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March 13, 2012

When this years’ Oscar nominees were announced I was outraged; once again the stereotypical beefy but listless jocks got all the praise because their moms knew the ref while the little guys with both brain and bronze, coughDRIVEcough, sat out on the bench cheering their pals on. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was ignored in the major categories as well as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 despite both films being among 2011’s top highest grossing and critically acclaimed films. Yet subpar films that brought nothing new to the table were nominated indicating that these films were considered some of the “greatest” of the year.

These are films that 40 years from now someone will be talking about and say, “I wonder what some of the greatest films of 2011 were?” Then they’ll look up the films nominated and after watching them say, “whoa these ten were the best that year? Holy crap they watched some cheesy movies back then. They knew nothing about good film making.” I would admit to my own exaggeration if The Help, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Hugo weren’t nominated. I admit, I have yet to see the former films in the list, however, Hugo was enough to make me stay away from the films that even the critics saw as either subpar or decent. Being nominated for Best Picture is supposed to mean that overall out of every film released within that year, the films nominated were among the few to be considered the best.

Yes Hugo is visually beautiful, stunning even. It is one of the few films to bring something new-ish to the table. It opens to a long seemingly infinite zoom that takes viewers from the height of the city of Paris through time and space into a train station past bustling bodies and amidst intricate machinery to meet Hugo. Although films like Limitless have opened with an infinite zoom and a few repetitive clicks on Google Maps utilizes the same effect, the scene is still a breathtaking thrill ride in itself. And of course, the costume design is wonderful as 1930s Paris is automatically recognizable even if you aren’t that great with guessing time periods. Director Martin Scorsese’s talent with a camera  needs no further discussion, it’s been proven, the man is legendary and basically invented new ways to capture a story through fluid, ingenious shots and scenes where the special effects are at times so well done its hard to determine whats real and what’s CGI.

Those are the few great things about Hugo and that can all be seen for about 30 minutes in the two hour film. The rest of Hugo is lengthy and at times incoherent dribble that drags on for so long that half an hour into Hugo feels exponentially longer and dull. Initially Hugo is a family drama following 12-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of Gare Montparnasse, an elaborate train station in Paris. Orphaned after his father’s death, Hugo is taken in by his alcoholic uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), who shortly after disappears leaving Hugo to fend for himself managing the clocks, stealing food from local vendors and avoiding the clutches of the orphan hating train guard Inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen). In his spare time Hugo works on recreating a robotic man started by his father (Jude Law), stealing the mechanical parts needed to receive what he believes will be a message from his father. After stealing from a less than kind toy vendor George (Ben Kingsley), Hugo is forced to work off his debt allowing him to meet and befriend the vendor’s goddaughter Isabella (Chloe Grace Mortez) as well as embarking on an adventure to discover the wonder of the automaton and its connection with George.

The story isn’t what’s wrong with Hugo, the problem is its narrative or the way the story is told. The use of unnecessary story arc’s and flashbacks as well as the film’s use of slow padding as a means of passing time or to deliver comedy make the film feel just as long as it actually is. When we’re not watching the slowness of Hugo’s life take place we have to watch even slower yet slightly more entertaining shennenigans of the bitter relentless train guard. Cohen is perhaps the film’s best moments and even those are few and far between and hit or miss considering just how slow and over the top selected scenes are. And by the time we make it to the film’s major story arc we’ve wasted the past hour or so witnessing pointless and boring interactions with characters with no passion in their eyes.

While I’m on a tangent can we just admit the acting in this film is barely even average. The orphaned barely clothed Hugo never shows signs of being cold despite being thrust into bitter cold and snow while clad in ragged shorts and a jacket. His tears at times looks like the product of fake eye drops and most of the time his presence barley merits a passing glance. Viewers only connect with such bland character because we’re meant to and his life is so miserable that it warrants sympathy. The usually incredible Martinez seems to suffer from a bad case of overacting throughout the film and its obvious she doesn’t connect with her character. Kingsley and Helen McCrory as his wife, take the credit for showing great acting chops as well as the comedicly well-timed Cohen, however, most of these characters and moments focusing on them are just bland. The problem is clearly not the talent but the director who’s giving them their cues. I get it, Hugo is a family film but that doesn’t mean the acting has to be watered down and heartless.

I feel the only reason Hugo received the accolades it did was because the masses were blinded by the fact that it’s a Scorsese film. While the man is fantastic, his work is not always gold (the first episode of Boardwalk Empire should have been the reminder). As a film buff I get heated in certain areas of my anatomy talking about film and its history so I can honestly say that I loved and respected the cinematic historical aspect of Hugo. However, the route it took to get there is just shameful to me. If you ever want to know what it feels like to watch paint dry or want a perfect example of self-indulgence, then watch Hugo. Watching Hugo is like what I imagine toddlers think when they stare at themselves in the mirror. There’s no depth or understanding to what’s going on beneath the surface but the image looking back at them is pretty cool and fun to make faces at. If Hugo didn’t have the budget it did, I can almost guarantee it would have brought thunderous laughter when suggested for a nomination for Best Film.

AVOID IT. Well ok SEE IT for the imagery but bring a pillow to nap through most of it.

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