March 10 2010 12:00 AM

Lansing native Hughes gets Oscar attention - finally

In an interview two weeks ago to promote his new film “Green Zone,” Matt Damon made a fascinating suggestion.

"I think that the best way to judge movies is, like, 10 years after they’re released," Damon told the Los Angeles Times. "I think they should actually do the awards that way. I think they should have done the Academy Awards this year for movies from 1998."

Not the kind of talk you’d expect to hear from someone who was actually a contender in the Oscar race — Damon was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in “Invictus” — but it’s an idea worth considering, especially if you watched Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Midway through the four-hour presentation, Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald came forward to introduce a tribute to Lansing native John Hughes, who died last August at the age of 59. If you grew up in the ‘80s, chances are you are well acquainted with most of the movies Hughes wrote, directed or produced: “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Uncle Buck,” “Home Alone,” etc. His body of work from 1983 to 1990 included many major hits and a few films that are now regarded as classics.

How many Oscar nominations did Hughes collect during his heyday? Zero.

Yet many of his movies have had a lasting impact far beyond the ones the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wound up honoring during the same period. I saw it for myself last week when I sat down to lunch in Potbelly’s Sandwich Works and heard the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack playing; a couple of young women were happily humming along to Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center,” even though they were probably not even born when that movie originally opened in February 1986.

Here’s a test. How many of these 1980s Oscar winners or best picture nominees have you actually sat down and watched — of your own free will — within the last year: “Gandhi,” “The Dresser,” “Tender Mercies,” “The Killing Fields,” “A Soldier’s Story,” “The Mission,” “The Last Emperor,” “Hope and Glory,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The Accidental Tourist,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Godfather, Part III.” Most of them are terrific films, and several of them were popular hits in their day.

But I’d bet more people could recite large portions of “The Breakfast Club” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” than tell you who starred in “The Dresser” or who won the best supporting actor Oscar for “The Killing Fields.”

(Just in case you don’t want to Google the answers: Tom Courteney and Albert Finney starred in “The Dresser” and Dr. Haing S. Ngor won for “The Killing Fields.”)

Millions of teens in the past 25 years have identified with Ringwald’s humiliations in “Sixteen Candles” or her shame over living on the wrong side of the tracks in “Pretty in Pink.” The rules of travel may have changed dramatically since “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” came out in 1987, but the trials John Candy and Steve Martin endure are still just as hilarious as ever.

While not every Hughes film hit the mark (it might be difficult to find a “Curly Sue” cult, or a fervent group of “Dutch” fans), he made an undeniable — and, more importantly, lasting — impact on multiple generations of moviegoers. On the other hand, many of the Oscar honorees of the same period are now like those dense, supposedly profound novels you’d never pick up unless you had to read them for a class: respected, perhaps, but not necessarily embraced by the public.

It was gratifying to see the Academy pay tribute to Hughes Sunday night. It was also a shame they didn’t get around to doing it when he was still here to enjoy the attention.

For reviews see Cole Smithey’s Movie week at