The nominations have all been announced and the Academy Awards are almost here. As any sports fan knows, the thrill of athletic competition is the stuff dreams--and movies--are often made of.
But, as commentator Victor Wishna explains in Friday's edition of 'A Fan's Notes,' Oscar isn't much of a sports buff.
A Fan’s Notes – And the Oscar goes to…
Now that another Super Bowl has come and gone…alas, there will be no more over-hyped contests to watch-on-TV come Sunday—at least not for a couple of weeks, not until the Oscars. The eighty-fourth annual Academy Awards promises as much ballyhoo as any big-league championship, with the proverbial favorites and underdogs, pregame festivities and speculation, and plenty of celebrity sightings—plus the drama of the award ceremony itself, which will probably go into overtime. Everybody loves a winner, and even a gracious loser.
That’s why, along with love, war, and talking animals, sports is one of the most popular movie motifs. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat are built right in, and when done well, a sports movie can inspire, like sports itself, and make us believe that anything is possible… Think “Hoosiers” or “Field of Dreams.” If you build it, he will come…
On the other hand—well, I happen to think there is no such thing as a bad sports movie—either it’s good, or it’s soooo horrible that it’s great. Think “The Replacements”…“Necessary Roughness”…or “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.”
Sports movies, from “Brian’s Song” to “Rudy” to “Caddyshack,” have become an integral part of American culture and American cinema. Yet…when it comes to the Oscars, there is an obvious case of genre bias. After eighty-fours years, you can count on one hand the number of Best-Picture nods that have gone to sports films that aren’t about boxing…and that’s even if you include pool hustling…as a sport (no disrespect to Paul Newman).
So it’s a bit surprising that the latest challenger to enter the ring is a baseball movie—and a completely unconventional one, more about on-base percentage than late-game heroics.
“Moneyball”—starring and co-produced by a Mizzou alum named Brad Pitt—relates how the low-payroll Oakland A’s sought success through sabermetrics, the pragmatic stats-based philosophy pioneered by Bill James…a KU grad.
Most of the action in “Moneyball” take place in an office. One riveting scene involves the desperate attempt to acquire an obscure middle reliever before the trade deadline. There are no light-crashing home runs here, and—spoiler alert!—no championship at the end. In the movie, the 2002 A’s fall short of the World Series…just like they did in 2002.
But with six nominations, Moneyball is already the most highly decorated baseball film since Pride of the Yankees, which, in 1943, was also the last baseball movie to win an Oscar—for “Best…Film…Editing.” Brad Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill are up for awards, as well. But, much like those Oakland A’s, neither they nor their film is expected to win.
No, “Moneyball” may not be the next “Gone With The Wind” or “Casablanca” or even “Rocky”—yes, sometimes, just like in the Super Bowl, the underdog has its day.
But it’s another sports movie that speaks to its time, about exceeding expectations, finding a way to make a difference where none seems possible, and learning to become a winner…even if you don’t ultimately win it all.
Which is more than enough. Because for any movie about sports, it really is an honor…just being nominated.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor, author, and sports fan. He lives in Leawood. You can hear “A Fan’s Notes” monthly on Up to Date.