About a month from now, the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be handed out. For the first time in my memory, a baseball film, Moneyball, will be up for six categories. The screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball has been wildly successful.
Let me preface any opinions by admitting Moneyball is the only of the nine films I happened to catch. So, if I had a vote, sure, why not give all six Oscars to the film’s cast and crew.
If you look at past Best-Picture winners, though, the odds don’t seem good. The last and only true sports flick on the list is Rocky. I like Oakland GM Billy Beane’s story, but Rocky Balboa he most certainly is not.
To me, it’s akin to the baseball version of Friday Night Lights. It brings fact-based sporting events to life on the big screen. Both seem to over-dramatize the underlying book themes, as they should to gain box-office success. I mean, who would have paid $10 for popcorn and a soda to watch how some security guard from a pork and beans factory (Bill James) figured out that more base runners are better than less.
Next, Brad Pitt is up for his portrayal of Beane. Now, we are getting down to brass tacks of the matter. Pitt is arguably one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Women swoon over him and men want to be him. His star power brought instant credibility to the film.
Will he win? Who knows? I mean his competition seems to be some mystical pony from War Horse and a guy that doesn’t say word from some French flick. Okay, I have not a clue who the real nominees are.
Should he win? Maybe. Granted, personally, I don’t know Billy Beane any more than I know Billy Clinton. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I know anyone named Billy.
Pitt does capture the Beane character I envisioned from the book. A man determined to overcome his own demons, on and off the field. A quick-tempered, confident man accustomed to imposing his will. A Copenhagen man.
Jonah Hill plays Peter Brand. Who? Yes, Peter Brand. I didn’t realize popping the DVD in that Paul DePodesta declined to be included in the project.
I have to say Hill does a pretty good job. Best Supporting Actor is quite the step up from the Teen Choice Awards, too. It’s just too hard for me to buy, though. I keep expecting him to throw up on himself or run into a door. DePodesta can’t be flattered about having — and I mean this in the nicest of ways — the fat kid from Superbad playing his likeness.
Best Adapted Screenplay. Here is a category I can see the film taking home an Oscar for. Writers Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin capture, almost to a tee, the story Lewis wrote about. The 2002 Oakland A’s were hamstrung by payroll and constraints of a small-market team. Beane and his staff did change the landscape of player evaluation. He did have to overcome a century of preconceptions. The A’s did win 20-straight games.
Face it, if you’re an A’s fan, or just a baseball fan in general, this really was a great story. Let’s leave out the fact Beane and manger Art Howe had three of the best young pitchers in the game, including 2002 Cy Young winner Barry Zito. Let’s leave out 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada. It’s still a great story; and, hey, Lewis left them out, too, so why not?
I couldn’t tell you what constitutes good Film Editing or Sound Mixing, but I think Moneyball, to use a cliché, knocks it out of the park in both categories. The editors seamlessly splice in authentic footage throughout the film. Even the radio bits seem to be real recordings.
All in all, Moneyball was a great depiction of events that transpired over the 2002 Oakland A’s season. It informed. It entertained.
Any problems I had with it have more to do with the overall success of the team being credited to a couple has-beens who walk a lot and a guy who throws funny, rather than the core of young pitchers and arguably the best left side of the infield in the game at the time.
Will I watch it over and over? Doubtful. Oscar-worthy or not, it probably will never make my collection. The biggest flaw I see is that it’s a true story. Bear with me here. To the less-than-casual fan, the story is brand new. To those who follow the game, not so much. We all remember Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon moving on to big-market teams. You don’t need Moneyball to watch the 20th game of the streak. You followed in the box scores. You can probably even pull up actual footage of Scott Hatteberg’s walk-off hit on Youtube.
Not me. No, I prefer my baseball movies to invoke that feeling of nostalgia. Try not to remember your own pick-up games as kid when Sandlot comes on TBS. Try not to picture the lights exploding when a foul ball clangs off the light tower in your Monday night softball league. Try not to imagine “Shoeless” Joe Jackson materializing each time you pass a cornfield. Try not to hear “never steal home without it” every time an AMEX card gets swiped.