It is astounding that a trite film such as The Artist has overtaken Hugo in the Oscar race. Here is Martin Scorsese, a well loved and respected director who has crafted some of the most memorable films of all time and with Hugo, he presents us with his most intricately crafted love letter to cinema. Beyond the elaborate sets, a charming boy lead and a melodramatic cheese at the core, Scorsese’s concern is more on the legacy of films. He pushes for preservation (that shot of negatives of Georges Meiles’s films slowly burning into footwear sustenance could be the most heartbreaking shot for most cinephiles), and gives us a reminder that films are ultimately the vessels for our dreams.
That fact alone distances Hugo in many leagues past The Artist, which is more concerned with star making and trifle entertainment. Both films evoke nostalgia, a reigning theme in this year’s Oscar race, but Hugo concerns itself more about cinema as an art form and how it changes lives.
In one scene, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) sneaks in into a theater with Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to watch her first movie (Harry Lloyd’s Safety Last) and suddenly, we are reminded of how it is to watch a movie for the first time, the sweeping feeling that sparks your love affair with cinema.
At the same time, Hugo manages to decimate Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close into mere tearjerk propaganda. Both films share a socially inept male kid as a lead but Hugo Cabret is way more likable than Oskar Schell. Scorsese doesn’t ram us with Hugo’s parental issues, seeking authoritative figures to fill in as Hugo’s guardians, including Christopher Lee as a slightly terrifying but affable bookseller. Both Hugo and Oskar go on a quest of sorts to reconnect themselves with their fathers but Hugo’s isn’t a vehicle for gimmickry and annoying characterizations that are supposed to be quirky.
I did like Extremely Loud in some parts. Sandra Bullock’s character is more subtle than the rest, a perfect antithesis to Oskar’s giddiness and probable Asperger’s-ridden angst. Max von Sydow diminishes the eye-rolling hand signals but it is more unfortunate that Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth relegates the story of Thomas Schell Jr. and his wife into the sidelines, which is a more involving story of loss during a tumultuous era.
It may be post-screening jitters but my vote for best picture goes to Hugo (but we all know that the award will go to The Artist). Because at the end of the day, it is our dreams that we come home to.