Last week the Academy Award Nominations were announced and there were nine movies nominated for Best Picture this year. I have seen only three of them so far but I am going to try and see all nine before the awards are announced on Feb. 26. Between now and then I will give my review of the movies nominated. I am going to start with the one I watched most recently and that was Moneyball, which is available now on DVD and VOD.
Moneyball based on the book of the same name is the true story about the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). After losing to the New York Yankees in the 2001 playoffs, Oakland loses three of their star players to teams that have much higher payroll then the A's.
Forced to rebuild a team with very little money, Beane hires Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to be his assistant. The two take a very unconventional approach to putting a team together. Instead of listening to scouts who have long been trusted in baseball, they decide to use math and statistics - a method known as sabermetrics or moneyball.
This method was very controversial, as players traditionally were selected based on the evaluation and gut feelings of scouts. Beane had many confrontations with the scouts about his player selections, but by using stats like on-base percentage (OBP), they are able to find players who normally would be overlooked for various reasons and are therefore undervalued and affordable.
As the season starts, the manager of the A's Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) refuses to use the new method to play the team and managers the team the conventional way. After forcing his hand to play the team the way he wants, Beane is able to see how well the new method works, culminating with a 20-game winning streak that broke the American League record, and then people start to come around to his methods.
For a movie about baseball and statistics it is not as boring as it sounds. The script written by previous Academy Award winners Stephen Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) manages to find a personal story about Billy Beane from a book that is mostly about math. Aaron Sorkin brings his trademark snappy dialogue seen on shows like The West Wing to Billy Beane and his confrontations but there are also more subtle moments like when Beane is with his daughter.
The acting is also top notch. While it is not surprising to see Brad Pitt give a great performance, it was a pleasant surprise to see Jonah Hill in a more serious role. Known for his over-the-top comedies like Superbad, here he plays a more normal guy who doesn't really fit in. While Philip Seymour Hoffman is usually great, here he is underused. As Art Howe he is not given much to do besides look depressed. It seemed like a wasted role for a talent like his.
While the movie doesn't have many big climatic scenes and some might think it is a little slow, I think the David vs. Goliath struggle resonates with people. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie and think it will be ranked as one of the best baseball movies alongside The Natural and Field of Dreams.
Besides Best Picture, Moneyball was also nominated for Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Zaillian, Best Actor for Brad Pitt, and Best Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill. I think its best chance of winning will be for Best Adapted Screenplay.