After seeing the new film ‘Moneyball’ and thinking a lot about Brad Pitt this year, I came to a decision. Instead of simply writing up a standard review of the film, as both John and Mike capably filled in with that, I thought I’d do something different. Since my thoughts on the flick aren’t too far off from them, though I believe I liked it more than both did, I figured I would substitute my take on ‘Moneyball’ with a piece on Brad Pitt and the year he’s having. I did this by using an article that I’ve been working on about him and had previously abandoned, expanding and massaging it to fit this new topic. Essentially, I believe that ‘Moneyball’ may just win Pitt the Oscar for Best Actor this year. Considering my recent article on the tough time that Baseball related films have with the Academy, this is some heady praise, I realize…but it’s also apt. Remember, Oscar loves when it’s someone’s “year”.
Brad Pitt is an artist who’s been building up to this type of situation for a while now with his acting and producing. While he first really got notice with his small part in ‘Thelma and Louise’, he never really made an impact for me as an actor until 1995 when he had both ‘Twelve Monkeys’, which got him his first Oscar nomination, and ‘Se7en’. In between there were plenty of films, including ‘Johnny Suede’, ‘Cool World’, ‘A River Runs Through It’, ‘Kalifornia’, ‘True Romance’, ‘The Favor’, ‘Interview with the Vampire’, and ‘Legends of the Fall’. Those were hit or miss for me, and following his nomination, he more or less continued to do interesting but slightly underwhelming work. This excludes his top notch acting in ‘Fight Club’, but includes the trilogy of ‘Ocean’s’ movies, ‘Babel’, ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’, ‘Troy’, ‘Spy Game’, ‘The Mexican’, ‘Snatch’, ‘Meet Joe Black’, ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, ‘The Devil’s Own’, and ‘Sleepers’. Since that period, he’s turned a corner and started to really up his game on a consistent level. What I first noticed in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘ continued with ‘Burn After Reading’, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’, and finally this year with both ‘The Tree of Life‘ and the aforementioned performance in ‘Moneyball’…which I find to be his career best work, as previously mentioned. If you look closely at his filmography, you see that he often seeks out high level directors to work with, not unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, who many see as his main competition this year. This is all helping to build him up as a thespian.
The culmination of that was this portrait of a man obsessed in ‘Moneyball’. You can’t take your eyes off of him, and that’s when you know Pitt is at his best. Don’t get me wrong, he’s great in ‘The Tree of Life’ as well, but this is a bigger and better dose of Brad Pitt. When you combine his acting with his producing work, you see him growing. Starting with the documentary ‘God Grew Tired of Us’ and moving forward with ‘The Departed’, you see him start helping exciting films get made right as he started to actually be an exciting actor. Ironically, many are projects he didn’t star in. There’s ‘Running with Scissors’, ‘Year of the Dog’, ‘A Mighty Heart’, ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’, and ‘Kick Ass’. He also helped shepherd his own projects like ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘, ‘The Tree of Life’, and of course ‘Moneyball’ to the screens, and believe me, the Academy takes note of productivity like this. He’s influential and proactive with his production company, and being proactive in the industry is a big plus. Just ask Bill Murray…‘Moneyball’ is one of the year’s best films, no doubt about that, but its best quality among many is the acting, foremost by Pitt. He’s absolutely mesmerizing as Billy Beane, a former big-time prospect with the Mets who flamed out and found a second life running the A’s. Pitt gets under the skin of the rogue General Manager and the film becomes the best kind of underdog tale possible. You root for Beane, and it’s due to Pitt’s magnificent work that you do. His take on the GM is compelling, original, and stupendous. It’s a complete 180 from his work this year in ‘The Tree of Life’, of which he’s also the best part, though in a much more flawed work. He grabs your attention as well, playing the harsh father figure who wants better for his children but can’t help but come off as an ogre due to his own upbringing. Both are works very different from what we’re used to seeing from Pitt. It’s the best work that I’ve ever seen him do. As I wrote in a previous article, a Lead Actor nomination AND a Supporting Actor nomination actually aren’t out of the question for him, as how often do you see an actor turn in 2 of his 3 best performances to date in a matter of months?. This really is shaping up to be the year of Brad Pitt.
So, can he get nominated for ‘Moneyball’, let alone win the Oscar for Best Actor this year? I think it’s very likely. His main competition is going to come from the field of George Clooney for ‘The Descendants’, Jean Dujardin for ‘The Artist’, Michael Fassbender for ‘Shame’, Ryan Gosling for ‘Drive’ or ‘The Ides of March’, and Gary Oldman for ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, but many think it’s all going to come down to Leonardo DiCaprio winning it all for ‘J. Edgar’. Personally, I think that it will be a DiCaprio vs. Pitt showdown, but I seem to be in the minority in thinking that Brad will beat Leo. You can’t judge a film by its trailer, but ‘J. Edgar’ definitely felt like a letdown, not that it won’t ultimately turn out great…but I have my doubt it’ll be better than ‘Moneyball’. I see Pitt’s film being in a position to maybe be the compromise pick to win Best Picture, while I don’t even se DiCaprio’s getting nominated. Another thing to focus on is Pitt being slightly older than DiCaprio. Oscar rarely lets the younger guy win. Pitt is a similar age to Colin Firth, Sean Penn times two, Forest Whitaker, and Kevin Spacey. Those guys beat out the younger guns like Jesse Eisenberg, James Franco, Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, and a younger Pitt himself. It’s not quite age before beauty with the Academy, but it’s close. They likely to make you wait until you seem like you’re going to appreciate it more. The other thing to notice is that the Academy does seem to have a harder time giving their trophies to those they’ve nominated a lot before. DiCaprio has more previous nods than Pitt, and they’ve snubbed him more too, so they seem to be a bit picky about Leo. I think that they might embrace Pitt for his outstanding year much as they could with Ryan Gosling and try and see where his career goes as an Oscar winner. No one else besides Gosling and Pitt has the storyline of it being their year. Just look at film websites and magazines the last month or so for evidence…it’s a virtual parade of the two of them being hyped and interviewed and profiled. This is a form of campaigning in and of itself. With Gosling’s 3 wonderful turns and Pitt’s 2, they are also the only real contenders, give or take Michael Fassbender, with multiples ponies in the race that could appeal to voters. They just also have that appeal, something that I think only a few other actors have, and DiCaprio still lacks somewhat. Clooney has it, and he’s won already. I see the Oscar voters targeting Pitt as their man and wanting to reward his year. Seeing as ‘The Tree of Life’ is going to split audiences much more than ‘Moneyball’ will, I see his only, and most apt chance being with the latter flick. Mostly, I just think it’s such a great performance in such a great (and surprisingly Academy friendly) movie that he’ll be hard to ignore.
Why does it being Pitt’s year fuel him towards an Oscar? Well, historically this has been a solid path for an actor to take in order to win. George Clooney did it when he was embraced for writing and directing ‘Good Night, and Good Luck.’, but he won the Oscar that year for his supporting turn in ‘Syriana’. Going with someone else I’ve mentioned, Sean Penn took home his first Oscar for ‘Mystic River’ when he was perhaps even more acclaimed that year for his work in ’21 Grams’. One other person I’ll mention is Jamie Foxx, who won for his impersonation of Ray Charles in ‘Ray’, but also got nominated for his better performance in ‘Collateral’. For all three of those men, it was their year, and multiple films with acclaim allowed the Academy to pick the one they wanted to pat them on the back for and run with that. It was their year, just like this year belongs to Brad Pitt. When it’s your year, you usually win, plain and simple. If there’s any competition to that theory, it’s partially due to it also being Ryan Gosling’s year, like I mentioned, but his films are less Academy friendly. If anything might derail this thesis of mine, it’s that Oscar voters might be split on who’s year it actually is, preventing the groundswell of support a winner needs. Pitt is all but assured of a nomination, but Gosling is in limbo. If that sort of split occurs, it might prevent Pitt from winning and Gosling from even getting nominated, which in turn lets someone like DiCaprio slip in and win, though my guess is that they might instead go with the veteran Clooney (who some might argue is also having a year, but one with less acclaim), the overdue Oldman, or the neophyte Dujardin. Still, I see it as Pitt’s to lose.
In the end, we’re pretty much back where we began in regard to this topic. I think Brad Pitt and ‘Moneyball’ have opened up the race a lot more and given us a major contender in a lot of categories. Brad Pitt has grown a lot as an actor and producer in the last two decades, and this is his crowning performance to date, making it his year in a big way. I really see the film and his work this year being embraced by the Academy, but you really never can tell with them. I find it funny that less than a week after writing an article on how rarely these types of films make a dent with Oscar (and the same goes for their acting), I’m saying how strong a shot Pitt and ‘Moneyball’ have, but that’s the fun of being in the line of work that I’m in. Anyway, now I’m turning it over to you the Circuit reader. What do you think of Pitt’s chances this year? Is it really even his year? Is it someone else’s? What did you think of ‘Moneyball’? Does he have a better shot for ‘The Tree of Life’?
Tags: Bennett Miller, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Moneyball, Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life