Hugo

27 Jan

Title: Hugo
Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan, based on the novel by Brian Selznick
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emily Mortimer, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths
MPAA Rating: PG, mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Runtime: 126 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Metacritic: 83

 

It’s taken me forever, I know, but I finally got to see Hugo, two days after it racked up the most Oscar nominations of any film, but now I’ve seen the film and it was seriously worth the wait. People were kind of skeptical when Martin Scorsese announced his next film would be an adaptation of a popular novel aimed mostly at children, and done in 3D at that, one that would carry a PG rating (the first film of his to do so since 1993’s The Age of Innocence), one that would be the director’s first film without his recent muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, since 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead and one that, it would seem, was as far off from the legendary director’s comfort zone as you could imagine. And it’s true, this is unlike anything the man has ever done, prompted by his youngest daughter, Francesca, do finally make a film that she could see and enjoy, and yet, in many ways, this is an incredibly personal film from my favorite director of all-time. It’s also easily the best film of all 2011.

I say Hugo is in many ways the most heartfelt and personal Scorsese film ever because it’s just bursting through the seams with the unabashed love for the art of cinema that defines the man. Part of the reason as to why Martin Scorsese is my favorite director ever is not only because he makes the best films one could hope for, which he does, but also because it’s infectious to see how he gets when he starts talking about films from other people, he’s like a little boy speaking about his favorite toy, just super excited, talking a thousand miles an hour; a film-lover first and a film-maker second. This love has always been evident, especially in his founding of The Film Foundation back in 1990, a non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation, something incredibly close to Mr. Scorsese’s heart, but in Hugo he manages to finally make a love letter to the world’s greatest art form, a beautiful and elegant film that has an innocence and heart that beat with his love for cinema, one of the characters here is even the inventor of film himself, Georges Méliès.

Wondrous is the word that probably best helps define Hugo, especially if you, like me, are a true cinephile. Because if you have even the slightest sense of love for films then this film will certainly do the trick for you; it’s like you have a guy who’s been loving films for half a century, who has studied every era of it and is insanely well-versed in it and who now has decided to create a film himself that encapsulates that love for the magic of an artform he has helped define himself; this is a film for us to treasure for years to come. Watching Hugo is an experience in and of itself, it’s thoroughly magical, purely innocent (which is a quality that’s insanely hard to pull off in today’s world) and helmed by the only man who could have been up to the task.

Unabashed love for film history mixed in with personal history from the director results in a beautiful film that’s serious and yet open to the fun of life at the same time, an adventure centered around the resourceful titular boy, played incredibly well by the young Asa Butterfield, a boy on a quest to unlock a secret his father left him some time ago. It’s like a poem with beautiful verses, a look at the power of cinema, the possibilities it gives us in life and the magic of it all; a masterpiece that is patient with its story, letting it come through slowly but beautifully, melding the gorgeous visuals with some truly heartfelt moments. And yet it’s still a children’s movie, a fable that will be enjoyed by (some) kids while (every) grown-up that takes them to theaters will be in awe about how the most talented cinephile has been given the tools and budget to make a film about films. It’ll be a while before I become a father myself, but for some reason I know this will be one of the first films I show my firstborn, and I can’t wait.

It’s really neat, too, to see Martin Scorsese, he of super violent gangster movies with the awesome soundtracks, produce a film that’s so emotionally strong. It comes from his love of cinema, from his love of his daughter who has helped him see the world, and thus films, through a different, more kinetic set of eyes. Hugo lives in Paris during the 1930’s, teaching himself about the workings of several mechanical artifacts, a love of which that comes from his family, his uncle being in charge of the clocks at a Parisian train station and his father having spent most of his life trying to complete an automaton, which is a self-operating robot. Hugo’s dad, however, dies before ever completing his work on the automaton. Instead of going to live as an orphan, Hugo stays hidden in the train station, the ladders and passages and clocks of the locale being his new home as he feeds himself off croissants he gets to pick off shops and sneaks into the movies whenever he can.

The performance that the young Asa Butterfield delivers, by the way, is another thing of wonder, and how he didn’t garner up more awards traction I don’t really get, he is the soul of the movie, and his interactions with the rest of the incredibly talented cast are awesome to watch. That cast includes Sacha Baron Cohen in a scene-stealing role as the Station Inspector who’s always on Hugo’s tail, chasing him through the traveler-crowded floors of the station and from whom Hugo always eventually escapes, getting refuge above the station’s roof. There’s also Jude Law as Hugo’s father seen through flashbacks, leaving behind his notebooks on how to finish the automaton. And the great Chloë Moretz, another insanely talented young actress, as Isabelle, a curious girl who also lives in the station and who Hugo quickly befriends.

There also is, of course, a great performance by the great Ben Kingsley as Méliès himself, now a grumpy old man who owns a toy shop in the station, something that did actually happen in real life. Hugo, obviously, doesn’t know who this man is, he doesn’t know he was the magician who pioneered film in order to trick his audiences, he doesn’t know he is the original inventor of automatons. The first half of the film (it runs for a bit over two hours) is all about Hugo and how he goes through life at the station, and how Mr. Scorsese uses technology to create the station and his shots of Paris is stunning, the art direction by Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo is impeccable as well, as is the cinematography by Robert Richardson. And watching the adventures of Hugo is tremendous fun and would make for a great film as it is, but it’s once we get to the second half of this film that this becomes the masterpiece that it is.

That second half of the film is more concerned with the life of Méliès, going back to showing parts of his career, of the early history of film that any true cinephile will go gaga for considering this is being done Martin Scorsese, who not only is a lover of film, but who, as we can evidence from the documentaries he has made, knows how to tell a real person’s story. We see how the old man now working at a toy shop once helped create the world’s first special effects, helped pioneer cinema and we see him then realize that he’s not been forgotten, but that, after being driven out of the cinema and stumbling into poverty, he was widely celebrated as a master of his craft around the world. There are some scenes in which Mr. Kingsley just shines, heartbreaking to see this man so sure that his work had been destroyed, that he had been forgotten.

It’s amazing the effect Hugo has, what it does with your imagination, how many times you’ll be left in literal awe, your jaw dropped, at what an old-school guy like Martin Scorsese is doing with the newest of technologies. It is the most beautiful ode to film imaginable, and even if it didn’t count with this amazing technology, it would be amazing just based on the story it presents, it’s a film made for kids that has two of the best performances given by younger actors in the past decade or so, and that in its young characters has kids that are actually smart and not just there to make poop jokes like in most family films we get today. Everything about this film is sheer perfection, from the directing, to the acting, to the editing (done as always by Mr. Scorsese’s usual collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker), to the art direction, cinematography, costume design and sound. Hugo is the best film of 2011, and here’s hoping the Academy too recognizes that.

Grade: A+

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