Monday, December 19, 2011


I don't want to speak too soon, but I think I saw the best film of the year over the weekend...

Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a triumph, a beautiful, exquisitely crafted, heartfelt love letter to Paris and the movies themselves. It's also on the very short list of movies in which I feel the use of 3-D is not only appropriate, but absolutely thematically justified. I'd add on top of that that Scorsese is on the short list of filmmakers (a list that, really, has only one other member, James Cameron) who actually took the damn time to learn how to shoot and execute 3-D correctly.

Of course, it's Marty Scorsese. The film was going to be beautiful, but he's also grasped what so many others do not (no matter how much time Cameron's spent talking about it). You have to blow out the colors when shooting in 3-D, you have over-light, because the process itself saps the brightness of the picture. Scorsese gets it, as well as 3-D best use, in adding depth to the image. As Hugo travels around the walls of the Paris train station, Scorsese allows steam and various mechanical props to hover between his camera and actors. Through this we feel the claustrophobia and isolation of Hugo's life.

There's other elements that make the use of 3-D absolutely fitting, as well, but I kinda hate to give it away.

Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo (Asa Butterfield - now cast as Ender in Ender's Game) is a Orphan who worked with his now-disappeared uncle maintaining and winding the clocks in the train station after his father's death. Now Hugo is alone, continuing to work on the clocks, while stealing what he needs to survive form the station shopkeepers.

He meets Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) who is under the charge of the station toyshop proprietor, Papa Gorges (Sir Ben Kingsley). Together they try to solve the mystery of an automaton that Hugo's father (Jude Law) had found and was trying to repair. The machine is designed to write, and Hugo is convinced it will reveal a message from his father.

It's a simple story, but with lots of room for Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan to build the world of the station. We see the lives of the shop proprietors in exactly the right amount. They feel real and full and vibrant, without derailing the story. Sacha Baron Cohen does truly fine, subtle work as the station inspector, obsessed with hunting down the orphans and urchins that scamper through the station. What could've been a fairly one-note, slapstick character grows deeper and deeper as we follow the story.

There is a turn the story takes that has been fairly openly discussed, but, frankly, I feel like the reveal is one of the joys of the film. If you want to know, a quick internet search will reveal it, if you want to know. Frankly, it reduced me to tears, and the film continued to build on the feeling exqusitely as it played out.

In moments, you will realize why Scorsese would be interested in, and so, so lovingly craft this story. You see why 3-D is such a wonderful, touching choice. Most of all you begin to realize that Hugo may be one of  Martin Scorsese's most personal works of filmmaking. It's beautiful on almost every level, the work of a master craftsman with a deep investment in the subject he's bringing to life.

I have no doubt that Hugo will be lodged firmly in my top ten for 2011, and, right now, it's the one you have to beat if you want the top slot. Absolutely, deeply and wholeheartedly recommended.

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