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Why Hugo Can't Beat The Artist

by Samuel Marlow. Published 12th February 2012

With the approach of what I once heard described as “Hollywood’s annual circle-jerk”, it is probably fitting that I should be seen to discuss some of the contenders for this year’s Best Picture award.

I have already offered my twopence on the highly enjoyable The Artist, and will now attempt to turn my critical faculties to Hugo, completing my double-feature of Oscar-nominated films and movies I saw in a cinema.

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Summarising Hugo is not as easy as it would at first seem. “The story of an orphan living in a railway station who tries to repair a clock-work automaton in the hope of retrieving a message from his dead father” really doesn’t cover much of the movie. More it is what the automaton “writes” that reveals the real story of the movie. And this is sort of where the marketing of the movie really didn’t do it any favours, as the first trailer at least caused me to utterly dismiss the movie as this year’s annual Harry Potter placeholder. It was only after seeing a second trailer and interview with Scorsese that I gave it a second look. And I’m glad I did, because it is probably my favourite film or movie of the last twelve months.

As the story progresses it becomes apparent that the overbearing and snappy toy shop owner was once a master filmmaker and magician who created Hugo’s father’s favourite film of all time, A Trip to the Moon or Le Voyage dans la Lune, to give it its original title. As a result of changing public tastes after the First World War, the filmmaker went bankrupt and was forced to sell his negatives to be melted down into shoe heels. The story, based on Brian Selnick’s half-novel-half-illustration book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is fiction, but the filmmaker and the events of his life were real (at least as he recorded them).

It probably goes without saying that any story about the creation of film was going to appeal to me, and I certainly felt an affinity with the younger Georges Méliès. After the Lumiere Brothers refuse to sell him a motion picture camera, Méliès builds his own from scratch. He then goes on invent early special effects technology and techniques.

So, what are Hugo's chances like at the Oscars? Well, since the Oscar for Best Picture is almost certainly going to The Artist, even more so after its success at the BAFTAs, I think its successes will come in the technical and design categories. Scorsese is still in with a chance for Best Director, though I suspect that will go to Michel Hazanavicius as well. It is not that Hugo is not worthy of some of these awards, but it has grossly underperformed at the box office while being a very mainstream film in its aspirations. The Artist by contrast defied received wisdom by making a silent black and white film and, in doing so (while earning many times its budget back) has cemented its place as darling of the awards season regardless of whether or not it deserved it.


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