The Battle for an Oscar: Moneyball

Baseball movies are always either extremely good or terribly awful. In a good movie, like Bull Durham, humor, drama and realism are all incorporated nicely, and an instant classic is formed. On the other hand, in a movie like Rookie of the Year, gaining super arm strength and getting pulled out of the stands at Wrigley Park and signed to a major league contract may be the dream of every child and drunken man at a baseball game, but that doesn’t make it a good film.

Unfortunately, there are many more “bad” baseball movies than classics. If the movie goes off on a comedic path, it can either turn out like The Sandlot, one of the most highly regarded baseball movies in history, or Ed, a 1996 movie that was basically Air Bud but with a chimpanzee instead of a golden retriever. As a rule, all romantic-comedy baseball films are terrible (such as, Fever Pitch and Summer Catch). If the movie takes a more dramatic angle, like Field Of Dreams or Bull Durham, emotion must be combined with real baseball knowledge to be done well (another rule: if Kevin Costner is in it, it won’t be terrible).

So where does Moneyball stand? Based off a book of the same name, written in 2003, the film tells the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who must put a winning baseball team together using only a fraction of the salary other teams have. The entire film pushes the theme of “the underdog,” as the Oakland A’s were made up of players who were not considered to have any value. Beane, with the help of assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), picks players based, not on face value, but, instead, on statistics and basic SABRmetrics (the name for the science of baseball statistics, which digs deeper than the normal RBIs, homeruns and strikeouts).

Overall the film is fantastic. The performance by Brad Pitt, who admittedly had no prior knowledge of baseball, conveys the emotional struggle of a former player who had been cheated by baseball his whole life; Pitt’s character was a flop as a player in the MLB and was pushed out after three terrible seasons. Jonah Hill also delivers a decent performance, although his character is more of an emotionless talking stat-sheet more than anything else.

The way the film is presented is its strongest asset. As the present (2003 MLB season) is shown, there are flashbacks to Beane’s playing days, as well as real video clips of the events of the 2003 season. The actors chosen to play the roles of the Oakland A’s were mainly former/current minor league baseball players who looked enough like the characters they were playing, so there was a great sense of realism that helped to add depth to the film. Avid baseball fans may get a kick out of the references to Ed Wade, who was the Phillies General Manager at the time, and a poorly casted Raúl Ibañez (the actor is a different race than Ibañez), but overall the plot is nearly completely historically accurate. The flashbacks of Beane’s playing days weave an excellent motif of “love over money” as the film progresses, all leading up the final decision of the movie.

But does Moneyball deserve an Oscar? As previously mentioned, it is hard to make a great baseball movie, but director Bennett Miller does just that. Moneyball provides emotion and an overwhelmingly real depiction of the game, which gives baseball fans an even deeper appreciation for the movie. However, Moneyballhas a long-shot of winning. It is a great baseball movie, but not necessarily worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture.