Social misfit Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain, left) befriends her bemused...

Social misfit Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain, left) befriends her bemused housekeeper Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer, right), in DreamWorks Pictures' inspiring drama, "The Help," based on the New York Times best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. "The Help" is written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor, with Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan producing. In theaters on August 20, 2011. Credit: Dale Robinette/DreamWorks Pictures/Dale Robinette

"The Help," based on Kathryn Stockett's novel about racism in the pre-civil rights South, was bound to draw comparisons to the 1989 film "Driving Miss Daisy." The movies share a similar setting, theme and an overall heartwarming tone.

One thing they don't share is an Oscar. At least, not yet.

DreamWorks, which produced the film, is already drumming up awards buzz, according to What that means isn't always clear, but Disney, the film's distributor, has launched a strong word-of-mouth campaign with 300 early screenings, a fundraising premiere in Mississippi and appearances from cast members in at least 11 cities. And reviews have certainly lauded the actors, including Emma Stone as a headstrong journalist, Viola Davis as a maid who tells her story and Allison Janney as Stone's ailing mom.

It's too early to predict any Oscars. But if no other movie were released in this so-far lackluster year, "The Help" would probably sweep the major categories. Its strongest competition might be the unexpectedly well-received "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (which would be an odd Oscar battle, indeed), though there's time for an even bigger gorilla to emerge.

"The Help" seems likely to earn more than $5 million from its Wednesday opening alone and a respectable $25 million for the weekend. (Actual totals weren't available at press time.) Its CinemaScore, from the firm that tracks audience reactions, is a rare A-plus. Other films to share that honor: "Titanic," "Schindler's List," "Beauty and the Beast" and, you guessed it, "Driving Miss Daisy."

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