When it comes to movies about baseball, it seems that the Academy has a love/hate relationship with them…mostly hate though. They do nominate the occasional great baseball movie for an Oscar or two (rarely more, as you’ll see), but they almost never get into multiple nods or wins (but more on that later). For every baseball flick that manages to get out a nomination, there are 2 more that are deserving of attention but are snubbed (more on that later as well). Get this, in the history of the Academy Awards, no baseball film has ever won Best Picture or any Acting category. In fact, only two have ever been nominated for Best Picture and only three have scored Acting nods (a total of four nominations, with one in each Acting category…go figure). It seems that the more the film seems to be about baseball, the less likely it is to succeed. I bring this all up because there is a movie that just opened and actually could finally break the trend. It’s ‘Moneyball’, and it’s about baseball in the same way that ‘The Social Network’ was about Facebook (ironically, both have screenplay credits for Aaron Sorkin). Along with some of the very best reviews of the year, the buzz has it in play for a number of potential nominations (and I loved the script that I read earlier this year, and that was before Sorkin signed on, so I can only imagine its been punched up even more), so now’s an apt time to look back on the relationship that Oscar has with America’s Pastime.
The most successful baseball movie to date in terms of the Academy is ‘Pride of the Yankees’ from 1942. It received 11 nominations (over a half dozen more than the next most honored baseball flick), including Best Picture. Despite all of its love, it only won in one category, and that was Best Film Editing. By and large, the film struck out at the Oscars…no pun intended. Speaking of striking out, consider this: the following baseball-centric movies received not a single nod between them…’A League of their Own’, ‘Eight Men Out’, the original ‘Bad News Bears’, ‘For Love of the Game’ (my favorite baseball movie of all time), ‘Cobb’, ‘Mr. Baseball’, ‘The Babe’, ‘Game 6′, ‘The Rookie’, ‘Sugar’, ‘Fever Pitch’, ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’, ‘Off the Black’, and ‘Major League’, not to mention of course the kids flicks that were ignored like ‘Little Big League’, ‘The Sandlot’, ‘Rookie of the Year’, both incarnations of ‘Angels in the Outfield’, and so on. Granted, in some (or more, depending on how generous you are) of these cases the quality wasn’t there, but even when it was, they were shut out anyway.
As you can see, it seems like being a baseball film is a death sentence for Oscar. Literally, just about the only films to make any mark with the Academy besides the aforementioned ‘Pride of the Yankees’ are ‘The Natural’ (which received 4 nominations, but no wins), ‘Field of Dreams’ (which got 3 nods, including Best Picture, but no wins as well), ‘Bull Durham’ (only 1 nomination), ‘Damn! Yankees’ (1 nod), ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ (1 nod as well), and ‘The Stratton Story’ (which only received 1 nomination, but actually won that category, which was for Writing). That’s it, though…these classics were shortchanged by film standards, but by Baseball movie standards, they were showered with attention by the Academy.
This brings us back to ‘Moneyball’. By being more of a character study than overt Baseball flick (some have said that the less you like baseball, the more you’ll like the movie…though it certainly has enough Inside Baseball type elements to both be faithful to the nonfiction book that it’s based on as well as not shun Baseball fans), it stands a chance at becoming the second most nominated film of its ilk of all time (I see it in play for Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing, so if it can get most of these, it’ll be in some very exclusive company). It seems to be looking likely for some love, mainly for Brad Pitt in the lead role, but it could be in line for more. It’ll be very interesting to see if the Academy can actually warm themselves to this one, and perhaps open back up the doors for quality pictures about Baseball to be in play for major awards (though being only somewhat relating to Baseball didn’t help the tremendously underrated ‘Game 6′, so who knows). I have my strong doubts about that last part, but I’m actually decently confident about the chances for ‘Moneyball’ to do well this Awards Season, perhaps in an unprecedented way, in terms of Oscar wins. We shall see…
As a bonus, here now are my 10 favorite Baseball movies of all time. Some of the usual suspects are there, but more than a few might be surprising to you. Sue me, I’m a sucker for this bunch. Behold:
1. For Love of the Game
2. Bull Durham
3. A League of their Own
4. Field of Dreams
5. Game 6
6. Little Big League
7. The Natural
8. Rookie of the Year
9. Major League
10. Fever Pitch
-Honorable Mentions: Sugar, The Bad News Bears, The Rookie, Mr. 3000, and Off the Black
Now it’s time for you to chime in and let me know your thoughts on the subject. How do you think ‘Moneyball’ will do with Oscar? What are your favorite Baseball films of all time? Best sports flicks in general? The floor is yours, so have at it!