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'Hugo' prepares for the Oscars

By Sarah Choudhary
On February 8, 2012

  • Asa Butterfield shines in the eponymous role of this Oscar nominated film. Courtesy of usatoday.com

When Academy Award nominations were announced recently, many viewers were shocked to learn that "Hugo,"  a family film seen by few, had scored nods in 11 categories, more than any other movie. But those who saw the 3D adventure were not surprised, as Martin Scorsese's brilliant love letter to cinema is one of the best films of the year. 

Adapted from Brian Selznick's Caldecott-winning children's book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret,"  "Hugo" was marketed almost solely toward children, perhaps to its detriment. While it is ostensibly a PG-rated family film about a young orphan searching for a home, the film is truly meant to be a tribute to the magic of film that movie-lovers of all ages can appreciate. 

Set in a fantastical 1930's Paris train station, "Hugo" follows the journey of Hugo Cabret (brilliantly played by Asa Butterfield), a  young orphan who lives in a station clock tower and spends his days watching the world below, forever an outsider to events and people who have no interest in him. 

However, he soon meets a cantankerous windup toy salesman who will help him repair a mysterious machine—an automaton that is the only remnant Hugo has left to tie him to his father. 

Hugo soon discovers that the moody salesman (Ben Kingsley) is actually one of the pioneers of film:French filmmaker Georges Melies. With the help of Melies' niece, Isobel (Chloe Moretz), Hugo attempts to remind Melies of the magic and power of his early films. The advertising campaign wrongly focused on the child-friendly aspects of the film, such as its 3D effects or the orphan searching for a home storyline. However, the real heart of the film deals with Melies and the magic of movies. 

While Selzinck's book was written for children, Scorsese's film has found an older audience drawn to its engrossing storyline. Kingsley plays Melies as a broken man—an artist who had achieved remarkable success in a short span of time, completing nearly 500 films before the devastation of World War I. Unfortunately,  financial issues forced him into early retirement. 

During his career, Melies, a former magician, brought true magic to cinema in the form of ingenious and groundbreaking special effects. He was one of the first directors to use color in film, hand painting individual frames decades before Technicolor was perfected. In "Hugo," Scorsese pays tribute not only to Melies, but to other pioneers of early film, such as the great silent era comedians Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. 

For years, Scorsese has been an outspoken supporter of film preservation, and has helped found the Film Foundation, an organization committed to restoring and preserving classic cinema. In "Hugo," Scorsese was able to fit in an entire film appreciation lesson without ever slowing the pace of the film or becoming too pedantic. 

Scorsese, known for his gritty, violent films such as "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and, more recently, "Shutter Island," may not have been the expected choice of director to helm a 3D children's film, but he was a natural fit for the story.

As a child growing up in New York's Little Italy in the 1940s, he suffered from severe asthma which prevented him from joining neighborhood children in sports or games. His sanctuaries were the local cinemas, where he could experience new worlds daily. His love of film developed at an early age, and has grown immensely over the years. 

Scorsese embraced the 3D technology, and the special effects in" Hugo" are mesmerizing. The 3D is not used as a gimmick, but rather as an additional storytelling tool. One is drawn into the story with subtle effects, and there is never a jarring action scene meant merely to showcase the new technology.  "Hugo" is a visually stunning film with lush art direction that creates a rich, dreamy Paris, and a station filled with elaborate gears and cogs through which the camera glides. The soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore compliments the story beautifully, and the entire film moves with the precision of a well-oiled machine. 

"Hugo" is an intelligent, humorous and heartwarming film. It is one of the greatest films Scorsese has ever made, a remarkable feat from one of America's most talented directors. It earned 11 Oscar nominations, and is considered the front runner in many of the technical categories. If any movie were to put an end to the Best Picture aspirations of "The Artist," "Hugo" could score an upset win. Scorsese picked up a Golden Globe for Best Director, and the film won Best Director and Best Picture prizes from the National Board of Review, along with numerous other accolades. "Hugo" is the rare film  that children, and adults can enjoy.  It is a fitting tribute to one of the pioneers of cinema. 


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