It happens every year. The studios wait until the end to release the best movies. I find no exception this year, although Terrance Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” released in May, could qualify as the best movie of the year. I also liked “The Artist” and “The Descendants.” But as the clock winds down on 2011, I pick Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” as the most enjoyable and interesting movie of the year.
I saw Hugo in 3D, which made all its clockwork and trains clicking and rolling even more fascinating. The story, about a little boy (Hugo) who winds the clocks in the train station, develops into a tale about a film character who finds a new father. After a mean toy shop owner, played by Ben Kingsley, catches Hugo stealing a toy, he confiscates his notebook filled with diagrams of mechanical gadgets. Hugo, determined to retrieve it, befriends the toy shop owner’s god-daughter, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, and the two adolescents go on an adventure of discovery and intrigue. In the process, the children discover their love of stories and movies.
Hugo takes place in Paris in the 1920’s, and it includes scenes with lots of gears, steam trains, and a prominent automaton who holds the secret to the whole story. But it stays sweet and refined and never seems gothic or creepy. Hugo, an orphan, inhabits a world where the slightest misstep could get him caught and sent to an orphanage, so he moves around on the outskirts of society, holed up in clock towers while feeding himself on stolen croisants. It’s a Dickensian story with masterful stage sets and wonderful 3D, and it moves at a vibrant pace.