The Worst Best Picture Winner

Out of all of the awards that can be won at the Oscars, the most coveted is the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Looking at the past 92 winners and nominees, I have my concurrences and dissents with the winners but I never feel “insulted” by most of them. I firmly believe that The King’s Speech unrightfully beat out Black Swan in the 2010 nominees, but I recognize that they are both good movies. Crash (2005) is the laughing stock of Best Pictures but I find it funny in a pathetic way. 

A movie I can’t find any enjoyment in is 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, which I consider to be not only the worst Best Picture winner, but also one of the worst films ever made. I was flabbergasted at how such an awful, boring, and somewhat offensive film could win Best Picture in 1989, a year with fantastic films. Driving Miss Daisy has almost no redeeming qualities and actively insults the viewer with its writing and handling of racial issues in 20th-century America.

Driving Miss Daisy is a film about a racist elderly white woman in 1940’s Georgia whose son hires an African American driver after she gets into an accident. Although she starts off extremely disliking her chauffeur Hoke, the titular Miss Daisy starts to grow close to him over the years and outgrows her prejudices.

To its credit, Driving Miss Daisy is not as technically incompetent as films like The Room (2003) or Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). The camerawork, cinematography, and editing are all acceptable, but in these departments it was shown up by Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior 8 years prior. The lighting is also very tepid and sometimes looks like a Hallmark Christmas movie. The only aspects I would say that make me gag instead of claw my eyes and ears out are the scenes that are dulled from their utter incompetence by Morgan Freeman’s sweet, soothing voice.

While the technical aspects on display may be not horrible, the writing certainly is not. Driving Miss Daisy has a screenplay with glacial pacing that drags out a 99 minute film into what feels like an eternity. The first warning sign is that the events of the film take place over 30 years. For one, it makes it hard to tell exactly when events take place without subtitles for the different years, which this movie doesn’t have. Secondly, with a story like Driving Miss Daisy that should be entirely focused on character development, it stretches how far suspension of disbelief can be taken. Whenever there’s a time skip, the movie seems to suggest that all of Miss Daisy’s character development with Hoke just… went on hiatus? The vignettes feel very disconnected, and the only real hope for consistency is character development.

Unfortunately this movie has little character development, and of the small amount present, it is entirely one sided. The first character we meet in the film is Miss Daisy and right away it’s clear what her character arc should be. She’s this annoying lady who is quite racist towards black people, particularly ones she employs in her house. The film clearly tries to show that her time with Hoke changes her racist views, but Miss Daisy doesn’t change in a meaningful way. Yes, near the end when she listens to MLK speak, it’s evident that she has gained new insight on race, but it feels artificial and forced. There is no progression of her character. She just takes a complete 180 at the end of the movie. This is not character development, it is bad writing from a fanfiction. At least Miss Daisy has some actual “nuance” in her character, unlike the male lead.

Hoke Colburn is also a poorly written character and in my opinion he is actually one of the worst written “characters” from a film . To preface this, I have to make it clear that Morgan Freeman is not the problem here. He’s an amazing actor who deserved better than this dumpster fire of a film’s abhorrent writing. The problem with Hoke’s character is that he has no character. There is no development for him over the course of this film when he is the male lead. He has no qualms with Miss Daisy and is only used as a plot device to get her to stop being racist, which doesn’t work. There’s never any pushback from Hoke when Miss Daisy says something incredibly racist. The character of Hoke fails on so many levels and was a massive waste of Morgan Freeman’s talents.

Driving Miss Daisy’s biggest problem however, is the way it talks about racism. Racism is a delicate topic to discuss in a film, so if a movie wants to talk about race, it has to do it in a way that doesn’t water down the fact of the matter. Driving Miss Daisy is utterly insulting with the way it handles racism, making the problem seem as if it can be solved by two hours alone in a car.