John Hughes, 1950-2009

The Academy of Arts and Sciences made history this year. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the best filmmaker award for The Hurt Locker.  The Academy picked Mo’Nique for her role in Precious, becoming only the fourth African-American woman to win an Oscar.  And Avatar won the award for best cinematography.  Strange though, that most of it was created in a computer…

But one of the biggest winners of the night came from someone who never won a gold statue.  A surprising tribute was delivered to the late John Hughes from stars of his biggest films, including Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Macaulay Culkin and Ally Sheedy.

Frequently underestimated and criminally unappreciated, Hughes was the ultimate Hollywood outsider. He didn’t make movies in New York or Europe either, choosing instead to film in Chicago.  In case you’d forgotten, Chicago is in the Midwest.  You could even go so far as to say that Chicago was a character in Hughes’ films, as it does in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (‘86).  And of course, Steve Martin wants nothing more than to get back to the Windy City in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (‘87), even if it means going cross-country with John Candy (“Those aren’t pillows!”).

Hughes will always be known for making ‘80s teen movies.  But if anyone doubts his status as a great filmmaker, please observe that movies like Sixteen Candles (’84) or The Breakfast Club (’85) didn’t exist before Hughes and nobody’s made any quite like them since.  Hughes was one of the first writer/directors to deal with the teenage American experience with honesty and realism. He showed the brutality, even cruelty of teenage life and he did it with a light touch.  I’m still mesmerized when Cameron begins violently kicking the hood of his father’s Ferrari in Ferris Bueller.  My stomach turns when it punches through the garage window.  And of course, it’s funny, too.

I never got the impression that Hughes was living out his lost childhood through his films and I couldn’t begin to comprehend why he made the films he did.  All I know for sure is that he did make them and he made them well.

John Hughes was 59 when he passed.  If he had lived a bit longer, I’d like to believe that a biopic about his life might end this way:

INT. ACADEMY AWARDS — DAY

JOHN HUGHES walks onto stage.  “Everytime You Go Away” by Blue Room plays over scene.  Hughes takes the lifetime achievement award from STEVE MARTIN.  He waves to the audience.

FREEZE-FRAME: Hughes smiling.

FADE TO BLACK

– Jonathan Michels

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