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Hugo 3D & The Artist

So, they were the two most nominated films on Oscar night(11 for “Hugo”, 10 for “The Artist”), which automatically made them the frontrunners to take the lion’s share of awards—including Best Picture. We all know what happened now, but did the better movie win? I think so. Although I’m on record as saying neither truly deserved the big prize of the evening. But of the duo, I prefer “The Artist”. Why? Well, I love what “Hugo” is saying—I’m just not crazy about how it says it. And while “The Artist” doesn’t say much(and as a mostly silent film, actually nothing at all), it says it with a sparkling amount of grace and panache. Both films ended up taking home 5 Academy Awards on February 26th. “Hugo” for a string of technical awards, and “The Artist” for some biggies including Best Picture, Actor and Director. They were both officially released on the same day(the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). And, without question, I was looking forward to Martin Scorsese venturing into the world of 3D with a much more significant helping of anticipation. Go figure. And what exactly bugged me about “Hugo”? A bunch of things actually—allow me to list a few…               Mr. Scorsese is passionate about the preservation of film, and I applaud that. But that doesn’t mean I want to watch a two-hour PSA disguised as a children’s film for him to get that message across. That’s maybe somewhat unfair. But you’ll have to admit that “Hugo” gets awfully preachy with its message as the picture revs on. I found myself thinking that Marty would have been better off shooting a documentary about pioneer Georges Melies instead of offering us this. True—it never would have reached a large audience. But “Hugo” is far from being one of the director’s big hits anyway(a not bad tally of around 70 million domestically, so far—but his previous three features— “Shutter Island”, “The Departed” and “The Aviator”— were all comfortably 100 plus). Also, Mr. Scorsese(for the first time that I can remember)fails to create real people with “Hugo”. Where was his human touch? Sasha Baron Cohen is full-on cartoon and Ben Kingsley is highly unlikable and unrealistic. I never believed Sir Ben’s reactions or his motivations. He was outright cruel to Asa Butterfield’s young Hugo, and I found myself hating the sonofabitch for it. Same goes for Cohen’s station inspector. Their eventual transitions are so ham-handed and dripping with treacle. And the pace is deadening. You’ll see all of the big moments coming from a mile away. In fact, they botch the whole finale by neutering its tension in the previous scene. And that sweet little epilogue made me want to puke. I’m in the minority here. Most major critics bought this crap. But I have my doubts about “Hugo” standing the test of time. Of course, anything from Martin Scorsese offers something. And Martin’s attention to detail and overall craftsmanship is the selling point here. The film looks phenomenal and the 3D is quite impressive at times(I’m not a big fan of the format, but it appears Scorsese works it to its highest level). But I don’t think there’s a solid performance in it, and I can’t grasp the reason for its ecstatic praise.               Now, “The Artist” is certainly guilty of stacking the deck when it came to obtaining Oscar glory. Handsome French actor in the lead, perky European actress as his co-star, and Harvey Weinstein-distribution(winning Oscars is his middle name). It wears artistic on its sleeve by being mostly silent and shot in black-and-white. Plus, a bevy of recognizable American character actors fill the smaller roles. And there’s a cute dog. Talk about pandering to the Academy. But it’s light on its feet, and is remarkably dark in at least one scene. It is also utterly charming. Delightful, in fact. There seems to be some unwritten law, and a strong public perception, that only serious dramatic films should receive the Best Picture award. Rarely do the fluffier entries trump the heavy stuff, but this was a rare exception. And kudos to that. You shouldn’t have to be EPIC to nail the big prize. And after earlier fearing its apparent projectile path towards Oscar glory, I came to realize that things could’ve been much, much worse. Some of the outright mediocrities that triumphed in recent years left me absolutely flabbergasted(“Slumdog Millionaire”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Crash”!). So, I’ll take “The Artist” over “The Help” or “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” in a heartbeat.          Both “Hugo” and “The Artist” are in love with movies and the magic of film-making. The great silents of yesteryear are represented in a major way. How many people in 2012 watch anything filmed before 1932. Or even 1972. If you learn anything from the two big winners from 2011 cinema, learn to appreciate the pioneers. Watch something silent this month. Appreciate a black-and white movie. Queue a work from a foreign country and be certain that it’s subtitled(dubbed is an abomination). Hey, you might just enjoy yourself.                “Hugo”   Grade: C          “The Artist”   Grade: A-

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