81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Driving Miss Daisy

October 20th, 2009 · No Comments · 1989, Adaptation, Color, Composer: Hans Zimmer, Dan Aykroyd, Drama, Driving Miss Daisy, Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Warner Bros. Pictures

Driving Miss Daisy I love everything about this movie.

I can’t think of a sweeter, kinder, more uplifting movie in the pantheon of Best-Picture winners. Not even Marty, as sweet as it was, beats Driving Miss Daisy. It doesn’t get any better than this. And, truth be told, few movies can bring a tear to my eye like this one.

I remember watching Driving Miss Daisy in the theater. I was captivated from the very first scene, the very first musical note. I knew I was watching magic unfold before my eyes.

Over the years, I’ve probably seen this movie 7-8 times. Maybe more. And every time I do, I enjoy it more. Probably because I appreciate it more. Especially these days. Hollywood doesn’t know how to make movies any more. They make CGI spectacles, as frenetic as they are inane.

Even when Dan Aykroyd’s character Boolie Werthan says something silly like, “You’re a doodle, Mama” it’s still better than an entire movie’s worth of dialogue in the latest Transformers movie. Or the latest Twilight, for that matter. I wouldn’t be caught dead (no pun intended) in that vampire movie.

I agree with screenwriting guru Robert McKee on many points. But he and I part ways on one key matter. McKee says Hollywood is constantly on the lookout for original, well-written movies. Baloney, I say. I’ve seen the kinds of movies Hollywood has been producing lately. And I see the legions of screenwriters clamoring for a shot at having their scripts made. You can’t tell me the vast majority of those screenwriters are responsible for the drivel that makes it to theaters. I know better.

That’s why only a few movies these days really surprise me. (500) Days Of Summer was one. Up was another. And Away We Go (although it was unnecessarily foul-mouthed in some spots). And, of course, one of my favorite films of the last 20 years – Juno. Aside from, maybe, one or two stand-outs per year, most of what we see in the theater is “meh” at best and god-awful at worst.

Driving Miss Daisy to the rescue.

Whenever I watch one of the recent crops of movies – and feel like my IQ dropped a couple of dozen points – I’ll go home and pop in a movie like Driving Miss Daisy. Immediately, my soul is restored.

That works for movies like The Maltese Falcon, too. And Singin’ In the Rain. And The Adventures of Robin Hood. And The African Queen. But my standard for quality doesn’t have to reach back 40-50 years (or more). I’m a big fan of more recent movies like Being John Malkovich. And The Illusionist. And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And Lars and the Real Girl. And Stardust. And Stranger Than Fiction. And Pan’s Labyrinth (I adore that movie!). And Princess Bride. And even Galaxy Quest (another perfectly written and acted movie).

Point is, movies that stand the test of time, that are worth seeing again and again, are few and far between.

Driving Miss Daisy is one of them.

Very near the top of my list, in fact.

The plot is a simple one, too. An elderly Jewish woman (Jessica Tandy) in the deep South (Atlanta, I believe) needs a driver. Her son (Dan Aykroyd) hires an elderly black man (Morgan Freeman). At first, the woman and her driver are at odds with one another. She won’t let him drive her anywhere. She doesn’t trust him. Over the years (the movie spans the years 1948 through the late 1960s to early 1970s), the two grow closer together – especially as they weather the storms of a society going through turmoil – and, in the end…well, the ending is one of those that brings a lump to my throat. Sort of like in Rain Main when Raymond leans his head against Charlie’s as they sit in a room at Raymond’s custody hearing, shortly before Raymond is returned to the institution.

The music is amazing. Joyful, melancholy, energetic, and quaint all at the same time. It fits the movie perfectly.

The acting is the kind that makes me feel happy to be alive. It is a joy to watch Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, two of the finest actors in the world.

The Cast
Morgan Freeman (1937- )………………Hoke Colburn
Jessica Tandy (1909-1994)…………….Daisy Werthan
Dan Aykroyd (1952- )……………………Boolie Werthan
Patti LuPone (1949- )…………………….Florine Werthan
Esther Rolle (1920-1998)……………….Idella

Directed By
Bruce Beresford (1940- )

Written By
Alfred Uhry, 1936- (play and screenplay) Uhry holds the distinction of being “The first playwright to win the Tony, the Oscar, and the Pulitzer Prize,” according to IMDB.

I’m probably not even worthy to watch Mr. Uhry’s movie, let alone try to write one as good. This is fine, fine writing.

Driving Miss Daisy was nominated for nine Academy Awards but won only four: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jessica Tandy, who “became the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar, at nearly 81, surpassing the achievement of George Burns”), Best Makeup, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Alfred Uhry). Nominated but not winning (what a crime!) were Morgan Freeman (Best Actor in a Leading Role) and Dan Aykroyd (Best Actor in a Supporting Role).

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