In consecutive years during the 1980s there were two strong Best Picture winners; looking back they appear like unlikely contenders, seemingly as they both step away from the typical criteria seen in previous years.
They are not sweeping dramatic epics, they do not take place in a glamorous foreign country, and are they are not a tedious 2.5-3 hours in length.
What they exceed in doing is pairing two fantastic actors in defining two dynamic relationships with separate and compelling stories. No bells and whistles, just solid movie making.
Capping off the 1980's brought Rain Man and Driving Miss Daisy, which makes for a splendid double feature.
First was the flick that brought together Dustin Hoffman (in his Oscar winning role) and Tom Cruise.
Focusing on Charlie Babbitt, a spoiled self obsessed man (Cruise), who, after the death of his father, discovers that he has an autistic older brother, Raymond (Hoffman).
Raymond was left all of their fathers money in his will, and Charlie only got a measly car! So, what does this call for? Road trip!
Charlie is having a serious cash flow problem and needs that inheritance badly. Initially, Charlie "borrowing" Raymond from the special needs home he has been living in seems pretty terrible. Hold on, it's not as bad as it sounds. What starts as a somewhat hostage situation, in really nice hotels, turns into a glorious road movie where the brothers bond over Judge Wapner, farting in telephone booths, and the quality of Kmart.
Hoffman, in one of his greatest roles, adapts so easily to the comedic and intense sections of the story, and the brotherly dynamic he and Cruise create is definitely classic.
From long lost brothers to unlikely friends; classy actors paired together is always a win.
Having never seen the winner from the following year, I only had its reputation to proceed it. Let's be serious, everyone has heard of Driving Miss Daisy.
To be honest, I was surprised to learn it had won the Best Picture-it seemed too sentimental a choice. That shock faded once Jessica Tandy (Best Actress winner) and Morgan Freeman came onto the screen.
It's the 1950's and Miss Daisy (Tandy) is an independent elderly southern lady who would rather not admit she can no longer manage to drive her own car. After crashing into her neighbors yard, her son takes it into his own hands and hires her a driver (Freeman); the rest is history.
At first she can't stand her driver and uses every excuse to get him fired, but really, who wouldn't fall in love with Morgan Freeman?
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play, the dialogue and story smoothly moves through time to show their slowly progressing bond. There is a lot of potential drama (she is Jewish, he is a black man), but this is all handled very subtly. We know the history of this era and can infer on our own how these characters will be feeling, which at times builds a lot of tension.
It is easy to get enraptured by their story, even if it is a simple tale to tell. Miss Daisy might have just needed a driver, but in each other they found the greatest of friends. With that, I can tell why so many people love this movie.
When it seems like the Oscars only honor total depress fests, then come these two mood lifters and they are both a must. (Note: Netflix subscribers are in luck Driving Miss Daisy is streaming instantly!)
Next Up: Dances With Wolves. Come on guys, it's the 90's!