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Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, has earned six Academy Award nominations. The film is an adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book following Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane’s use of sabermetrics in creating his 2002 roster and setting the single-season MLB record for consecutive wins.
The film’s high-profile cast and writer (Aaron Sorkin of The Social Network and The West Wing) and $25 million in profit likely contributed to the nominations, as did the now-broader standards for Best Picture nominations in the wake of The Dark Knight.
Whatever the reasons, the film doesn’t deserve six nominations, and it shouldn’t win any. Here’s why:
I don’t know what makes something a “Best Picture.” Of the other nominated films, I only saw Hugo. I’ve heard good things about The Help (though some found it racist) and The Descendants, and both Hugo and War Horse were high-end family films that matched good reviews with box-office success and sweeping vistas.
Though supposedly the most important, this category has become watered down since it expanded (or returned) to 10 films. Anything “good enough” now gets nominated. In the five-movie system used from 1944 to 2008, Moneyball wouldn’t have made it.
Moneyball tries to cast Beane in the best light possible. It strips away the book’s more manic scenes (Beane’s last-minute attempt to get Kevin Youkilis, for example) while not missing a single opportunity to show us the baseball world’s utterly hostile reaction to Beane’s stat-constructed roster. The film leaves out Beane’s sleazy pick-up lines used on other teams’ secretaries while introducing a saccharine father-daughter relationship I don’t remember in the book.
Pitt’s performance at no point blows you away. He nails some of the jokes, but fumbles many as well. His blank stare throughout the film doesn’t deliver much emotional punch, making Beane – so fiery in real life – seem almost disinterested in what’s going on around him.
Anyone who’s seen Superbad knows Hill is best when he’s at his raunchiest, loudest and most vulgar. His character in Moneyball – Peter Brand, a fictional character – is reserved, self-conscious and nerdy. Hill looks like he’s being physically restrained at all times, held back from unleashing the full force of his comedic prowess. The result is another bland, distanced character whose alliance with Pitt’s is logical but ultimately kinda boring.
I don’t know anything about sound mixing. Did Moneyball sound good? Probably. I certainly don’t remember it sounding bad. But this film is up against two action films (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Tranformers: Dark of the Moon), plus the beautiful-sounding Hugo, and War Horse, which needed good sound because it’s about something which can’t speak.
Somehow I don’t see the film winning in a category with four movies all richer in sound.
My biggest complain about Moneyball: it was too long. Too many conversations began with two people just staring at each other, and too many ended the same way. Beane’s trip to Fenway to interview for the Red Sox job could have been reduced to a caption before the final credits. And with the exception of Scott Hatteberg’s game-winning home run, the actual baseball lacked any excitement.
When it comes to editing, Moneyball failed entirely. It earned this nomination solely on the strength of other categories and stars.
I’ve seen Sorkin at his best (The West Wing, A Few Good Men, SportsNight), his pretty decent (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network), and his horribly self-indulgent (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). Because of that, I set very high standards for anything new that he gets his hands on.
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect every show or movie of his to pop, but Moneyball just didn’t pop the way other stuff he’s done has. Conversations lack the pace and self-referential style characteristic of Sorkin’s funniest and most dramatic dialogue.
If Moneyball will win anything, though, this will be it. Sorkin has street cred within the industry, and even at his not-best he can still write circles around the rest of Hollywood. He might win simply on the grounds that he’s Aaron Sorkin.
Please understand: I’m not a hater. I loved Michael Lewis’ book, and I love Aaron Sorkin. I just didn’t love what Sorkin, Pitt and Hill did with Lewis’ book.