In a year of raunchy comedies, superhero epics and box-office disasters, it's an innocuous family film that ends up topping Moviefone's Top 50 list. When Martin Scorsese announced that he'd be adapting the legendary children's book, 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret,' to the big screen, people were likely scratching their heads. A mafia master like Scorsese doing a family film? No way this could work. (Plus, it's not like there's a good track record for this; Francis Ford Coppola's 'Jack,' anyone?) But between then and now, something improbable happened: Marty, the man behind the most violent, heart-stopping mob movies in history, turned a kids' story into the best film of 2011.
'Hugo' was similar to 'The Artist,' in that it explored the art of the silent film. However, this was more than just an homage; it was a visually stunning adventure set in 1930s Paris. Taking viewers on a journey through the mind of the late Georges Melies (played with fire and sadness by Sir Ben Kingsley), a legendary filmmaker whom the orphaned Hugo (Asa Butterfield) discovers working at a toy shop in a train station, you can feel Scorsese's love of directing and his fascination with movie history throughout the entirety of 'Hugo.' (Marty may also be the only director alive to make a turn-of-the-20th-Century filmmaker seem interesting in 2011.) The performances are terrific, the story is engaging and the 3D -- a tool many of Scorsese's peers have written off -- is used in a completely engrossing, non-gimmicky way, that makes the audience feel like they're apart of the action instead of merely witnessing it: The opening shot, where the viewer wanders into the bustling scene of the Gare Monparnasse railway station, through the toy stores and cafes and even the clocks -- Hugo is the unofficial master clockmaker of the building -- is one of the most thrilling sequences of the year.
So, no: No one's head is thrown in a vice in this movie; there are no scenes where the characters boost cigarettes or walk through the Copacabana, nor does the end of the film feature a maniac cab driver gunning down everyone in his path. 'Hugo' is just an emotional, all-ages adventure that will leave you smiling as soon as the closing credits roll. It's also a film that will likely tell you more about Martin Scorsese than any gangster flick ever will. -- A.S.