Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a phenomenal piece of filmaking that comes close to transcending the medium to which it pays such sumptuous homage. Reflecting on it and writing about it is kind of like trying to tell someone why Van Gogh's The Starry Night is a masterpiece. Yes, one could talk about color and brush strokes, but in the end, the work's greatness is intrinsic and beyond itemization. To attempt to do so would be tedious, pedantic and, frankly, insulting to the work.

And, yet, Scorese's Hugo is rich in (1) cinematic ingenuity (his now famous seemingly endless tracking shots have been bested here and the 3D technology is so beyond brilliant it's truly intimidating), (2) narrative intelligence (the film weaves history and fantasy and pathos and comedy seamlessly) and (3) authentic humanity (not an ounce of sticky sentimentality to be found). During the last reel I felt both exhausted and genuinely inspired.

Hugo is the story of a young orphaned French boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a train station so that he might tend to the clocks as his uncle had but to do so he must elude the station's gimpy constable (Sasha Baron Cohen). Hugo has inherited his absent father's skills for fixing things (and, yes, indirectly people) even though Hugo himself feels badly in need of mending. The boy fixes a mechanical man that once belonged to the great French filmmaker Georges Melies (played by Ben Kingsley), a pioneer who is clearly a hero of Scorsese's. Therein lies the movie's adventure, a fabulous exploration into dreams and imagination and the nature of family. What an achievement. Oscar contender? Unquestionably.


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