We are deep in the throes of award season, so that’s got us thinking about movies — specifically, our favorite Southern movies. The South is rich with stories and its diverse landscape makes the perfect backdrop for a whole plethora of narratives. Its history is filled with stories both uplifting and disheartening, inspiring and cautionary. Here are a few of Scout’s favorites, Zelda’s favorites, and movies we love watching together.
Coal Miner’s Daughter: This biopic tells the story of country music legend Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek), from her roots in small-town Eastern Kentucky to her rise to fame and all the trials and tribulations along the way.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Based on the book by John Berendt (one of Zelda’s favorites), the narrative circles around the murder of one Billy Hanson (played here by a young Jude Law) in Savannah Georgia. John Cusack stands in for Berendt as the Northern reporter thrust into the seedy, witchy, eccentric and wonderful underbelly of Savannah while the trial takes place.
Crazy in Alabama: This film follows the parallel stories of Lucille Vinson (Melanie Griffith) and her nephew Peejoe Bullis (Lucas Black) in small-town Alabama in 1965. Lucille begins the movie stuck in an abusive marriage, from which she frees herself by killing her husband. While Lucille finds freedom and independence away from Alabama, Peejoe finds himself front and center as the Civil Rights Movement comes to the fore.
Fried Green Tomatoes: Based on the novel by Fannie Flagg, this is a story about two female relationships. The 1980s friendship between Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) and Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) forms as Ninny narrates the story of the Depression-era romance between her sister-in-law Imogen “Idgie” Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).
Gone with the Wind: The quintessential Southern film. Problematic though certain aspects of it may be (it was released in 1939, to be fair), this sweeping epic of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era South, spun around the fiery romance of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), gets me every time. (Plus, on a personal note, it was one of my Atlanta-raised grandmother’s favorites.)
Driving Miss Daisy: Jessica Tandy plays Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow living in 1950s Alabama. Morgan Freeman plays Hoke Colburn, her chauffeur. The story of their eventual friendship, and the rocky road that leads there, is a must-see.
Sweet Home Alabama: Reese Witherspoon returns to her Southern roots to play Melanie Carmichael (slash Smooter, depending on who you ask), an Alabama gal who returns to her hometown after years making a new life in New York City. Includes honky tonks, shotgun weddings, and Confederate battle re-enacters, not to mention the eponymous song.
The Help: Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, this movie is about the lives of two black maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and the writer (Emma Stone) who helps to tell their story. Much like “Waitress” (see below), pie plays a key role here, but in a very, very different way.
Zelda & Scout’s Picks
Forrest Gump: This movie is like a box of chocolates. Some parts are sweet, some more bitter, some crunchy and some as whimsical as whipped nougat. It is at once the story of American history and the tale of one lonely Alabama boy (Tom Hanks) who loved a lonely Alabama girl (Robin Wright) and grew up to leave his mark across the decades.
Big Fish: A Southern folk tale of mythical proportions, this Tim Burton take on the Daniel Wallace novel (featured in Required Reading: Volume Three) follows the life of one Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney) and his many misadventures up and down Alabama and beyond.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Scout devoted an entire post to her love of this Coen Brothers interpretation of “The Odyssey.” From the soundtrack to the swamp moss, it is an ode to southern storytelling and the larger-than-life characters (George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and more) that lend the region so much of its personality and charm.
Waitress: Although no specific setting is ever given, this tale about Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress at a pie diner, is clearly a Southern one. It’s sad and it’s sweet and it will hit you right in the heartstrings. Do not watch on an empty stomach. You have been warned. (Bonus: The Broadway musical based on the movie is also wonderful!)
Remember the Titans: There are few things as Southern as football (see Scout’s “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Watch These (Movies)”). Normally we consider Virginia’s Southerness on the iffy side, but this tale of a town torn apart by race but brought together by the love of a team definitely puts it on the Dixie side of the Mason-Dixon line.
Steel Magnolias: A Southern woman is a fearsome thing, beautiful and powerful and brave. A band of six Louisiana ladies who navigate joy, fear, grief, pain, and whole lot of big hair, all with wry humor and immense love? Now that is a force to be reckoned with.