Illustration by Christine Hipp

2012 is still a newborn baby. The beginning of January is the perfect opportunity to embrace the present, and the way to do it just might be appreciating the past.

It’s hard to say whether the patrons of Santa Cruz’s movie theaters were searching for the future or yearning for the past over the winter holidays. They came out to see the latest in film technology, but the movies told a different story. The Del Mar and Nickelodeon theaters just made the inevitable switch from film projectors to digital, a move that will soon be necessary for all theaters that want to keep showing new releases. The picture quality on the new projectors is crystal-clear, but some of the stories they’re showing are a bit hazy with memory. Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is a tribute to pioneer filmmaker Georges Melies, while “The Artist” imitates and takes a fictional look back on the silent film era.

What these films suggest, at a glance, is the film industry’s creativity failing to keep up with its technology. That Scorsese’s first 3D film is about the “good old days” of cinema could be interpreted as stubborn defiance, and “The Artist,” an exact replication of 1930s-era silent film, seems downright gimmicky.

To some extent, that reading is correct. The appeal for both “Hugo” and “The Artist” definitely has to do with taking advantage of the erroneous axiom that older is better. The current fashion in popular culture is to be anything but current, so aligning with Hollywood’s Golden Age was a smart move for these pictures, measured both in ticket sales and award nominations. I even heard “Hugo” described as “3D for people who appreciate good movies,” as if “3D” and “good” were two previously separate entities.

But it’s difficult to yearn for the past when the past is all around us. In addition to these movies, there are multiple blogs on Tumblr related to nostalgia, with the 1990s being the newest and most popular decade to be inducted into the hall of memories. To that end, “Titanic” will enjoy another theatrical release later this year, but this time we’ll get to see the iceberg in 3D. iPhone apps exist that will turn photos into instantly-faded Polaroid-esque memories.

What’s ironic is the more technological advancements we make, the more we take advantage of them as tools of nostalgia, and perhaps this defines our time more than anything else — the ability to appreciate present comforts and past novelties simultaneously. There’s nothing old-fashioned about donning a pair of two-toned space specs to sit in a dark room and watch digital illusions jump out at you, even if you are watching a movie about the dawn of the film age.

“Hugo” and “The Artist” seem to inherently understand this, and that is why they’re both thoroughly modern films. Mentioned in “Hugo” is the old tale of the audience who, while watching one of the first-ever movies of a train riding down a track, became frightened that the train was real and about to crash into the building. Later in the movie, Scorsese makes great use of 3D in a train scene of his own. The message is clear: the audience is taking part in the next frontier of cinema. 3D probably won’t ever be used for every single film, and there’s plenty of 3D drivel out right now. But used artfully as it is in “Hugo,” it’s revolutionary.

“The Artist” has a similar revealing moment at the end. A silent movie actor who has spent the entire film pushing back against the success of talkies finally gives in and stars in one, and in the final minute of the film, sound comes on, and you can hear the actors’ voices for the first time. It’s a brilliant way to honor the past and appreciate the present.

Our time may be forever remembered as a rut of nostalgia. But I prefer to think of it as the time when technology became so advanced and so pervasive that people don’t have to choose among the present, past and future. We’re in our own Golden Age.