Martin Scorsese’s Hugo balances the sublime hope of childhood against the disappointed romantic vision of post world war one Paris. Based on Brian Scelznick’s brilliant The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese’s Hugo is touching without being maudlin, humourous while avoiding slapstick and most of all it is magical.
Easily the best cinematic offering of 2011 Hugo features the talents of Asa Butterfield (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Merlin) in the title role of Hugo. Butterfield is convincingly earnest and wonderfully raw as in the role of the orphan Hugo whose father has been killed in a fire. Opposite Butterfield in the role of Isabelle is Chloë Grace Moretz (500 Days of Summer, Let Me In) who matches Butterfield for passion and talent while bringing an easy grace into both Hugo’s life and that of the filmgoer. In typically superlative fashion Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Shutter Island) portrays the true story of the great filmmaker Georges Méliès who was indeed a candy and toy vendor in Montparnasse station in the late 1920’s. In what has to be the most understated and well executed role of his life Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) portrays the stuffy martinet of a station inspector intent on getting as many children as possible sent to orphanages.
Visually Hugo is stunning and cinematically it is the only good argument for the use of 3D outside of Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. In both cases 3D was not the movie it was incidental to the movie and added to it but it was not in and of itself a character. The near seamless storytelling technique of Martin Scorsese touches on everything Hugo needs to touch on: the love of film, love of a boy for his father, love of the theatre, love of books and a passion for belonging. Aside from the direction, obvious special effects and 3D work worthy of note are superb costuming, makeup and sound. Hugo is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart. This tale of a boy all alone in the world who not only finds himself but through his passion helps others to find themselves is deserving of a place in everyone’s personal movie collection. If there are no Academy Award nominations for this movie in the categories of best movie, best direction, best special effects, best costume, best makeup, best supporting actress, best supporting actor, best cinematography, best sound and best sound effects then there is something seriously wrong with the academy.