, is perfectly cast, looks beautiful and is a fantastic tribute to Scorsese's love of film. I was so upset that he did not win for Best Director last year. Great review.ReplyDelete
FC: we are in agreement, how could Marty be snubbed with a film like this? Perhaps it's because he has made so many great films--people just expect it now. LOL!Delete
That is such a wonderful commentary on a movie I really enjoyed. Melies is one of my old heroes with such a tragic story. "Hugo" pays homage to him and all old cinema in a way that deeply touching but also uplifting. I loved the praise the film enthusiasts give Melies in the end and I thank Scorsese for making this film. And yes, it is a beautiful film to look at.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the positive feedback, TS. It was great to hear that tribute to Melies--I'm sure Scorsese had a lot to do with that.Delete
This was my number two film of all of 2011. The Artist was number one, but it might almost be more accurate to simply refer to them as numbers 1 and 1A.ReplyDelete
I really enjoyed this film, although I did not see it in 3D. In fact, I had a bit of an adventure finding a 2D version to see in the theaters. I wrote about it in my review and got an immediate challenging comment from a 3D supporter. If you're curious, you can read it here:
When my nephew bought a 3D TV he asked me for advice on what movies to get and I suggested this one because I had heard the effects were good in it (plus I loved the movie). I finally visited him and he popped this movie in to show me what it looked like. It was interesting, but less than 10 minutes in I was already getting a headache from the 3D fakeout on my eyes.
When I first started watching 3-D it had the same effect on me. Now that I'm a veteran at it I've become pretty immune to it. I even play my video games in 3-D when available.Delete
I liked Hugo much more than The Artist, Heck, I liked In Darkness more than it, too.
I almost never see current films, but this is one I do want to see. I have heard only great things about it.ReplyDelete
Try to see it in 3-D if you can, Patti.Delete
Fun Story: I almost didn't see Hugo because I read Light Camera Jackson's negative review of it, and I worried that the movie would bore me to sleep. However, when it was nominated for 11 Oscars, and was praised by the wonderful Roger Ebert, I decided to go see it in 3D. I was blown away. This is an amazing film that truly captures the spirit of not only silent cinema but all of cinema in general. It's absolutely the best film of 2011, and one of the best films of the 2010s, matched only with Temple Grandin and Moonrise Kingdom. I'm so glad that you loved it as well.ReplyDelete
It's always been my view that you need to watch films for yourself. Reviews (mine included) are just one person's opinion.Delete
I learned that lesson the hard way.Delete
As many have, Matt. LOLDelete
I absolutely adore this movie - have seen it twice, which isn't near enough. It is pure magic about the magic of movies. And I completely agree with you about Sacha Baron Cohen's performance; he almost steals the movie!ReplyDelete
I'm glad someone agrees about SB Cohen. I was surprised no one else commented on that.Delete
I also agree with you on 2011 being a great for movies. It might explain my strange obsession with War Horse and The Help.ReplyDelete
The Help is a good film--the jury's still out on War Horse, though.Delete