(UPDATED) ‘Moneyball’ reviews fire the Toronto starting gun

Posted by · 9:23 am · September 8th, 2011

Okay, not reviews, plural. Not yet. The only reaction I’m finding for Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” (which screened here in LA a few times despite the usual studio falsehood — “we don’t have any screenings set right now” — typical) is Jeff Wells’s take at Hollywood Elsewhere. And it’s a glowing assessment, to say the least. He calls the film a “triumph” and thinks it’s definitely a nominee for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Brad Pitt) and Best Adapted Screenplay. He doesn’t mention anything about Wally Pfister’s cinematography or Christopher Tellefsen’s editing, unfortunately.

But regardless, we’ll save our sure-thing card until we see it — Jeff flies off the Oscar handle on dubious players too frequently to trust this just yet. And he kind of sends up a red flag when he alludes to the film not being a rousing sort of thing (which, obviously, isn’t in and of itself a drawback — I’m just playing Jeff’s own game of parsing words to death). I’m nevertheless hopeful and I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.

Anyway, Jeff writes:

I’m not into baseball that much but I used to be, and Moneyball re-awakened my affection for the game precisely because it’s a little nerdy — my first text was that “it’s baseball nerd heaven” — and kinda mystical and because it doesn’t traffic in the standard sports-movie inspirational uplift crap…and yet it does do that in a nicely grown-up way…

What it’s really about is the ecstatic, pure-gravy pleasure of watching a first-rate, award-quality fall movie that’s made for you and me and everyone out there who hated Stupid Crazy Love [ahem, that’s Crazy, Stupid, Love], plus the holy-shit excitement of a serious, Oscar-level Brad Pitt performance. Seriously. Pitt has never had a better-written part, or such a spirited, multi-layered and vulnerable character to dig into, or given a more primal movie-star performance in his life.

It’s probably best to let a few other perspectives trickle in before getting too serious here. But Wells does go on to mention Jonah Hill’s performance, calling it “perfect.” I went out on a limb with a hunch that Hill could be in the hunt for a Best Supporting Actor nod, just based on some things I was hearing. I’ll be curious to see if he’s got the chops after all. I also had Pitt in there for a bit. Maybe I should re-insert him in that flimsy fifth spot.

UPDATE: A few more reactions…

Drew McWeeney gave it a glowing review over at Motion/Captured, most notably stating that Jonah Hill gives a “career-changing performance.” He writes:

Jonah Hill may have just changed the course of the rest of his career with the work he does here. He is frequently funny in the film, but it never feels like he’s reaching for the joke. This is honest, well-observed work, and he has to play a smart guy who is put to the test, a theoretician given a chance to see his theory in practice.

Kirk Honeycutt at The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, writes an incredibly vague assessment. Here’s the only pull-quote I could find with much meat on its bones:

Director Bennett Miller, who coaxed a satisfying movie out of unlikely material with Capote, puts Moneyball through a workman-like pace. If the movie fails to achieve the knockout punch of Social Network, this may be because another film altogether was originally imagined. Steven Soderbergh was set to direct Zaillian’s script when Columbia pulled the plug due to concerns with the budget and changes in the original screenplay. One can only wonder what that version would look like as Soderbergh, like Beane, is not one to do things according to old formulas.

Across the pond, though, The Guardian’s Catherine Shoard finds the film to be too melodramatic, asserting:

While The Social Network scaled up the computer programme at its centre to say wider things about humanity (that electronic connectivity may not ultimately alleviate loneliness), Moneyball fails to deliver any thesis on whether or not people can be condensed to data. It’s a topic you’d imagine might have tickled the scriptwriter – but compared to Sorkin’s earlier efforts, this has all the subtle touch of a baseball mitt.

But even with the thumbs down, she notes that Hill gives “a surprisingly affecting performance.” So I’m beginning to wonder if he’s in the hunt for a Best Supporting Actor nod after all.

[Photo: Columbia Pictures]

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 9-08-2011 at 9:28 am

    Jesse Crall said...

    I’m interested to see how non-baseball fans feel about Moneyball, because the book was completely inside-baseball (pun sadly intended). And there’s no Blind Side charitable aspect either. Great stuff for lovers of on base percentage like me, but the script would have to add quite a few human elements to keep the story engaging for non-fans. I suppose that’s why the father-daughter element was played up in some trailers…

  • 2 9-08-2011 at 9:45 am

    Fitz said...

    I’m personally very thankful that there isn’t a charitable angle to the film. Every once in a while I would like to see a sports film through the filter of sports alone.

  • 3 9-08-2011 at 9:49 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m with you, of course. But it could narrow things and the Academy more often responds to broad things. That’s the point I was not-so-elegantly making. But as a lapsed baseball fan, I’m very much looking forward to this.

  • 4 9-08-2011 at 10:30 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    I had early screening passes to see this yesterday, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it and I passed them along to a friend. He said that the film is one of his favorites this year, an involving and entertaining crowd pleaser, and that Pitt and Hill are Oscar worthy. He said Hoffman is just fine in his role, but nothing award worthy. He also noted that he really liked the screenplay. All in all, it just made me regret that my life got in the way of me seeing this yesterday, but now I’m looking very forward to it’s release later this month.

  • 5 9-08-2011 at 11:00 am

    DylanS said...

    If the film works, I suspect it’ll be to the credit of Sorkin. Nobody thought a film about facebook would make for a compelling story, and look how that turned out. Also, I think it’s very close-minded to label it “just a baseball movie”, knowing the few details I do know, it seems more of a radical business philosophy kind of movie (kind of like “The Social Network”) and not just a sports movie.

  • 6 9-08-2011 at 11:04 am

    Stefan said...

    For some reason, even though I don’t find baseball to be a particularly interesting spot, I tend to really like films surrounding it (The Natural, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, etc.), so I’m really looking forward to this one.

  • 7 9-08-2011 at 11:35 am

    Keith said...

    I’m sensing Pitt may seal up that other 5th slot. I’m thinking the only moveable piece left among the five may be DiCaprio, but that’s only if J. Edgar majorly disappoints. Seems to be a really tight year for the Actor race. Even this early, I’d be shocked to see Clooney, DiCaprio, Oldman, and Dujardin not make the final cut. With Tree of Life AND potentially raves for Moneyball, I’m thinking Pitt may make it really tough for anyone else to get in there. I loved him in Tree of Life, by the way. That’s the best performance I’ve ever seen him give.

  • 8 9-08-2011 at 12:20 pm

    Ben said...

    Keith, I agree. Even though it’s early three of the slots seem real solid, and it’s hard to think of DiCaprio missing even with the film not yet seen. But right now that fifth slot seems just as open as last year. (Fingers crossed for Giamatti!)

    Can’t wait for the movie. Gonna love knowing that while the A’s took the AL West that year, my Angels won it all.

  • 9 9-08-2011 at 12:29 pm

    Matt said...

    I’ve actually seen it and the only thing that I agree with is that Brad Pitt could have a chance in Best Actor if they need a filler. I don’t expect he’ll be high on the list, but if they really like the movie he could get i. I’m not feeling BP/BD, the reaction at my screening last week seemed to pretty much be a “meh”. Not great, not bad, just fine

  • 10 9-08-2011 at 1:17 pm

    Mitchell said...

    This was definitely in my top 3 most anticipated this year. Despite a couple key players being cut out, this sounds exactly as I’d hoped.

    Also, I just can’t see Pitt, Clooney, and DiCaprio getting nominated in the same year, because usually the groups are a little more eclectic, but it sure seems like we’re headed down that path.

  • 11 9-08-2011 at 1:21 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    Matt, I agree. I saw it too and I think Pitt could be a filler (assuming DiCaprio really delivers). I’m settling for Hardy over Pitt. Finally saw Warrior and I can’t quite shake off Hardy’s performance. I was moved with Pitt’s performance in ‘The Tree of Life’ and have high (and probably unrealistic) hopes that he gets in with a supporting nom. Truly deserved.

  • 12 9-08-2011 at 1:35 pm

    James said...

    I can’t imagine Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill even I do like him.

    Can’t wait to see it. Been waiting for more insider sports films. Seems like Pitt usually has multiple strong efforts in one year, but I wish his fun performance in Burn After Reading got a supporting nom over his solid work in Benjamin Button.

  • 13 9-08-2011 at 1:59 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    To be honest, I thought PSH was the best part.

  • 14 9-08-2011 at 2:42 pm

    Keith said...

    Kind of relieved to see Kris’ tweet about the push for a supporting actor nod for Pitt in Tree of Life.

  • 15 9-08-2011 at 2:48 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I thought Pitt in ‘Tree of Life’ for Supporting was a strong possibility for a while. It seems to me like getting a Lead nom for ‘Moneyball’ would be more difficult; and perhaps, not as warranted.

  • 16 9-08-2011 at 2:49 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    For some reason everyone wanted to think it would be a lead push in Tree. I’m just glad it works out practically (what with Moneyball) and organically (since it is a supporting performance and, IMO, McCracken is a lead).

  • 17 9-09-2011 at 5:52 am

    tony rock said...

    Hopefully Pitt pushes for supporting in Tree, anything to make easier room for Hardy in lead. I’m skeptical because the Academy may be tiring of fight movies, but his performance was that good.

  • 18 9-09-2011 at 10:38 pm

    Tom C. said...

    I just caught a screening last night, and to be quite honest, I find it difficult to see anything beating this out as my favorite film of the year. It is absolutely phenomenal. Unforgettable. Stylish, yet never overly flashy. It walks a thin line between being deeply personal and more than a little bit epic. I love the way it capitalizes on what we love about baseball without overly sentimentalizing it.

    As far as performances go, I loved Jonah Hill, but Pitt should really be the story, here. I’m always on the fence with his performances, but here is perhaps the first time I’ve seen him completely disappear into a role. His most matured role to date, in my opinion.

    As far as Pfister’s work is concerned, I thought it was brilliant. His camerawork brings a lot of life to the story. It actually reminds me a lot of his earlier stuff in “Memento” but with much more control and vision. The scene displaying the player-banners being dropped looks truly magnificent and Pitt making a quick u-turn off the freeway might end up being one of my favorite shots of the year. All in all, though, I can’t really see the Academy recognizing it, despite how much they love Wally. A real shame.

    It’s hard to tell at this point with an unknown number of picture nominees. Yet, if American critics continue to embrace it, it’s definitely got the chops for Pic, Director, Actor, Screenplay, Editing and maybe Supporting Actor.

  • 19 9-18-2011 at 10:12 pm

    muttl said...

    I did not love the movie, but I did love the book. It wasn’t quirky enough, although I do agree Hill shined. I can’t see how moviegoers who don’t love baseball are going to love or even get this movie, apart from the universal appeal of the struggle Beane is in with himself. Throwing in Wright for one scene seemed pointless.
    I think there should have been one punch or jolt…kind of like in Crazy Heart when he looses the boy. It could have been like a final scene with Pitt and Hoffman, the perfect adversaries.I thought that battle between the two of them was left hanging.
    I missed the real characters from the book, Hatteberg and Bradford. They appeared, but in body, but not personality in the movie. Flat.
    One thing from the book….on page 275 Beane says “My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs.” Those who don’t get why the A’s get to the playoffs, but never win need to read the end of chapter 12…or maybe the whole book.