"Moneyball" played well on Thursday at its media and industry screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Thanks to it being truthful to its real-life story, it doesn't have the kind of rousing finale that invites standing ovations, but many viewers admired it as expert filmmaking. Given the pedigree of its creators –- director Bennett Miller ("Capote"), writers Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List") and Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network") and star Brad Pitt ("Babel," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") -– it's clearly an Oscar contender, but how serious?
Pitt hits it out of the park as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. He gets to emote largely here -– his character is freighted with worry, glowing with love for his daughter, hurling furniture across rooms -– but he has a problem. Because he's portraying a sports figure, the role doesn't have artsy pretension. By contrast, his rival role this year in "The Tree of Life" does have that. Yes, Pitt is lead in "Moneyball" and supporting in "Tree of Life," but if academy members wish to hail him only in one role, it will probably be in "Tree of Life."
A double nomination is not impossible, though. As recently as 2004, Jamie Foxx was nominated in the supporting slot for "Collateral" the same year he won in lead for "Ray."
But this film's big Oscar problem is that it's about baseball, a topic that hasn't done well at the Oscars. Historically speaking, a baseball flick did win at least one Academy Award -- film editing for "Pride of the Yankees" (1947). True, it was nominated for 10 more, including best picture and actor (Gary Cooper) that year, but failed to score. "Field of Dreams" (1989) was nominated for best picture too, but it lost. "Bull Durham" (1988) and "The Natural" (1984) struck out in the top contest completely, despite widespread belief that they might get nominated.
-- Tom O'Neil
Photo: Brad Pitt in "Moneyball." Credit: Sony Pictures