Monday, December 7, 2015

1989: Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy

In this Best Picture Winner, Jessica Tandy plays an aging widow. When she accidentally drives her car into a ditch, her son hires her a chauffeur, much to her annoyance. She is initially very rude to this chauffeur that she wants nothing to do with, but eventually comes to respect him, and even ultimately to consider him her best friend.

Tandy is thoroughly convincing as a stubborn Southern widow, which is particularly impressive given that she was actually from London and that her husband would outlive her. With the lines she's given, it would be easy to make Miss Daisy seem too mean, but Tandy smiles or gets a slight twinkle in her eye at just the right moments so you can tell that she doesn't mean most of the sharp things she says. This makes it a fun performance to watch as well as an impressive one. She definitely deserved an Oscar, but so did Morgan Freeman, who was nominated but didn't win. I felt like a lot of the time her performance was overshadowed by his, so it seems wrong that she won when he didn't. What makes the movie for me is how well the two of them play off each other, so I think they both deserved equal recognition. Her performance would not have worked if it hadn't gone together with Freeman's so well. I guess this means her win was also a win for him, except he didn't get a statue. Life's not fair. Oh well, at least one of them won.

At 80 years old, Jessica Tandy became the oldest Best Actress winner ever, breaking the record set by 74-year-old Katharine Hepburn 8 years earlier, and she remains the oldest winner to this day. In addition, she was the oldest Oscar winner in any competitive category for 22 years, until 82-year-old Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor. It's impressive that at that age she was able to give such a great performance - especially since you get the feeling that Freeman's character isn't that much younger than hers, when he's actually 28 years younger than her - but even more impressive that the Academy recognized it as a great performance, given how much value Hollywood places on youth and glamour. This movie and its awards prove that sometimes even Hollywood gets it right.

Most of Jessica Tandy's work was on the stage. Her early film roles weren't very exciting, and she's mostly remembered for films she made later in her career. This was her first Oscar nomination, and her only one in this category, but she also received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 1991's Fried Green Tomatoes. After that she managed to make a few more films before her death in 1994, at the age of 85. She is currently the most recent Best Actress winner who is no longer alive - not very surprising for the oldest winner - so unless something happens I'm going to have so say "so far" when talking about other wins and nominations in all my future posts on this blog.

Coming up next: Kathy Bates, who was also in Fried Green Tomatoes

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