HUGO: Like actors, filmmakers often become associated with a certain type of work. When they deviate from their artistic comfort zone, it's something of a risk that doesn't always succeed.

It's obvious that director Martin Scorsese (RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER) had no such qualms venturing away from his trademark violent dramas to an excellent family movie about an orphan (Asa Butterfield) living in a Parisian train station trying to activate a mysterious automaton left by his dead father (Jude Law).

The photography and camera work of Robert Richardson with its opening tracking shot through the station and its dizzying angles throughout the movie are dazzling. Equally superior is Dante Ferretti's production design which includes literal clockwork sets.

Howard Shore's musical score has a French lilt to it that fits the film like the proverbial glove. Underlying John Logan's adapted screenplay is a love letter to the craft of filmmaking that reminds those of us who write about movies why we fell in love with the medium in the first place.

The ensemble cast is on the mark with special mention to juvenile actors Butterfield (THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS) and Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS) as the goddaughter of a toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) harboring a past with painful memories. Whether you enjoy its marvel of storytelling or celebration of early film history, this movie is structured as intricately and precisely as the clocks in the train station which seems to have a life of its own.

There's no doubt in my mind that HUGO will make the final cut on Oscar's Best Picture nominations.


CRITIC'S "DRIVE-BY" COMMENTARY: With all of the fallout from the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the behavioral similarities between accused child molester/former Nittany Lions coach Jerry Sandusky and Michael Jackson. Both men were seen showering with young boys but Sandusky is in handcuffs while Jackson has become an almost venerated figure in death. I realize that the "King Of Pop" was acquitted of all charges against him. But he was tried in California where you practically have to splash the victim's blood on the jury to criminally convict a celebrity (O.J. or Robert Blake, anyone?). Can you say double