By Chris Nashawaty
Updated October 11, 2011 at 03:35 PM EDT
Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

After a weekend of top-secret speculation about which mysterious high-profile work in progress would be screened at the New York Film Festival on Monday night, Martin Scorsese appeared onstage at a packed Avery Fisher Hall to introduce his latest film, the 3-D fantasia Hugo. The hometown crowd stood as he made his entrance, then quietly sat down and put on their glasses, settling in for what has to be regarded as an early Oscar contender.

Before the curtains opened, the director was quick to point out that his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was not finished. The color, score, and f/x were all still being fine-tuned. But you didn’t need a completed print to register Scorsese’s soaring ambition with Hugo — the candy-colored story of an orphan living in a railway station in 1930’s Paris who searches for a message from his dead father. Along the way, Scorsese’s film teases at one of the subjects closest to his heart: the preservation of old films.

Hugo stars Asa Butterfield and Chloë Moretz briefly came onstage after the premiere and waved to the audience. The film also stars Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, and Michael Stuhlbarg. The big-budget Paramount awards-hopeful opens Nov. 23.

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