The Academy Awards are coming Sunday, and the category I’m most anticipating is Best Picture, because I want to be able to swoon with delight when the upset of all upsets is announced… Martin Scorsese’s Hugo!
Something in my gut tells me that the Academy will present the award to The Artist, but Hugo really deserves the statuette, and not just because I think it’s probably the best-made film among the nominees, but because it’s also a wonderful lesson in film history.
Scorsese’s long been a passionate advocate for film preservation, so it’s no surprise that he would take this subject to make his first “family” movie. It’s beautifully acted and wonderfully designed, and here the veteran director shows everyone how to make a 3D movie. I felt like I was inside a snow globe while I was watching it—just wonderful.
Asa Butterfield is Hugo, an orphan who lives secretly in the walls of a Paris train station and keeps all the clocks running (a job his uncle, who’d mysteriously disappeared, used to perform). He steals what he needs from the various shops in the place, and runs afoul of one of the vendors (Ben Kingsley), an elderly man who sells clockwork toys. He needs parts from the toys to finish rebuilding an automaton that his clockmaker father had been working on when he died in a tragic lab explosion.
The shopkeeper accuses Hugo of stealing and takes away his notebook filled with sketches and schematics for the automaton. He seems to recognize it and demands to know where the boy got it. Hugo refuses to say, so he tells him he’s going to burn it as punishment. In his efforts to retrieve the book, he becomes acquainted with the man’s granddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), an orphan herself, and their adventure begins.
What begins as a mystery about a lonely little boy and an automaton becomes a film about the love for film, a project ideally suited for Scorsese. Of course, the shopkeeper is Georges Méliés, father of special-effects movies, now forgotten and down on his luck. Kingsley is wonderful as Méliés, as is the rest of the cast. Butterfield is ideal as Hugo, and Moretz, who won me over as the vampire in Let Me In, is perfectly charming here. Helen McCrory is moving as Jeanne, Méliés’ devoted wife and former star. Even Sacha Baron Cohen is less annoying than usual.
In various smaller parts are Jude Law (as Hugo’s father), The History Boys‘ Richard Griffiths and Frances De La Tour, the great Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer and Ray Winstone.
It’s not surprising that Scorsese would hit a home run with this film. He’s broken genre boundaries before. In 1974, he made a “woman’s film” that everyone could enjoy—Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which earned Ellen Burstyn the Academy Award for Best Actress. And The Last Waltz, about the Band’s final concert, is considered to be right up there with Woodstock as one of the best music documentaries ever made.
Still, coming from a director whose characters usually end up ventilated instead of fulfilled, it’s amazing how well he handles this material. Kudos too go to John Logan’s adaptation of Brian Selznick’s book and Howard Shore’s lush score. And the 3D recreations of Méliés’ films are just astounding.
I know The Departed wasn’t that long ago, but I can’t think of a film more deserving than Hugo for the Best Picture trophy this year. I mean—Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? War Horse? Yeesh. I also hope that Brad Pitt derails the Clooney bandwagon and wins for Moneyball. I mean, I like Clooney and The Descendants was a perfectly serviceable TV movie with a standard-issue Clooney performance, but Pitt was terrific and muti-dimensional as Billy Beane in a film that could have been stultifying but was wildly entertaining instead.
I’d also like to see Christopher Plummer win for Beginners. I didn’t see any of the pictures with Best Actress nominations, but it’d be nice to see Viola Davis or Michelle Williams take the trophy instead of Streep’s cartoony-looking performance. I don’t feel strongly about any of the Supporting Actress nominees except that I’ll give a head-slap and side-eye if Melissa McCarthy wins for her scenery-chewing performance in the flatulent Bridesmaids.