Oscar pundits are pretty much in agreement: Silent film "The Artist" is likely to win the best picture trophy. Possibly "The Descendants." Maybe "Hugo."
But if there was an Oscar for plain old "most enjoyable film of 2011," the Academy might have to give that one to "Moneyball."
You don't need to have read the Michael Lewis best-seller to enjoy "Moneyball." You don't have to know Thing One about the Oakland A's, their general manager Billy Beane, or even baseball. In fact, it may be better if you don't -- hardcore sports fans became tangled up arguing the film's factual inaccuracies and less involved with the movie itself.
And the movie was a joy from start to finish. There's no sex and no violence, for those of you who complain movies lean heavily on those two elements nowadays. Few wasted words. The only scenes that could maybe have been cut were a few awkward bits with Beane's young daughter, which seem to have been crammed in by some studio exec shooting for "heartwarming."
There's one scene in "Moneyball" where Beane (Brad Pitt) and older Oakland scouts sit around a table and try and figure out how they're going to save their team. ("There are rich teams, and there are poor teams, then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us," Beane says.) That scene is amazing because the scouts aren't actors, and you can tell. They're throwing out the lingo of their job and are completely impatient with the idea that some new innovation is being forced on them. You almost believe that scene was snagged directly from hidden cameras in a real MLB clubhouse, especially when Beane mentions "Fabio" and one of the scouts blankly responds "Who's Fabb-ee-o?"
In another great scene, Pitt and Jonah Hill (playing the composite character Peter Brand, Beane's genius assistant), work the phones in Beane's office like masters, pitting various other teams against each other in a blazing display, playing every angle to trade around the players they want. If you didn't know acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, this scene would give it away. Words fly fast and furious and viewers just have to hang on and go along for the ride. It's almost impossible not to feel amped when they finally slam down the phones, triumphant. (Watch one segment of the phone scene below.)
Pitt plays Beane as a less-confident-than-he-appears gambler who's pushed his bankroll into the center of the table and is really hoping the cards fall his way. Hill plays Brand as the awkward nerd who believes in his system but is still not sure he's allowed to talk back to the world-class athletes who surround him.
Watching "Moneyball" is like watching a great baseball game. An Oscar would be nice (Hill and Pitt are longshots in acting roles, the film itself, which Pitt produced, has next to no chance), but really, keeping score is irrelevant. It's a great cinema experience.
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