Just in time for Major League Baseball's playoffs, Moneyball, this weekend's drama about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, is generating tons of baseball-related buzz. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a onetime New York Mets draft pick who becomes general manager of the A's. Frustrated that his cash-strapped club can't compete with the deep pockets of teams like the Yankees, Beane buys into the notion that statistical analysis could be used to field a winning team of little-known and undervalued players. Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) adapted the script from Michael Lewis' best-selling book, and the film is already being hailed as "an absolute triumph of culturally relevant filmmaking." Here, six things everybody's talking about:
1. Brad Pitt hits it out of the park
This may be Pitt's "smartest, subtlest performance ever," says Roger Moore at the Orlando Sentinel. He's tasked with playing a "caring but absent dad," a "ruthless" boss, and a "thin-skinned ex-jock" — and pulls it all off with aplomb. It's a textured performance, says Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly, revealing Pitt in "classic, game-on movie-star mode," but layered with a "deep river of self-doubt." Indeed, "it's hard to imagine anyone but Mr. Pitt in the role," says Manohla Dargis at The New York Times.
2. And Jonah Hill delivers a winning performance
Hill's turn as an Ivy League number-cruncher who develops a new way to mathematically evaluate players is "understated and fascinating," says Roger Ebert. He exercises "comedy muscles we haven't seen him use on-screen before," says Alonso Duralde at The Wrap. The "manic-nebbish energy" he employs in films like Superbad is toned way down — to great effect.
3. This film will appeal to sports-averse audiences
"I don't care about sports," says Duralde. Yet "I was riveted by Moneyball." This isn't so much a movie about baseball as it is "a tale of bold visionaries." The lessons about defying the conventions of business could apply to any field, from politics to entertainment. But that's not to say it's not a worthy addition to the sports film canon. It's the best baseball movie since Bull Durham, ventures Gleiberman. Actually, says Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune, it's the "best sports movie in a long time, period."
4. It (thankfully) avoids sports movie cliches
The most inspirational baseball movies have the underdog knock a monster hit into the lights during the film's most climactic game, showering the stands with sparks like fireworks, says Phillips. Moneyball "is not that film. It's better than that film." Under a lesser director, the Cinderella story could have been "rendered dull or sappy." Thankfully, agrees Ebert, it's not a film that focuses on Big Games, instead turning to "terse, brainy dialogue" and a fascinating game of numbers to provide its most exciting moments.
5. Of course, it's still not perfect
Audiences may be annoyed that they don't ever see an edgier side to Beane, especially since his ballplaying dreams were crushed so spectacularly at a young age, says Phillips. And the sentimental ending could frustrate sports movie fans used to a "certain kind of wow" moment in the final act. But while the film lacks the "flair" audiences have come to expect from high-quality sports films, says Scott Tobias at The A.V. Club, its intelligence more than makes up for that.
6. Moneyball is an Oscar frontrunner
"If I had to predict right now," says Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, Moneyball would be at the top of the list of Best Picture contenders. The film's screenwriters, director Bennett Miller, and Jonah Hill will all likely find themselves in the mix as well, says Sean O'Connell at Hollywood News. And don't forget the leading man: "Moneyball punches Brad Pitt's ticket into this year's Best Actor Oscar race."