Friday, December 23, 2011


Writer and director Michel Havanavicius' "The Artist" was a risk, a bold one that immensely pays off. It's a tribute to black and white silent cinema while in itself being a black and white silent picture. And one starring two French actors, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, unknown to American audiences. Most of all, the movie is largely a gimmick. But you can't help but get swept up in the way both thematically and technically the movie is a rousing achievement -- its devoted love to the era and its celebration of all things cinema.

Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a prolific silent film actor in 1927. He has a dazzling smile with impeccable comic timing, control of his body language and dance moves perfect for silent picture performances. His time in the motion picture business is soon up, however, when the dawn of the talkie arrives. There are moments when people refer to George's refusal to talk, and it holds a double meaning in his stubbornness to let go and move forward. The times are changing and leaving him behind.

Meanwhile, a chance encounter between George and a young wannabe actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is pivotal. She was in the right place at the right time and gets in line for a straight shot to fame. And while it was George who got her there -- penciling in a beauty mark on her upper lip the fans adore -- and begins falling for her, they part ways. Watching the way Peppy and George's story unfolds calls back to "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) about a silent actress whose voice wasn't fit for talkies.

Dujardin and Bejo are lovely to watch. Consider the ways I described George Valentin's perfect silent movie performance -- both leads do the same for their characters. It's an astonishing modern acting feat that will provide both of them worthy nominations come Oscar time. Imagine giving a wide range of emotion without uttering a word. Certainly you have to accentuate every gesture. In part to their performances, along with Hazanavicius' smart direction, the film feels like a replica of what came out of the era. It feels genuine, something carefully preserved and drawn out of a time capsule.

Just when you think "The Artist" is about to roll you over with its unrelenting charm, it takes a step back and brings insight into what used to make the movies so appealing, and what might have been lost over the years. The director and two leads are very French yet there are two supporting actors, John Goodman and James Cromwell, who are American. And yet wordless, they have a universality about them making them seamless together. And in the same vein, it's easy to forget you're watching a black and white silent movie and can just appreciate and enjoy it for what it is: a movie. It's a universal movie that audiences might be surprised to find themselves thoroughly applauding.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" begins with an opening credit sequence that's a jolt to the senses. Karen O's menacing cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" plays to figures dripping in black, disturbing yet provocative images of evil, a psychedelic and haunting anthem for the film's start. This opening gives Fincher's adaptation of the first entry in Stieg Larsson's internationally bestselling "Millenium Trilogy" a signature mark from a master director -- the one detail the 2009 Swedish original from director Niels Arden Opev lacked.

Neither version is better than the other, but each one definitely has a different feel. Fincher has an artistic eye behind the camera, an apparent love for all things grunge and gritty. This marks the director's return to pulpy crime noir such as "Zodiac" and "Se7en" after the likes of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Social Network." And it's a clearly welcome return as Fincher infuses the already established story with his own style and cinematic flourishes. The movie is better looking than the Swedish original thanks to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth who also worked on "The Social Network." But it's more than that -- Fincher and his screenwriter Steven Zaillian don't try to copy the original or reinvent it, and they certainly don't ignore it. They take an already established framework and add nuances both visually and emotionally.

The biggest draw of this story is, of course, the ambisexual gothic super hacker Lisbeth Salander. She's played here by Rooney Mara, an actress who stands up to the challenge and exceeds expectation. For one, she has the look down. With short, choppy black hair, gaudy piercings, scar-like tattoos, a pale complexion accented by barely-there eyebrows and an expressionless glare, Mara nails it. She had some big shoes to fill following just a year behind Noomi Rapace, but she is perfectly comparable with subtle differences. Mara's Lisbeth is more a feral animal always looking out for predators. She can sink her teeth into something if necessary, but there's that added layer of fragility and vulnerability that Rapace's Lisbeth lacked. Mara manages to capture even more complexity and creates a Lisbeth Salander all her own.

Immediately following a defamatory article in Millenium magazine written by Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), he gets slammed for libel sending him into recluse. The timing couldn't be any better when he's contacted by a representative of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the eldest of the large Vanger family clan. Mikael treks out to the secluded, wintry island owned by the Vanger family to hear about the disappearance and suspected murder of Henrik's 16-year-old niece. It's an unsolved case that has haunted Henrik for 40 years, and he hires Mikael to find Harriet's killer under the guise of writing his memoir. Henrik figures Mikael could use the time off from Millenium.

The procedural of uncovering new information on the cold case is a convoluted labyrinth as one could imagine, but Zaillian's script does the best job it can keeping everything straight. There was an accident on the bridge the day of Harriet's disappearance, so no one was able to enter or leave the island. This leaves only members of the Vanger family as suspects to Harriet's murder; however, all the research, newspaper clippings and old photographs seem to be leading Mikael to no conclusions. Isolated in his own chilly cottage provided by Henrik and gradually meeting each member of the Vanger clan, the looming dread becomes ever more apparent that Mikael is residing among a murderer. Even Henrik despises his family as some of them had (or still have) Nazi sentiments. Among the Vangers is an ominously cordial Stellan Skarsgard as Martin, Harriet's brother.

Running parallel to this is the plight of Lisbeth Salander dealing with a new guardian (Yorick van Wageningen). He is cruel, abuses her and is smug about thinking he can get away with it. In a scene staged with brutally naked violation, we are roused to side with Lisbeth solidifying her role as an avenging angel to the men who hate women. The film flickers back and forth between Mikael and Lisbeth until finally they're brought together working on the Harriet case. She joins him as a research assistant, and though they start off weary of each other -- Lisbeth by nature and Mikael because she did the extensive background check on him -- they generate an eccentric, downbeat chemistry. Daniel Craig as the scrappy left-wing journalist stands above Michael Nyqvist from the original with his confident charisma and sexuality although he doesn't attempt the Swedish accent as Mara does.

The film runs at 158 minutes and doesn't drag for a second. Also essential to Fincher's style is the return of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from "The Social Network" providing a musical score that seethes with white noise and creepy ambiance. There's always the question why did we need an English version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" immediately after the original was such a success? The answer is simple. We wouldn't have received another dark, riveting and complex piece of entertainment from David Fincher. He gives audiences a fresh new take, not a mere rehash. And it's filmmaking that benefits from the written words of Stieg Larsson at its core. It's a tale that plays with our terror and fascination of the unknown. It's about awaiting what human horrors will be uncovered next, what depravity in humanity exists and what is hidden behind closed doors.

Monday, December 19, 2011


While watching "My Week with Marilyn," you might find yourself feeling as if you're caught under a spell, a certain magnetism that you can't quite explain. Except that it can be explained. Like Marilyn Monroe herself, Michelle Williams is utterly hypnotic as the iconic screen goddess. The blond bombshell actress -- the woman everyone wanted to either be or be with in the mid-1950s -- had a personality that nobody could figure out, and the performance from Williams doesn't try to. Instead she emanates everything Monroe was about and what it must've felt like for anyone to be in her presence. There's the fact alone that being her was an act itself. In one instance she says, "All people ever see is Marilyn Monroe." Williams deserves an Oscar for embodying the actress effortlessly -- her effervescence, aloofness, mystery, grief and insecurity. She'll most certainly receive a Best Actress nomination.

The film follows the backstage proceedings of filming "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957) in Pinewood Studios, London. Starring alongside Marilyn Monroe in the picture is Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) who also served as director. One might think working with such a world-renowned celebrity would be a dream and the highest honor, but Olivier clashes with her almost immediately. He is all about proficiency and the technicality of filmmaking and has no patience for Marilyn. There's always a delay whether she's not feeling well, she's sick, hungover or too tired. She's never on time, and when she does arrive she trips over her lines and doesn't believe in the character she's playing. But when she finally gets it right, her screen presence sings.

Everyone working on the film fully knows Monroe is difficult, but only Olivier has the nerve and audacity to blow up about it to her face. Branagh gives an important performance here as a man who's a genius in the film industry but is hardly in love with it. And when forced to put up with Marilyn's behavior, this immovable object that everyone adores and loves -- he can't bear it. Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) is Marilyn's personal acting coach she brings along who coddles her, boosts her self-esteem and counteracts Olivier's direction. There's also Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) who understands the director's frustration but also knows how to delicately handle Marilyn's sensitivity.

The biggest focus, however, is on the relationship between Marilyn and the impressionable 23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who was the gofer on the project. The movie is based on his memoirs and gives the film a fascinating perspective. Colin landed in between the Olivier and Monroe camps taking note of everyone and letting the backstage pass experience soak in. This unique position also sparked Marilyn's interest in him to hear what everyone thought of her.

The film captures Marilyn's absolute allure, the light she radiated and what it must've been like for Colin when she kissed him and said she loved him -- even if she didn't mean it. Everyone warns Colin to not get himself involved, but instead of dating the nice wardrobe girl (Emma Watson's first role since playing Hermoine in the "Harry Potter" series), he becomes enraptured by Marilyn. Redmayne captures a naive awe that makes us feel what he must've felt in the era. The power of the film, and of course Williams' performance at its center, is the way it makes you believe this luminous woman's ability to have such a profound impact on people's lives.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The re-teaming of screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman proves "Juno" was no fluke. Their collaboration with "Young Adult" is inspired, a scalding black comedy about the queen bitch in high school and everyone's worst nightmare -- except now she's 37 and returning to her hometown. The movie is cynical and goes down like a sour shot, but it's the year's most unexpected surprise by breaking every rule in conventional Hollywood storytelling.

Mavis Gary is played by Charlize Theron in a ferocious and raw performance. She is a protagonist that is completely unlikable and unsympathetic. She is unpleasant, cruel, condescending, delusional and fueled by a keen sense of self-destruction. Yet what's so remarkable is the way Theron ever so casually makes us -- with the help of Cody's fearless writing -- feel for Mavis.

She is relatively successful having moved out of her Midwest town now living in an apartment in Minneapolis. She writes young adult novels for a popular series but really is just a ghostwriter -- and the series is no longer selling. Her apartment is a pigpen, she spends every night slamming back bourbon, every morning chugging liters of Diet Coke to cure hangovers and is destined to be single forever. And while she moved away and feels superior to anyone back home, she still puts more thought into them than she lets on. Then she receives a mass email from her high school sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who recently had a baby with his wife. Mavis immediately becomes obsessed with the idea of going home and stealing Buddy back.

When Mavis first gets into town, she has a run-in with Matt (Patton Oswalt), a chubby geek from high school whose life was ruined from being the target of a hate crime. The media paid attention to it until they found out he wasn't actually gay, just mistaken for being gay. Patton Oswalt's Matt is pivotal to the movie's success. He is the cushion for all of Mavis' impossibly reckless behavior and provides a perspective we can agree with. Well knowing the hilarity and absurdity of Mavis' pitch black predicament with Buddy, he also sees she is just as miserable as him even if she fails to realize it. We recognize a sadness that she doesn't know is there. She can think the only reason she's hanging out with Matt is because he's the only one in town, but in fact they share a connection.

"Young Adult" plays out in a series of incidents that will have you crawling in your skin. Patrick Wilson has a tough job as Buddy playing a really nice, well-meaning guy who's desperately trying to not to offend or embarrass Mavis. It is, in some ways, a better movie than "Juno." It's more complicated and a whole lot harsher placing Diablo Cody not just as pop-savvy but a screenwriter of importance. In Mavis we're watching a humiliating train wreck, but one that is treated with honesty. In such we can't help but derive a bit of truth out of it, and more than a few laughs.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

69th Annual Golden Globe Award Nominations

Unlike last year when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) included completely out-there nominees in the Best Comedy or Musical categories -- hello, "The Tourist" -- the films included this year are legitimate award contenders, which really makes things interesting.

Leading the nominees for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards were "The Artist" with six, "The Descendants" with five, and tied at four were "The Ides of March," "Midnight in Paris," "The Help" and "Moneyball."

The nominees for Best Picture Drama were "The Descendants," "The Help," "Hugo," "The Ides of March," "Moneyball" and "War Horse." The surprise here is the inclusion of George Clooney's "Ides of March" which otherwise hasn't been getting any awards attention. It'll be curious to see whether the acknowledgement from the HFPA here can bolster its chances at the Oscars. Probably not considering the snub for "Drive," which has great award presence elsewhere.

Notice the absence of "The Artist" above because it got included instead within the Best Picture Comedy or Musical category along with "Midnight in Paris," "50/50," "My Week with Marilyn" and "Bridesmaids."

The one I don't understand here is "My Week with Marilyn" because -- although I haven't seen it yet -- I'm willing to bet there's about as much humor in that as there is in "The Descendants," which was included in Drama. In any case, including movies here that have potential in other categories, too, edged out other worthy comedy or musicals such as "Crazy, Stupid, Love." and "The Muppets."

The split between Best Picture Drama and Best Picture Comedy or Musical has divided up big contenders that will otherwise be competing in the same category at the Oscars. Now "The Artist" has been completely removed from the equation against other films -- which is nice, giving others a chance such as "The Descendants" -- but it doesn't help in predicting what will take the top prize with the Academy.

Best Director is also a telling category. The HFPA really has faith in "The Ides of March" opting to include George Clooney in the list. Joining him were Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris," Martin Scorsese for "Hugo," Alexander Payne for "The Descendants" and Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist." No Steven Spielberg for "War Horse."

David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" got completely left out aside from a Best Actress nomination for Rooney Mara and another for Best Score. Even more curious was the complete absence of Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Does it have something to do with having such a late entry? Also absent is Gary Oldman and "Tailor Tinker Soldier Spy," which will most likely get redeemed through BAFTA awards.

Joining Rooney Mara for Best Actress Drama were nominations for Glenn Close for "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis for "The Help," Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady" and Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Where's Michelle Williams, you ask? She's included within the Best Actress Comedy or Musical category along with the film in which she starred. Joining her were two nominees from "Carnage," Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, and Kristen Wiig for "Bridesmaids." It's interesting that the HFPA went for Wiig over Melissa McCarthy who has the most Oscar pull.

The nominees for Best Actor Drama were Michael Fassbender for "Shame," George Clooney for "The Descendants," Leonardo DiCaprio for "J. Edgar," Brad Pitt for "Moneyball," and surprisingly enough, the HFPA went for Ryan Gosling in "The Ides of March" over his performance in "Drive." Swap out Gosling and throw in Jean Dujardin, and this could be our Best Actor Oscar race.

Dujardin instead appears in the category of Best Actor Comedy or Musical once again making it hard to decipher how he'll stand up to his competition at the Oscars. With him were Brendan Gleeson for "The Guard," Joseph Gordon Levitt for "50/50," Owen Wilson for "Midnight in Paris," and -- thank goodness! -- Ryan Gosling for "Crazy, Stupid, Love." Well deserved.

Albert Brooks marks the only "Drive" recognition with his nomination for Best Supporting Actor alongside Kenneth Branagh for "My Week with Marilyn," Viggo Mortensen for "A Dangerous Method," Christopher Plummer for "Beginners" and Jonah Hill for "Moneyball." Hill could have the potential at this point to make it to Oscar, but I have a feeling it's going to be another Mila Kunis for "Black Swan" and will get left off at the end.

Best Supporting Actress nominees included Berenice Bejo for "The Artist," Jessica Chastain for "The Help," Janet McTeer for "Albert Nobbs," Octavia Spencer for "The Help" and Shailene Woodley for "The Descendants." This very well could mirror the Best Supporting Actress race at the Oscars unless McCarthy can edge out McTeer.

And, finally, the HFPA decided to nominate "Cars 2" among the Best Animated Feature nominees. Why, exactly?

Check out the full list of nominations, and tune in to watch the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, January 15 at 8 p.m. on NBC!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


From writer/director Mike Mills ("Thumbsucker"), "Beginners" brings us possibly the most honest screen romance you'll see this year. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, a struggling artist, and Mélanie Laurent plays Anna, a French actress living out of a hotel room. Together they are a wonderful thing creating effortless chemistry out of damaged and completely humane characters. Their first meeting at a Halloween party is charming and understated as Anna has laryngitis and can't talk. Throughout the evening she communicates with Oscar by writing on a notepad. Their growing relationship works on the same quirkiness but, much like the movie itself, with an added layer of introspective contemplation asking the question what makes people truly happy.

One of the great pleasures of "Beginners" is the way it is simply watching people find their way to happiness, and you end up wanting them to succeed -- and they do. The screenplay skips back and forth through time like a swift, playful dance. Oscar just found out two life-changing things about his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer). He is terminally ill with cancer and has been gay his entire life including his 44-year-long marriage with Oscar's mother. "I don't want to just be theoretically gay," Hal tells his son. "I want to do something about it." And he does. All the while Oscar is caring for his father, he's getting involved in the gay community and dating a younger man. The film divides its time between this and after Hal passes away four months later when Oscar is seeing Anna. There are also further flashbacks showing Oscar's relationship with his overly eccentric mother who's crying out for attention while her husband is absent from their lives. This non-chronology reveals wholesomely rounded characters conveyed with sympathy and feeling.

Christopher Plummer's performance is getting award acknowledgement, and it's no wonder. As a late blooming gay man, Plummer allows his character to radiate his newly discovered open sexuality. You watch his performance knowing absolutely that Hal is gay but without being able to specifically place how exactly you can tell. It's a testament to the ability of the actor. And both Laurent and McGregor have nuanced performances to match as a couple afraid of their own commitment.

You know a writer/director has complete control over the tone and mood of his film and knows exactly at every step what he wants it to be when he can, without a hitch, include a talking dog and make it fit in seamlessly. The dog, Arthur, used to be Hal's and now under the ownership of Oscar he can never be left alone. Whenever Oscar leaves the house, Arthur whimpers and howls, so Oscar is forced to bring him wherever he goes -- a constant reminder of his father.

The soul of the movie lies in the downright poetic voiceovers from Oscar which contain choice videos and images. He describes what things were like in certain years. The year Oscar's mother was born, the year his father discovered he was gay, and 2003, when he and Anna are dating. Here's a sweet and intelligent movie with a tough heart, and the title "Beginners" works gorgeously. In order to have a new beginning, you have to let other beginnings in your life have their definitive close. Only then can you move on.

18th Annual SAG Award Nominations

The announcement of the 18th Annual Screen Actor Guild Award nominations this morning threw a wrench into things. First and foremost were the snubs for Shailene Woodley for Best Supporting Actress and Albert Brooks for Best Supporting Actor. I'm pressed to say that the the SAGs have it wrong here, and the Academy will not overlook either of them.

The overall lack of love for "Drive" outside of Brooks was a bit surprising considering its prevalence elsewhere.  Also notable was the absolute love for "Bridesmaids" as Melissa McCarthy keeps gathering nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and the movie received a Best Ensemble nomination -- the SAG equivalent of a Best Picture nomination.

Among "Bridesmaids" for Best Ensemble were "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris," "The Descendants" and "The Help." This one will probably end up going to "The Artist" as both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo received nominations in their respective categories. However, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer made it into their respective categories for "The Help" not to mention Jessica Chastain, as well. It could be a tighter race between the two.

One big surprise came in the Best Actor category which included Demian Bichir for "A Better Life" which baffles me because that film was included in last year's Oscars, which I thought meant the film would not be in contention for any awards this year.

Best Supporting Actor contained some surprises including Jonah Hill for "Moneyball" and Armie Hammer for "J. Edgar." This is also the first time "Albert Nobbs" has received acknowledgement with Glenn Close receiving her Best Actress nod along with Janet McTeer for Best Supporting Actress.

Check out the full list of nominations, and tune in to the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, January 29 at 8 p.m. on TNT and TBS.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Award Nominations

It looks like we have arrived at our award front-runners. With the announcement of the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Award nominations, it appears "Hugo" and "The Artist" will be continually gaining momentum as further nominations come along. They led the pack of nominees with 11 each.

These nominations could resemble the Best Picture nominees at this year's Oscars granted if there are still 10 slots. The slots could be dwindled down to as little as five, and if that happens it'll be interesting to guess which films make the cut. The films the Broadcast Film Critics Assocation included for Best Picture were "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Drive," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "The Help," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "Moneyball," "The Tree of Life" and "War Horse."

In my opinion this looks about right -- if ten are to be included. Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" hasn't been getting any acknowledgement until now. David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," however, got left off aside from Best Score and Best Editing.

Daldry also received a Best Director nod alongside Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist," Nicolas Winding Refn for "Drive," Martin Scorsese for "Hugo" and Steven Spielberg for "War Horse."

In terms of the acting categories, we're beginning to see some usual suspects show up.

George Clooney for "The Descendants" and Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" are now locks for Best Actor nominees. Joining them were Leonardo DiCaprio for "J. Edgar" who actually hasn't been getting as much attention, Michael Fassbender for "Shame," Ryan Gosling for "Drive" and Brad Pitt's performance in "Moneyball" won out over "The Tree of Life."

Viola Davis for "The Help," Michelle Williams for "My Week with Marilyn" and Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady" could be considered locks for the Best Actress category as they're both nominated here and have been getting much acknowledgement within critic circles. With them are Elizabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and Charlize Theron for "Young Adult."

Albert Brooks is full steam ahead as the front-runner and likely winner for Best Supporting Actor for his maniacal turn in "Drive." Nominated with him are Christopher Plummer for "Beginners," another nomination lock, Kenneth Branagh for "My Week with Marilyn," Nick Nolte for "The Warrior," Patton Oswalt for "Young Adult" and, yes, it has happened -- Andy Serkis for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." It'll be interesting to see if the pull for his nomination will be enough to carry him to the Academy.

In the category of Best Supporting Actress, Shailene Woodley is a lock for "The Descendants" in future nominations along with Octavia Spencer for "The Help" and Berenice Bejo for "The Artist." With them here are nominations for Carey Mulligan in "Shame" and, as a pleasant surprise, Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids."

Other notable nominations include a very worthy three Best Song nominations for "The Muppets." Among the Best Animated Feature nominees, "Rango" is the only one in 2D and -- much to my enjoyment -- is the likely candidate to win in the category. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" got mostly snubbed with nominations in only Best Visual Effects, Sound, Makeup and Art Direction.

It's also funny to note that "The Ides of March" got completely left out except for a completely out of left field Best Ensemble nomination.

Another question: how is "Drive" considered a nominee for Best Action Movie -- a worthy film, yes, but it already received a spot in the Best Picture nominees -- but "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is not?

Check out the full list of nominations, and tune in to the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards on Thursday, January 12 at 8 p.m. on VH1.

Friday, December 9, 2011

HUGO Review

Martin Scorsese has given us the best-looking live action 3-D movie of this generation comparable to the prowess of James Cameron's "Avatar." Scorsese knows how to properly take advantage of the technology, and if nothing else his newest film -- the greatest departure from anything else he's made before -- demonstrates how to use 3-D to its utmost potential. The film is packed with bouts of visual trickery and flourishes that astound. In a most breathtaking opening sequence, we're shown the life of Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives among the ticking clockwork and mechanisms within the walls of an elaborate 1930s Parisian train station. The swirling, intricate panoramic views and angles of the train station are just a taste of this magical world Scorsese constructs.

Hugo's life at the train station is made difficult by a cranky toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and the limping train station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who's always chasing Hugo through crowds of travelers. Hugo is an orphan forced to live off thievery as he scurries around hiding himself in a maze of ladders and walkways winding all the clocks making sure they run exactly on time. Hugo bases his life around machinery and making sure things are fixed and working right. His labor of love is an old automaton found by his father (Jude Law), seen in flashbacks. If fixed properly, the automaton should be able to write a message -- one that Hugo is convinced his father left for him. He's a genius when it comes to finding all the right screws and gears for the project, but there's one puzzle piece left. It's a key hole in the shape of a heart, and Hugo's journey takes him to find that heart-shaped key to fit the lock.

Along the way Hugo meets a young girl his age, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who has an appetite for adventure. Together they show each other their secret worlds. His, the inner-workings of the train station clock tower, and hers, the many books within the catacombs of a library she explores. As much as Isabelle craves adventure, Hugo discovers she has never been to the movie theater -- the era's best option for getting lost in a new world. Them sneaking in to see a movie begins the film's second half, which is an obvious and lavish celebration of the birth of film.

The cranky toy shop owner turns out to be George Méliès, a pioneer French filmmaker at the dawn of the 20th century. He also turns out to be Isabelle's godfather. Such knowledge leads Hugo on a path to more self-discovery than he could've imagined. Serendipitous links aplenty, even Hugo's father described the first movie he saw as a rocket poking the Man in the Moon in the eye -- a scene from none other than Méliès' "A Trip to the Moon" (1908). The wizardry and wonderment of the film's second act distracts from a threadbare thin plot, but it's easily forgiven. In the greatest sense, there's more to "Hugo." It's less about plot and more about getting that certain fuzzy feeling, a feeling Scorsese must love -- of sitting in a dark theater and getting caught up in a dream.

Rich film history is embedded in everything Scorsese makes, and here he dramatizes his personal connection with the medium. Paralleling his own character's passion, Scorsese is a master of artistic mechanisms rekindling our love for the marvels of movie technology both old and new. The director hasn't exactly made a movie for children. Even more impressive, he has made a ravishing movie for adults without coarse language, sex or violence earning a PG-rating full of childhood innocence without pandering. For audiences this is an enchanting and moving look into childhood longing and exploration, and for cinephiles this is something even more: an array of cinematic pleasures and a not-so-subtle plea for the preservation of cinema's past. And to think this message arrives to us in 3-D. If the technology has any future, here it is endorsed fully -- and expertly executed -- by Scorsese himself.

Monday, December 5, 2011

HUGO Named Best Film by NBR

The National Board of Review announced their winners for this year. And while they don't have too much bearing on the overall awards landscape, they still are worth taking a look at -- especially this year considering what got decided as Best Film.

Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" was named Best Film, and Scorsese received Best Director.

Looks like "Hugo" is more of a year-end awards contender than I had at first anticipated, which means I need to get myself to a theater quickly to see it for myself.

Other notable wins include all those for Alexander Payne's "The Descendants." It took home Best Screenplay as well as Best Actor for George Clooney and Best Supporting Actress for Shailene Woodley. I see a trend, and one that could very well make its way to Oscar.