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Oscar Watch: 'Moneyball' strikes out

Posted Monday, October 3, 2011 at 2:33 PM Central

by John Couture

It's October, which means that Major League Baseball's playoffs must be heating up. Well, as hot as one can get with temperatures dipping into the low 40s and 30s and unpredictable weather wreaking a havoc to the post-game schedule.

Likewise, October unofficially signals the start of what we refer to as Awards Season. Up until now, everything has been preseason fodder for the heavy-hitting behemoths that routinely step up to the plate during the last months of the year.

Are you tired of the sports metaphors yet? Too bad, because I'm sure that more will be forthcoming. That's because, the movie that I recently watched, Moneyball, is a movie about baseball that just also happens to be garnering its fair share of Oscar buzz.

Just like a grand slam, that's what we call bringing it all full-circle. Not to be confused with the circle of life also setting the box office aflame. But since that movie is ineligible to win any more Oscars, it really doesn't fit in this column.

No, today I will be dissecting Moneyball and trying to figure out why this country is obsessed with all things baseball and Brad Pitt. Combine the two and naturally, everyone is talking Oscar.

After seeing Moneyball for myself, I remain quite skeptical. Everyone (and trust me, I mean everyone, go ahead and Google it) is pretty much locking Pitt into one of the five nominations for Best Actor, but I don't see it. Granted, since Brad is in every scene (save for some flashback scenes) his performance has to be top-notch or the movie wouldn't work.

And yes, I will admit that Pitt does an admirable job in his role, but being the best spark-plug in a clunker, doesn't mean that you're fit to win the Indianapolis 500 (yes, even more sports metaphors). Before you jump down my throat, I enjoyed Moneyball for what it was and considering that I came into it as only a casual fan of baseball, I thought it was good, but not great.

Oscar movies tend to be great. The King's Speech. The Hurt Locker. Slumdog Millionaire. American Beauty. They don't tend to be sports movies.

And let's face it, you can put a dress on a pig, but that doesn't automatically make it The Blindside (yes, even mixed sports metaphors now). That's the real issue here. People see Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian's names and want to fit this square peg into a baseball-sized round hole.

The Blindside was a family drama that just happened to have football as its backdrop. Moneyball is a sports movie that wants to be more, but like the film's subject, the Oakland A's, it keeps falling just short. One ice cream scene and a cutesy song for the end credits does not make it the next Juno.

Although speaking of Sorkin and Zaillian, I do think that the dialog and screenplay is quite good. In fact, I would think Best Adapted Screenplay would be a worthy nod for this picture. Of course, Zaillian would then simply be competing against himself as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a shoo-in for a nod as well.

I don't understand critics and the Academy. It's almost like they are in a competition to try and force a Best Oscar statuette into Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio's hands as soon as they can. Ironically, if all this Oscar buzz for no reason pans out, then they might get their ultimate wish with those two facing off the top acting prize.

At the end of the day, Moneyball was good and enjoyable and I'm a sucker for the underlying statistical analysis that made this movie possible, but it just doesn't pass the Oscar eye test for me. I think I hear Billy Beane working the phones to find my more statistically-inclined replacement now.