Director Martin Scorsese ditches his penchant for crime thrillers and instead outdoes himself with this heart warming and highly picturesque family adventure.

If I am allowed to be a little subjective here, I can tell you that Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese are two of my favorite directors, but for different reasons. In terms of what they do for cinema, I can’t think of a similarity in their films, except that they are film makers with passion, vision and dedication. At the time of writing this, Spielberg and Scorsese are at opposite ends of the rope, with the Oscar for “Best Picture” in the middle. As directors, it becomes irrelevant who wins. However, when you consider Scorsese’s Hugo with Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, even seasoned critics will find it hard to choose between the two. Up until the point when I actually watched these two films, I was, like a million others, questioning the choice of “Best Picture” nominees for the 2012 Academy Awards. Before I tell you why Hugo is a prime contender, let me say that for a year that was not really the best in cinema, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in my opinion, has considered the heart and soul of cinema in comparison to what cinema has evolved into today.

In comparison to his previous films, Scorsese fans are in for a totally different experience with this film. Based on Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we follow the titular character’s adventures in repairing an automaton, a mechanized invention left behind by his deceased father. Orphaned and living alone, 12 year-old Hugo lives within the walls of a Paris railway station, maintaining various clocks and stealing food for existence. Fixated at repairing the automaton, Hugo has to retrieve a book that shows how, having first lost it to a bitter old man called Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). Befriending Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), Hugo begins a journey of discovery and quest, but must do everything he can to evade capture by a pesky railway inspector hell-bent on sending him to an orphanage.

As a director and film maker, Scorsese has not only outdone himself, he has severely raised the bar in the art of storytelling. Nominations for art direction and cinematography are easily justified with visually stunning aesthetics of 1930’s Paris. Having watched the 2D release, I can’t comment on what to expect with the 3D version. However, production design is one of the best; a feat that I feel has outdone the art direction in Anonymous. Character portrayals are another big tick mark when considering the story revolves round the lives of just a few key people. With just under three films to his credit, Asa Butterfield is impressive in his titled yet heart-warming role as a boy saddened by the loss of his father, but goes on to become a catalyst in awakening self-worth in a stranger. Reciprocating this kinship is Kingsley in another fine performance, where his Georges Méliès is constantly evolving throughout the movie. Playing a World War I veteran turned railway inspector, Sacha Baron Cohen is the comic relief, albeit with an antagonistic touch, but one that is a far cry from Borat and the revolting Bruno. Good choice in casting and I hope Cohen is seen in similar roles, given his unique talent as a comedian. Also nicely done are roles from Chloë Moretz and Helen McCrory, with shorts from Christopher Lee and Jude Law.

 As a family adventure, this film is structurally intact except for a glaring flaw. Set as a period piece in 1930’s Paris, there is hardly any French dialogue, and worse, absolutely no French accent from any of the characters. Am I missing something here? Why go to great lengths to make an epic film in ‘30s France but have all actors sport a British accent? This flaw aside, every other aspect works in favour of making this a remarkable film. Apart from stunning visuals, fine acting and a well narrated story, the heart of this film lies in the homage it pays towards movies as an art form. Call it a movie within a movie; its essence stems from celebration of life and realization of dreams, through a medium we love so much – The movies.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.