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Oscar-Nominated Chauffeurs, Ranked

Photo: Columbia TriStar; Neon

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is about many things: loss, memory, communication, the mysterious sources of creativity, how to perform Chekhov in sign language. But it’s also about, well, driving a car. Specifically, it’s about Yūsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a theater director who reluctantly surrenders the keys to his vintage Saab to Misaki (Tōko Miura), the professional driver hired to whisk him to and from work during a residency in Hiroshima.

But Misaki is far from the only chauffeur to figure prominently in Academy Award–nominated films. In fact, she’s part of a veritable movie chauffeur-sance when it comes to Oscar nominees, thanks to recent films like Parasite and White Tiger. Broaden the definition of chauffeur a bit (and we have), and she’s revealed to be part of a long Oscar tradition.

But who, from that field, would actually do a good job as a driver? And, perhaps more importantly for these films, would they improve the lives of their passengers? Let’s take a moment to rank some of the most notable wheelmen and wheelwomen from Oscar-nominated movies.

11. Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver (1976)

Actor: Robert De Niro
The job: Driving the scum-filled streets of 1970s New York. Waiting for a real rain to come and wash them off.
Driving skills: Say what you will about Travis, he largely confines his questionable activities — murder, stalking, that kind of thing — to his off-hours. He doesn’t let his obvious racism, misogyny, and homophobia get in the way of picking up all customers (“They’re all animals, anyway”), and he’s unflappable when a possible murderous fare goes on and on about murdering his wife.
Customer satisfaction: Again, if you ride with Travis, you’ll probably have a smooth ride.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: In the sense that they get where they’re going, sure. In the sense that he’s a sociopath freely roaming the streets while engaging in the occasionally bloody act of vigilante justice, probably not.
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Score.

10. Balram Halwai, White Tiger (2021)

Actor: Adarsh Gourav
The job: Driving members of the wealthy Shah family wherever the need to go. But also: cooking, calf massages, playing video games, and whatever else needs doing.
Driving skills: Let’s put it this way: The one scene in which someone else drives doesn’t end well.
Customer satisfaction: Here’s where this ranking gets unavoidably spoiler-y: Dead customers can’t complain.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Decidedly not.
Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay.

9. Kim Ki-taek, Parasite (2019)

Actor: Song Kang-ho
The job: Driving members of the wealthy Park family wherever they need to go.
Driving skills: Though Ki-taek is not exactly a licensed chauffeur, he does get the job done … up to a point.
Customer satisfaction: Remember what we said about White Tiger?
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Again, see above.
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best International Feature (won), Best Editing, Best Production Design.

8. Max, Collateral (2004)

Actor: Jamie Foxx
The job: A cabbie with dreams, Max is hired by Vincent (Tom Cruise), a hit man making his bloody rounds over the course of a long night in Los Angeles.
Driving skills: Strong. Max seems like a consummate professional, even as he starts to grow wary of his passenger’s shady business.
Customer satisfaction: Well (spoiler), Max kind of ends up killing Vincent. He probably shouldn’t expect much of a tip. But at least he kills him for unselfish reasons, which sets him apart from some of those lower on this list.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: However justified Max is in his actions, it’s hard to say “yes.”
Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing.

7. Baby, Baby Driver (2017)

Actor: Ansel Elgort
The job: Driving criminals to and from their crimes in Atlanta while playing fantastic music.
Driving skills: Amazing! To be fair, Baby’s skills do get a boost from rhythmic editing timed to the wall-to-wall soundtrack.
Customer satisfaction: Baby’s employers couldn’t be more satisfied with his work — up to a point. When Baby’s conscience kicks in, his ability to get the job done goes out the window.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Again, it’s hard to say someone’s life is improved by a driver when they end up dead and the driver is pretty directly responsible for their demise.
Oscar nominations: Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

6. Earl Piggot, Short Cuts (1992)

Actor: Tom Waits
The job: Making his way around a Los Angeles filled by Robert Altman with characters from Raymond Carver stories.
Driving skills: The hard-drinking Earl likes to take swigs of booze and has trouble keeping his eyes on the road when his even-more-intoxicated passengers start making out in the back seat. So not great.
Customer satisfaction: On the other hand, no one really has any complaints about his performance. And don’t you want a limo driver who knows how to party? (You don’t? Okay, don’t hire Earl.)
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Questionable. But he doesn’t seem to hurt their lives, unlike some drivers on this list.
Oscar nominations: Best Director.

5. Tony Lip, Green Book (2018)

Actor: Viggo Mortensen
The job: In the early 1960s, Tony, a racist, takes a job driving pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through the Deep South.
Driving skills: You can say a lot of bad things about Tony (and Green Book), but he’s a pretty good driver and he’ll get you out of jail without asking too many questions.
Customer satisfaction: Though based on a true story, Green Book sometimes plays like an attempt to turn Driving Miss Daisy (see below) on its head: What if it was the driver who had to adjust his racial attitudes? Shirley emerges from the trip in one piece, but if he hoped to get through it without having to educate his employee, he could only have been disappointed by the trip’s end.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Sure? Tony and Don become friends. Tony learns a thing or two about race. Don doesn’t have to spend Christmas Eve alone. Everyone wins?
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Editing.

4. Hoke Colburn, Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Actor: Morgan Freeman
The job: Driving Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy).
Driving skills: As with all things, Hoke is a skilled, courteous, and thoughtful driver.
Customer satisfaction: Hoke’s performance is all the more remarkable because of his difficult employer, a woman with some, let’s say, outmoded views of race.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Over their many years together, Hoke learns how to read and other skills from Miss Daisy. But Miss Daisy learns from Hoke. In fact, making Miss Daisy a better person seems to be the main reason he exists. That has, understandably, made this film a target of criticism since its release. But hey, that’s not Hoke’s fault. He’s as good as it gets, chauffeur-wise (and otherwise).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Actor, Best Actress (won), Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Makeup (won).

3. Cliff Booth, Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood (2019)

Actor: Brad Pitt
The job: Driving fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Tending to Rick’s ego. Fixing the roof of Rick’s house. Killing the Manson family.
Driving skills: Rick will whisk you through the streets of late-’60s L.A. accompanied by the sounds of the era’s hottest hits. Nothing to complain about.
Customer satisfaction: The inseparable Rick and Cliff enjoy an extremely close relationship that transcends the traditional driver-passenger bond.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Rick’s kind of a mess, but it’s hard to imagine what he’d be like without Cliff.
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design (won), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

2. Max Rockatansky, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Actor: Tom Hardy
The job: Conscripted as a kind of living hood ornament, Max is initially more passenger than driver in this fourth Mad Max. But he eventually becomes part of Imperator Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron) desperate escape from the oppressive forces of a dread warlord.
Driving skills: Look, you don’t survive in the postapocalyptic wasteland as long as Max without some serious talent behind the wheel. He deserves to be this high on the list, but the level of difficulty (and maybe some residual admiration of his previous adventures) didn’t hurt.
Customer satisfaction: “Customer” isn’t quite the right word for Furiosa, who’s more of a partner to Max for most of the film. But it’s certainly a successful partnership.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: “Improve” probably isn’t the right word, either. But it is Max who comes up with the plan used in the final act.
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Editing (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Sound Editing (won), Best Sound Mixing (won), Best Visual Effects.

1. Misaki Watari, Drive My Car (2021)

Actor: Tōko Miura
The job: Driving a moody theater director, Yūsuke, to and from his place of work each day.
Driving skills: Remarkable. Yūsuke, who has a great ride and is used to controlling his life, has his reasons for reluctantly agreeing to let someone else drive his car. And, most likely, some unspoken reasons specific to Misaki related to her being a young woman. But he quickly recognizes she knows what she’s doing.
Customer satisfaction: Initially, Yūsuke just wants to listen to a recording of Uncle Vanya and run lines. Misaki does this without complaint. That sounds great to us: If this were a Lyft ride, it would be a five-star, custom-tip situation. Maybe it’s just recency bias, but it’s hard to think of a better chauffeur to top this list.
Do they improve their passengers’ lives?: Eventually their relationship deepens and grows more complex in ways that enrich the lives of both passenger and driver.
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature.

Honorable mentions: It would be wrong not to give a tip of the chauffeur’s cap to Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the twice-nominated Iron Man and Argyle (De’voreaux White) in Die Hard (which picked up four nominations). These are VIP drivers. They’re just not really central to the action.

Oscar-Nominated Chauffeurs, Ranked