I’m using this series as a motivation to take a look at all of the Best Picture winners from the past 84 Academy Awards. This may take awhile… This Oscar winning comedic drama was adapted to screen from Alfred Uhry’s play. Most notable for Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman’s performances, this film is a period piece during civil rights era Atlanta. It managed to score 4 Oscars but looking back it doesn’t have the best reputation amongst other winners.
Directed by: Bruce Beresford Written by: Alfred Uhry Starring: Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, & Dan Aykroyd.
In 1950’s Atlanta an aging upper class Jewish woman, Daisy Werthan (Tandy), is forced to take on a driver upon her son Boolie’s (Aykroyd) insistence. Hoke Coleburn (Freeman) is a congenial and eager to work black man who has to deal with Daisy’s extreme resistance. She not only doesn’t want to be dependent on another, but is just inherently distrustful of Hoke. Eventually she stops resisting his help and they even form a strong friendship over the year. They bond over the prejudices they both face from her religion and his race, and Daisy becomes a more open and accepting person.
The best thing about Driving Miss Daisy is the easy friendly chemistry between Tandy and Freeman. Over the course of their relationship you can see how it slowly develops into something they both find quite meaningful. As a fairly light character study this film succeeds. But the best film of the year? That is a long shot. I wanted to give this a fair shake even though I was familiar with its reputation as maybe not the most deserving Best Picture winner. I went into Shakespeare in Love with the same thought and ended up loving it, but this one did not pan out in the same way.
One of my biggest factors for how much I enjoy these Best Picture winners is how timeless they seem. Most of the older films I’ve connected with, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and All About Eve, certainly feel of their time but they also have a timeless quality about them. They don’t feel dated, but Driving Miss Daisy definitely does. The score is like many other late 80’s/early 90’s lighthearted movies. Meaning it’s pretty corny and not unique at all. It’s a period piece but it still feels 80’s to me.
The issues of race are certainly worth depiction, but it doesn’t feel quite as severe as I thought it would be. Miss Daisy certainly seems racist, but she also just seems more so a bitch to everyone. Hoke’s race might be the least of her issues with him. She wouldn’t have taken kindly to any person her son had set her up with. Also, it’s interesting that they related on their own forms of prejudice that they faced but it also took a bit of the tension out of the film. It’s plenty sweet and earnest, but it doesn’t feel very dramatic. Maybe the Academy was just in the mood to vote for something feel good, but this just doesn’t seem very exceptional.
The frontrunner besides Driving Miss Daisy seemed to be Born On The Fourth of July, at least in hindsight. Watching this film I was kind of dismayed actually that it lost. I’m not a big fan of Oliver Stone but this film was actually directed beautifully (and he snagged the Best Director win for it). This biopic is about a young man, Ron Kovic who grows up with strong American ideals in Long Island and is dead set on joining the Marines and fighting in Vietnam to prove his patriotism. The film starts out with an almost too hunky dory feel to it with lots of Spielberg face, small town charm, and the bright eyes of Tom Cruise.
I was a little put off by how Norman Rockwell it all seemed–until the abrupt change of location to the war front.The juxtaposition was so well done you felt as shocked as Kovic was as he realized the horrors of war and that the action wasn’t all he had hoped it would be. When he is paralyzed shortly after being deployed his time in the hospital is horrific enough but then he comes home to a divided America where no one really seems to welcome him except the people trying to send more soldiers overseas. How is that for a timeless film? Everything he’s going through feels like deja vu to the past ten years in America.
Tom Cruise is just fantastic as he goes through so many stages of Ron Kovic–the naive teen, confused soldier, in denial wounded vet, drunk disillusioned man, to activist. You buy all that because it’s so well done (and also the hair helps a lot). Your heart breaks for this man and you’re sucked into this time period from post-WW2 nationalism to the Nixon era. It puts forth JFK’s “Ask not what you can do for your country” question and the answer is dark.
It’s not a perfect film but that’s a lot more than what you get out of Driving Miss Daisy, which is just harmless fluff when it comes down to it. And if I’m being honest my film of that year would be Do The Right Thing, but that wasn’t even in contention.
Academy Award nominations and wins:
Best Actress – Jessica Tandy
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Actor – Morgan Freeman
Best Supporting Actor – Dan Aykroyd
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing
- Dead Poet’s Society – Robin Williams plays English teacher who’s passion and unorthodox methods prove inspirational to his students – Won Best Original Screenplay & nominated in 3 categories
- Born on the Fourth of July – Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War biopic about a real life vet traumatized by his experience – Won Best Director (Oliver Stone), Best Film Editing, & nominated in 6 other categories
- Field of Dreams – Amazing occurrences and long past baseball players appear to a corn farmer who hears voices encouraging him to turn his corn field into a baseball field – Nominated in 3 categories
- My Left Foot - A man with cerebral palsy becomes an artist despite his left foot being the only body part he can control – Won Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Supporting Actress (Brenda Fricker), & nominated in 3 other categories
The same year that these films were not nominated: Do The Right Thing, Glory, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Henry V and Sex, Lies, and Videotape.