Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moneyball (2011) And My 10 Favorite Movies About Baseball

Moneyball arrived to theaters this past weekend, and according to the box office report, it showed to moderate but underwhelming fanfare. Being sandwiched between two Family Films (a re-issue of The Lion King and a Movie about Dolphins) isn't perhaps the best place for a Film that headlines such a big star. Given it's underdog story, perhaps it's most fitting.

Plot: Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletic's General Manager who shook up baseball by taking an unorthodox approach to casting the big game. Because the Oakland A's just lost three of their star players and have the smallest amount of money to fund their team in all of Major League Baseball, Beane, along with Yale Grad and economics whiz Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) look largely to their own theories based on statistics to pick players who have been under-appreciated and underutilized.

Moneyball is a refreshing change of pace for the Sports Movie. This is a Film about intellect and emotion rather than one that simply wants to stir it's audience. It's also one of incredible focus. Eschewing the usual angle on relationships and team member dynamics that so many Sports Films fix on, Moneyball instead sets it's sights almost entirely on Billy Beane and his endeavor to get together an unlikely though winning ball club... and perhaps win some personal accomplishment in the process. Much like The Social Network, this Picture is about a pursuit of someone's vision. And while there are some nice moments of Beane connecting with his daughter, the film relies on the drama and tension of his struggle.

Jonah Hill's wet behind the ears Peter also makes a great counterpoint to Pitt's skillful confidence as Beane. The two, with very different performances and dynamics, make for a great Cinema team. The film never relies on jokes or positive one-liners to derive the comedy as the script by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) & Steven Zaillian (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is far too sharp for that. The writers keep the banter witty and the dynamics between it's characters honest and observant.

Though it's based on true events, the Picture manages to surprise and take a genre into new territory. A Sports Film that doesn't easily fall into cliches but remains entertaining, candid and appropriately tense. Moneyball is a real winner.

Though I'm not the world's biggest fan of Baseball, I still remember greatly the days of my childhood where I was taken to Mets games and I felt that buzz and excitement all around me. I have an appreciation for the game, and I hope that it's players, financial backers and fans will strive to keep it pure and fun.

Here are my 10 Favorite Films that revolve around Baseball:

1988. Bull Durham is a pitch-perfect comedy about the mix of Sex, Love & Baseball. And my favorite Movie that revolves around the game.

1984. The Natural was one of my favorites growing up. I remember going to see it at the theatre several times. I suppose I loved baseball more back when I was a kid, but I think I also loved a good story. And this had one.

1958. Damn Yankees is the very memorable musical that mixes Faust with Baseball. And a real treat.

1988. The late 80's was a pretty significant time for the game in real life and on film. John Sayles' scores a real win with his take on the 1919 World Series' White Sox Scandal.

1973. John D. Hancock (Let's Scare Jessica To Death) directs this very moving tale of the friendship between two players.

1976. I really can't stand most Sports Movies with kids. But the original Bad News Bears gets it all right.

1957. Anthony Perkins' performance as bi-polar baseball player Jimmy Piersall is a real highlight here. From the dynamo team of Robert Mulligan & Alan J. Pakula (To Kill A Mockingbird)

1988. Perhaps overly sentimental, Stealing Home still manages to win me over. The story of a washed up Ball Player and the relationship that changed his life.

1994. I was not a big fan of The Scout when it first came out, but I've really warmed up to it over the years. Another good baseball film about a very unlikely duo.

1990. Pastime is a real gem. A Baseball Movie that really takes the game seriously. The story of the bond between an older player and an up and comer. Well played.

Additional Props to:

Although it was universally hated when it came out, I still like Hal Ashby's The Slugger's Wife (1985).

How can I not mention Major League (1989)? That silly baseball comedy always entertains.

And speaking of silliness, it doesn't get anymore of that than the inspired/over-the-top BASEketball (1998) David Zucker and star Trey Parker & Matt Stone's hybrid Baseball/Basketball comedy that satirizes those sports and their over-the-top spending, branding and merchandising.

BASEketball Opening Scene from on Vimeo.


MrJeffery said...

awesome review. i will have to check out some of your baseball faves... sad to say i've seen nearly none of them. though 'stealing home' was a favortie of mine when i was a teenager. and i loved that david foster score.

Andrew said...

It's an outrage that a dumbass re-release of The Lion King beat this....
And, as far as great baseball movies -- I honestly would vote for "Major League" as the best one of all-time.

Mike Lippert said...

I have a soft spot for the American version of Fever Pitch as well as far as baseball movies go. I also love Field of Dreams to death. Can't go wrong with Bull Durham or Bang the Drum Slowly though.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

The last thing I really want to do is talk about baseball films after what my Red Sox just did, but this is a great list. Especially like your inclusion of Fear Strikes Out.

Cinema Du Meep said...

Thanks guys!

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