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Is “Moneyball” handicapped at the Oscars?

Posted on January 23rd, 2012
Posted on January 23rd, 2012

by Coop Cooper

Yet another film released to DVD that I’m sorry I overlooked until now. It has the potential to be the best film of the year, but can it engage legions of Oscar voters who may be cynical towards America’s favorite pastime?

Brad Pitt plays real-life Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane who is facing a potentially disastrous 2002 season after losing the playoffs and his MVPs. Without the budget to secure the most sought-after players in the league, Beane risks everything to a radical idea hatched by Yale economics whiz, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand convinces Beane that statistical analysis by computer is the answer in drafting the right players – not the most valuable ones – in order to score runs. This challenges over a hundred years of traditional theory and the results of this gamble eventually change the sport forever.

Coming from a big baseball family, I reveled in this underdog film. It takes what’s great about the sport and levels the field so that the less fortunate teams have a chance a greatness. It also doesn’t shy away from rubbing this fact in the face of everyone who defied and badmouthed this theory. The film boldly makes no bones about publicly taking those detractors to task. I could imagine the steam rising off of the heads of real-life people portrayed in the film as they watched themselves on the screen becoming bad guys for defending their elitist and outdated oligarchy. It was riveting.

What is troubling about “Moneyball” being nominated for an Oscar is that it could be inherently handicapped by its subject matter. A large percentage of Oscar voters are foreign. Of those foreign voters, most are from countries without a vested interest in baseball. Of all Oscar voters, many are artistic types with little interest in sports. Of the Academy Award-winning films throughout history, here is a list of sports films that won Best Picture: “Rocky” (1976), “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). I’m not counting “The Sting” (1973) for it’s poker-con plot or “The Deer Hunter” (1978) since Russian Roulette has yet to make it’s way to ESPN.

So how does this bode for “Moneyball” winning or even getting nominated for Best Picture by the Academy? On paper, not well, but don’t forget… The Foreign Press Association nominated “Moneyball” for a Golden Globe. While it didn’t win, it is a vote of confidence for the film’s merits, despite what many foreign countries might think of baseball (or American culture for that matter). Because of this, I predict it will be nominated, but won’t win an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Brad Pitt, on the other hand, has a genuine chance at Best Actor. Pitt did what he did best in “Moneyball,” playing a natural leader with a sense of humor and an intense passion for his cause. A complex character, Beane hates losing more than he loves winning, yet he refuses to watch a game due to the nerve it strikes in him. He regrets his own past failures as a player and is willing to risk his career for redemption. Pitt makes you feel all these things without breaking a sweat and should be commended. He is a critical and fan favorite, so he will likely receive a nomination, and a possible win. His outstanding chemistry with co-star Jonah Hill puts Pitt’s performance over the top, so Hill should not be undersold.

Perhaps I’m talking nonsense about the tastes of Academy voters (I’d like to be proven wrong), but they do favor the weepy period dramas over contemporary subject matter. Does it deserve to win? Possibly, seeing that it’s one of the most flawlessly executed movies of the year. The screenplay at the very least deserves to win. It’s that well done.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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