Wednesday, January 4, 2012


2011 was, actually, not all that bad of a year for movies, I think.  Now that its 2012, everybody else on Earth is looking back at the year that passed, and some of the opinions were really negative.  I, personally, was ready to call 2011 an unmitigated disaster, but honestly, there were a lot of good movies this year.  In fact, my final 'Best Of' list will probably have more movies than 2010, there were plenty of great films, you just needed to know where to look.  I won't make my final list until I've seen a few more movies, but its coming soon, trust me on that.

After "The Tree of Life" I was feeling really depressed about movies.  A lot of people, including several critics I actually trust, loved this movie, including MovieBob, who called it the best film of the year.  Its a real punch in the balls to see the Worst Film Ever and then see it heaped with high praise, and an eventually Best Picture nomination.  When a movie that subverts the entire medium's purpose and makes mockery of the work of filmmakers for decades is beloved by so many critics, you have to wonder what its all for.  Then "Hugo" comes around and well, this is exactly what its all for.  "Hugo" is a beautiful movie, as good as everybody is saying.  I bet somebody at Pixar right now, briefly ignoring their pots of ill-gotten "Cars 2" gold is watching this movie right now, kicking themselves in the foot for having not made this movie.  This is the Pixar movie the world was conned out of in 2011, only brought to us by the most unlikely director, mobster movie director, Martin Scorsese.

Unfortunately, for me, "Hugo"'s praises have been sung already by just about everybody.  I mean, what the heck do I have to add?  Its amazing, plain and simple, as good as a movie can be.  A great family movie that connects beautifully-created characters to the very genesis of the movies themselves.  So its really good, and you should see it, preferably immediately.

I should qualify this review with one bit first:  I missed the first twenty minutes of "Hugo".  Unfortunately, in order to reach the only theatre in Hudson County playing "Hugo", we had to traverse across something like half a dozen towns in rough urban traffic.  And the Mapquest directions were crap, giving an unbelievably optimistic twenty minutes of drive time when the truth is at least double that.  But luckily this story does have a hero:  me.  I have a near perfect sense of direction and so was able to lead our little group all the way to Edgewater, using nothing but the good fortune of a grid-street layout and pure instinct.  However, we still missed the first twenty minutes of the movie, which luckily isn't super important to understanding the other hour and a half.  Thank God that movies these days open with at least a dozen commercials or we might have been really lost.

We also saw the movie in 3D, because there was no other choice.  It was either see "Hugo" in 3D or watch "War Horse" or something.  The 3D effects clearly have a lot of work put into them, just about every shot has 3D, and the movie is very lovely.  But as always, 3D adds nothing to the experience.  Maybe just a superficial shine of extra dimension, but if the screen were flat, this movie would still have been great.

Set in 1931 Paris, the film stars child-actor, Asa Butterfield, the result of years of mad science experiments to clone Elijah Wood circa "The Good Son".  Like young Elijah Wood, Asa Butterfield (who has the most poetic name of any actor ever) is a brown-haired boy with shining blue eyes, who brings a mixture of innocence and intense shyness to his role he's fantastic.  Asa Butterfield (its as fun to type as to say!) is great as the title Hugo Cabret, an orphan boy living in a French train station all alone because his father and uncle have both died.  Not knowing where to go with his life, Hugo keeps on running the clocks, and keeps fixing the machines like he's always done.  He also has a broken robot that Hugo is trying to fix in order to find a secret message from his deceased father.

I love the robot's face in this movie.  It has a deep soulful face like the robot from the famous silent film, "Metropolis"*.  Is it sad, is it happy?  You really can't tell.  The robot is nothing but a plot device to embody the running mystery plot but instead of simply putting a piece of paper in a box, they created a beautiful set piece.  And yeah, they had robots back in 1931, and even years before, ones that ran literally like clockwork because you just wound them up and did their functions.  The robot in "Hugo" is able to draw a very complex piece of art, and the filmmakers really did build this machine to actually work.  No CGI.

The broken robot is also an allegory for Hugo's own place in the world.  Nobody knows what the robot is going to do if fixed, and Hugo himself doesn't know what his place is.  To Hugo, the entire world is a giant machine, and all things in it are parts serving a purpose for the final whole.  But what is Hugo here to do?  What is any of us?  The entire movie continues to reinforce this theme, as the entire cast is basically answering this question for themselves.

During the movie, Hugo finds a girl, Isabelle, who works at the train station's toy store with "Papa George".  The girl is the second lead of the movie, working to break through Hugo's antisocial personality and eventually join together to solve the mystery of the robot and her adopted father, George Melies.  Isabelle, by the way, is played by Punch Girl or whatever her name was from "Kick-Ass", and she's still a great actress.  The George Melies character is played by Ben Kinglsey, who despite his recent disastrous career choices like "BloodRayne", "Prince of Persia", and "The Love Guru", managed to get one more great film into his storied resume.  George Melies, of course, is the legendary silent film director, one of the first men to make a film with a plot.  He directed "Le Voyage dans la lune", the first ever SciFi film, and hundreds of other primitive movies.  Melies was a pioneer in a new art, one of the key men who made movies movies.  Of course, Melies was unsung in his own time, and he went through a very dark period in unknown poverty.  Hugo and Isabelle have to work together to make George Melies realize that he is indeed a brilliant artist beloved by many.

(By the way, this leads to an interesting first thing for me:  I've actually taught classes on George Melies to my students, and showed them Le voyage dans la lune.  They hated it, by and large.  Sad ending.)

Sacha Baron Cohan adds the comic flair to the movie, working as a bizarrely aggressive train conductor, Inspector Gustav.  I couldn't help but think that this guy has wandered out of a Studio Ghibli movie that has yet to be made, he's such a cartoony character with his wild mustache and French arrogance.  I'm reminded of Donald Curtis, the American flyboy from "Porco Rosso".  Inspector Gustav limps around on a lame leg, captures little orphans, and clowns around trying to woo a flower girl with a nasty smile.  Sacha Baron Cohan is an actor who can create very funny and memorable characters, but his movies overplay those characters.  They work better as supporting roles in bigger, more serious movies.  This is easily his best role yet.  And despite the odd cartooniness, he added some color to this film.  He might seem out of place, but he gave great dimension.

If I must complain about anything, its the color pallet.  Once again, its a blue and orange contrast.  EVERY FUCKING MOVIE uses this contrast.  At least Terrence Malick avoided this one annoying trope.  I have no idea why Scorsese would do this, other than to be trendy.  In "The Aviator", Scorsese   It definitely doesn't fit as an homage to old silent movies, they, ironically, often had much more sophisticated pallets because the directors painted every frame.  I don't get why the blue-orange thing is so beloved, it makes no sense, and it detracts from the movie.

Oh, also Christopher Lee is in this movie.  That's always awesome.

So in the end, "Hugo" was seriously good.  Easily one of the best movies of 2011, and the best movie that everybody seems to be considering for Oscar Season**.  If you need further convincing:  this movie is too good to win Best Picture.  Movies with this level of pure quality and manage to take us away to a far off land are not Best Picture winners.  And we should be glad that Martin Scorsese made such a huge gamble late in his career to make what is basically a family fantasy film, so far away from his typical genre.  It was a great gift, that everybody can love.

And its the perfect cure to the post-"Tree of Life" blues.

* I really need to see "Metropolis" one of these days.  Its the granddaddy of all SciFi films, so I should have some kind of reaction to it.  I saw the anime remake, which was okay, but definitely not Fritz Lang.

** "Drive", the true best movie of 2011, is apparently going to be snubbed by the Oscars if the pundits can be believed.

1 comment:

  1. Well at least you can rest knowing that in a alternate timeline Pixar did make this movie. you should pick up the book if you can although it drags in some places.- the 1 & only uzuki