Oscar History

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NYFF: "Hugo" A Work in Progress

The surprise screening of The New York Film Festival tonight was Martin Scorsese's Hugo, a 3D adaptation of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a much better title for about a hundred reasons) which is about an orphan boy who inadvertently uncovers rich cinematic history while trying to repair a broken automatron that is his only cherished reminder of his father. Martin Scorsese introduced the film himself and seemed a bit embarrassed by the standing ovation before the screening. Perhaps he was thinking Calm down. What if you don't like it?!? 

Father and Son and Automatron in "Hugo"

Though you'll undoubtedly see several full reviews online tonight, we were given a finger wagging public reminder pre-screening that we weren't to do so. Scorsese warned us that the color correction was not finished, the score was a temporary rendition of the completed score which Howard Shore is currently recording, and some of the effects and the 3D still needed touching up. This was especially true of the opening pre-title segment which had a lot of computer graphics in lieu of actual people and objects. So absent an actual review, let it suffice to say that I was too caught up in it to take ANY notes (the only thing written on my pad is "still needs color cor..." yep, that's it!) and was very pleasantly surprised.  

Ben Kingsley as the mysterious Papa GeorgeI had found the trailer so manic and gimmicky that I assumed the film would be a noisy disaster but the completed -- excuse me, nearly completed -- movie is actually fairly gentle and lovely despite flirting with manic slapstick on a few occassions. Production designer and certain Oscar nominee (again) Dante Ferretti's clock motif on steroids should read garish since Hugo lives inside a train station which seems to house ten thousand of them, all of which he hand winds daily. Instead the sets feel like intricate beauties with tiny hand-crafted parts. The film is still settling in my mind and I heard everything from raves to loud but minor quibbling while briefly chatting with other moviegoers outside. But if you've ever loved France, Books, Fiddling With How Gadgets Work, or The History of Cinema, it's a love letter you'll most definitely want to read when it opens next month.


Yes, No, Maybe So: Hugo

Robert (author of Distant Relatives) here. If you, like me, have been wondering how the phrases "Martin Scorsese" and "family-friendly holiday season event film" could possibly fit together ever since the announcement of The Invention of Hugo Cabret...

...later shortened to Hugo Cabret, later shortened to Hugo (by the time the film hits theaters in November it may just be H.) the newly released trailer may answer your questions, though not necessarily satisfactorily, and may leave you with all new ones. Let's discuss.

The name Martin Scorsese was, is, and will continue to be the selling point behind this film, at least for cinephiles who consider each new Scorsese film an event. But the trailer here has definitely been cut for the kind of mass audience that doesn't flock to Scorsese in droves. If you're looking for something non-threatening enough for the kids, but well crafted enough for adults, this trailer is targeting you. And in that sense the trailer does have something of an "instant holiday classic" feel to it. Not to mention some possibly impressive production design by Dante Feretti that could get him noticed again after his Shutter Island snub last season.

Yet while the production design appears promising, there's always the possibility that this busy-looking film will be a gold and teal nightmare. The 3D cinematography is rife with things flying at the camera. In this trailer alone we count at least five: Sacha Baron Cohen's hand, a dog, dragon smoke, a key necklace, and Hugo's hand. (So help me if that scene of Hugo going down a big fun slide is accompanied with a POV shot) Barring the title card there's not much here that feels Scorsese. Sure it's off his genre, but even when he does go off genre, Scorsese explores the same general themes and ideas (once calling The Age of Innocence his most violent picture). So even the slightest hint of a Scorsese touch, like the presence of Ray Winstone, was welcome, though I wanted to shout "No Hugo! Don't go with Mr. French!"

So what is Scorsese doing? Pilling up money for his next project? An academic exercise in trying something new?

Actually what he's doing is a family-friendly holiday season event film in exactly the way Scorsese would do it. Scorsese was never going to do fantasy in the mold of something modern. His films always reference back to the classics. Even Shutter Island disappointed many by possessing the obviousness of an old melodramatic Hammer Horror film instead of something that felt new. But that's what he does. Something tells me that what interested Scorsese in this project was the potential to make an homage to Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley) and the films that birthed the fantasy genre. And those films were indeed intentionally artificial and filled with gimmicks.

So maybe we can't fault Scorsese for inconsistency of vision. We may want Scorsese to be modern and inventive. We may want him to wow us with spectacle like Peter Jackson or Christopher Nolan. But that's the fault of our expectation. What Scorsese clearly wants to do is recreate the magic of the old days. Whether or not you end up liking Hugo may depend on whether you appreciate the note on which the trailer ends, a recreation of the Lumiere's brother's L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat this time with the train actually pummelling toward the audience... in 3D.


Predix: Supporting Actor and The Matter of Young Leads

Jim Broadbent as Dennis ThatcherWhen it comes to blindfolded Oscar predictions, almost nothing beats the supporting categories. I have this vague fantasy of time travel and returning to propose all 10 supporting acting nominees correctly one April to reams of laughter from the internet. They can be so hard to see coming for so many reasons including: adaptations sometimes lean on different characters than the novels or plays that birthed them, ensembles are tricky because you don't know who will win "best in show" reviews, one lead films are tricky because the huge role at the center (The Iron Lady, J. Edgar) sometimes end up sucking up all the oxygen and other times have coattails. Then there's the small matter of Oscar being more diverse aesthetically when it comes to supporting work. Here is where comedy, horror, sci-fi, fantasy  and even comic book movies (Dick Tracy, The Dark Knight) can show up even though they rarely if ever get play in lead categories.

Kenneth Branagh? Christoph Waltz? Philip Seymour Hoffman x 2? Viggo Mortensen x 2? Armie Hammer or Josh Lucas? Ben Kingsley? Christopher Plummer? Jim Broadbent -- his Iron Lady performance already has tongues (and fingers) wagging -- Richard E Grant or Anthony Head? Nick Nolte? Brad Pitt? You can drive yourself crazy thinking about all the possibilities. Maybe you have?

The first predictions for 2011

NEW TOPIC: This is as good a year as any, I assume, to prove my frequent statements about Oscar's double standards with gender. There are at least three very high profile films with young male leads this year: HUGO CABRET (Asa Butterfield is 14 years old), WAR HORSE (Jeremy Irvine is ??? years old), and SUPER 8 (Joel Courtney is ??? years old).

Asa Butterfield, Jeremy Irvine and Joel Courtney

If you've ever doubted my assertion about this double standard -- some people have objected to the statements -- watch how these performances are treated this year while keeping in mind how Hailee Steinfeld's work was greeted in True Grit as if the heavens or the red sea had parted. The media, critics and Oscar voters are quick to shove aside experience and accomplishment in women when a "fresh player" enters but not so with male actors. My prediction: at least one of these three does work on par or better than Hailee's and doesn't get anything like her traction. Watch and see.

Obviously there are exceptions, as there are to every rule: There was no denying Haley Joel Osment's gift in The Sixth Sense (1999) although he did get demoted to Supporting and lost to somebody who already had an Oscar, and Justin Henry won a nomination at 8 (!) for Kramer Vs. Kramer. In both cases the films were absolute sensations at the box office. Dramas no longer explode with audiences like Kramer vs. Kramer did but in today's dollars its box office haul was truly insane. We're talking a domestic haul closer to the latest Harry Potter than a True Grit or King's Speech. In other words, even Oscar doesn't ignore the zeitgeist.

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