Top Ten Movies of 2011 — Number Five

hugo title

I remember watching Martin Scorsese’s excellent 2004 outing The Aviator and feeling certain that scenes that revolved around subject Howard Hughes operated as an obsessed director in old Hollywood represented a peak of personal filmmaking. For all the amazing work in his filmography, Scorsese was usually addressing what he’d observed rather than what he experienced. He may have grown up around the guys who populated the mean streets of New York City, but he mostly watched them from his window when there wasn’t a handy movie as countering option. Little did I know there was an even keener, deeper expression of Scorsese’s self yet to come, and it arrived in the initially deceptive guise of one of the most unlikely projects imaginable from the director: a 3D movie aimed squarely at kids. Hugo follows the title character as his ekes out a hardscrabble orphan existence while keeping the clocks running in a Parisian train station. More importantly, it tracks the progress of the young man as he tries to discern the identity of the maker of a mechanical man while also fortuitously forging a fragile connection with an older man who runs a toy stand. The story opens up to become a consideration of the movie magic of pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès and, wonderfully enough, a testament to the vital value of film preservation. The depth of feeling is extraordinary, the visuals are relentlessly beautiful and the film virtually shimmers with the staggering possibility of the medium itself. Scorsese’s directing is as dynamic as it’s ever been, conceding nothing to the comparatively lightness of the story. There are no stories that are inherently small, after all. Méliès likely would have argued that. Decades later, Scorsese adds his assent with a truly blissful film.

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