170. Almost Famous: The Bootleg Cut (A+)
171. About Schmidt (A-)
172. Drive (B)
173. Hugo (A)
Martin Scorsese's megabudget 3D children's film was, from a distance, one of the odder projects scheduled for this year. Notwithstanding the fact that Scorsese, regardless of his place in the popular imagination as the director of gritty crime dramas, has always had considerably more range (he directed a musical with Liza Minnelli, after all), it still seems like a particular stretch. The first trailer was a little confusing. Then the critical acclaim started, and became an avalanche; now it's one of the year's best-reviewed movies, and the newly-minted winner of the National Board of Review's Picture and Director prizes.
Virtually all the reviews and even cast interviews for this film spoil the central plot twist, the true identity of "Papa Georges", around which the whole plot turns. I'll omit that here, in case you haven't heard it, but in any event, it turns out that this project is really a vehicle for Scorsese's love of film, and film history, which powers the whole second half of the movie. It's quite magical. I do wonder, though, whether this ostensible children's film would really be that appealing to children (not being one myself anymore, I can't say). Scorsese incorporates plenty of whimsical humour, but the story is generally pretty measured in pace, and I don't know whether the film history angle would hold interest. I hope so, because it's a wonderful film, one of the best I've seen this year, but this seems like a dicey commercial venture (the trailers make it look rather fantastical, but there's at most a small dose of steampunk, and a lot of Dickens).
Performances are strong across the board. The eponymous main character is played by Asa Butterfield (who I swear looks like a young Stanley Kubrick in certain shots; it's mostly the eyes), and he's an able lead, though his character arc feels progressively more sidelined as the movie goes and and becomes more and more about Sir Ben Kingsley's Papa Georges. Kingsley's become a great thespian most notable for doing paycheck work most of the time, but he's wonderful here. Chloe Moretz, one of the up-and-coming child actors, and she's very fun as the Hermione-ish Isabelle. There's a large adult supporting cast of secondary characters, including Sacha Baron Cohen as the seemingly cartoonish station superintendent who pleasingly turns out to have some depth.
This is a lovely demonstration that Scorsese can deliver one of the year's best films without any of his usual dark storytelling motifs.