Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1989, and three others: Best Actress (Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy, at 81 the oldest ever winner), Best Makeup, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It lost in five categories, all to different films; that year’s Hugo winner, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, won one (Best Screen Editing) and lost two.

That year’s other Best Picture nominees were Dead Poets Society, which I have seen, and Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams and My Left Foot, which I haven’t. IMDB users rank Driving Miss Daisy 16th on one system and 32nd on the other, which is a tick worse than Out of Africa and the lowest aggregate placing for any Oscar winner since Tom Jones.

I have seen 13 other films made in 1989, as final year studies and student politics started to sap my time. They are (in rough IMDB order): Dead Poets Society, Batman, When Harry Met Sally, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Ghostbusters 2, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Henry V, Shirley Valentine, Scandal, The Tall Guy and Jesus of Montreal. I have to say I’d rank Driving Miss Daisy behind all of them except the woeful Star Trek V.

None of the cast had been in previous Oscar, Hugo or Nebula-winning films, or in Doctor Who.

Well, this didn’t especially grab me and I don’t have a lot to say about it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, and a couple of things that are right, but I’m putting it a bit below half way down my league table, below The Last Emperor but above Rocky. It’s a gentle character study of an old lady and her slightly less old chauffeur, over the years from 1948 to 1973, set in Atlanta; she’s Jewish and he is black. (NB this is the second Oscar-winning film largely set in Georgia; the first of course was Gone With the Wind.)

I felt it slightly pulled its punches on social commentary; Hoke has witnessed a lynching, long ago; the Werthans’ synagogue is bombed; he is deeply offended by the manner in which she invites him to hear Martin Luther King speak; but these are two people (three counting her son, who is played by Dan Aykroyd and is the other major character) who are destined to get along, without massive drama or, frankly, much of a character arc. The soundtrack is particularly annoyingly upbeat and would have been appropriate theme music for a not-too-taxing soap opera.

So, on the more positive side, this is the first Oscar-winning film with an African-American lead since In the Heat of the Night, 22 years earlier, which makes it, er, the second ever. (We’ve had two Oscar-winning films with Asian leads in the last decade, in 1982 and 1987.) Morgan Freeman is always watchable and delivers a solid and convincing performance here. It’s also worth noting that it’s one of the least funny roles in Dan Aykroyd’s career, and he too carries it off well.

The movie belongs to Jessica Tandy, who is engagingly sympathetic even at her most crotchety, and particularly in her fading final scene, and deserved her Oscar.

I went and found the original play by Alfred Uhry. The opening of the third scene is:

Lights fade on them and come up on Daisy, who enters her living room with the morning paper. She reads with interest. Hoke enters the living room. He carries a chauffeur’s cap instead of his hat. Daisy’s concentration on the paper becomes fierce when she senses Hoke’s presence.
Mornin’, Miz Daisy.
DAISY: Good morning.
HOKE: Right cool in the night, wadn’t it?
DAISY: I wouldn’t know. I was asleep.
HOKE: Yassum. What yo’ plans today?
DAISY: That’s my business.

The play is a three-hander with Daisy, Hoke and Boolie the only visible characters, so we lose Boolie’s wife Florine, the cook Idella, etc (they and others are referred to but not seen). This of course makes for a tighter script, but I feel that the film built solidly on what was already a decent enough (and Pulitzer-winning) story, and of course could show us what Atlanta actually looks like in a way that can only be conveyed less directly on stage. Apart from that, all the good lines from the film are here, and I think it’s possibly the script least changed from the original material of any of the films I have seen. You can get it here.

I’ve already done this year’s Hugo winner, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so it’s Dances With Wolves next. I thought it was was a load of rubbish when I first saw it; let’s see if I have mellowed in the last 30 years.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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