Hell Hath No Fury . . .

She’s meek but strong, agile yet fragile, rude yet altogether kind. Lisbeth Salander, computer-hacking femme-heroin of David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, represents a new breed of powerful female archetype, one created distinctly for the information generation.

Originally created by Steig Larsson for his wildly popular Millenium trilogy of novels, Lisbeth has been since recreated by Noomi Rapace for Niels Arden Oplev’s excellent 2009 Swedish adaptation, and now by Rooney Mara; she’s that cute, articulate girl who looks a shadow of herself  than the one who graced Fincher’s lens for the first scene in The Social Network.

In all Lisbeth’s recreations, this one is the fiercest;  a slithery, snake and mouse hybrid, trembling out of fear, but packing a mean punch. Lisbeth’s violent rape and revenge sequences of the novels have, until this adaptation, been but mumbled or whispered on camera. In Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth’s brutal origins as an abused woman take center take, and her masochistic revenge tactics are embraced with moody lighting and evasive, nauseous camera play. Fincher’s take is darker, more corrupt, and unafraid – of certain things.

Still, in Fincher’s adaptation there are changes made to much of the beloved source material. Most centrally, the key relationship between Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth is flushed out and mutated to pseudo-romantic proportions. For those unfamiliar with the tale, Lisbeth shares center stage with the debunked journalist Blomkvist, as the pair investigate the decades-old murder mystery of Harriet Vanger. The pair are hired by Harriet’s wealthy uncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the owner of a family-owned billion dollar corporation. The Vanger family lives on their own island, though few speak to one another. With a family full of Nazis, rapists, embezzlers, and thieves, the suspect list is numerous, and Libseth and Mikael trek on through snow and their mounting sexual relationship to find Harriet’s killer.

Yes, Fincher has made large changes to Larsson’s original tale, some successful, some not so much. Fincher has taken Millenium’s politically charged Sweden and transformed it into a frozen-solid hub of corporate corruption. Both Mikael and Lisbeth have felt the oppression of the Swedish “man”, be it through Government monitoring or liable litigation. It is through their investigative work with each other that Mikael and Lisbeth attempt to vindicate and free themselves: the journalist from the corporate scum that sued him for reporting harmful lies, and Lisbeth from the Government appointed guardian who has his hands in her pockets and down her pants.

But so much of the vengeful, kick ass empowerment that Fincher has so skillfully and meticulously bread with his cold world of steel, impenetrable high-rises and the band of brief-case carrying torments who dwell inside them, is so thoroughly betrayed by Fincher’s constant indulgence in the salacious. From a deep-rooted hatred of the oppressor comes a violent and sexual appreciation for how they oppress. The rape and torture scenes, masochistic and brutal, seem to revel in the thin, muscled, sexualized bodies that are being tormented. Lisbeth, a creature of such anger and pain that wishes only to eradicate herself from the male chauvinist pigs who steal her money and her freedom, has her rail thin body completely objectified in her rape and love scenes, alike. There is a lack of correlation between this film’s hard edge of activism and the pleasure it takes  in sexualizing its struggles.

Personally, I was weary of this adaptation, as I did not understand why it needed Americanizing at all. After all, the Oplev trilogy were well-produced, highly entertaining films. Oh wait, they have subtitles, right? That clearly wasn’t flying in the Western world.

Snark aside, (if that’s even possible), I am pleased to report that the Fincher remake has carved its own identity alongside Oplev’s adaptations. If they’re going to splash Daniel Craig’s abs around “For Your Consideration” Oscar ads, the film they are endorsing this year can at least be a separate beast than its subtitled sisters. In this way, Fincher is wildly successful. The eerily talented Steven Zaillian (also adapted Moneyball, among many others), has aided with Larsson’s original pacing problems, and the gritty, cold aesthetic of Fincher’s moody take is too cool to be denied.  With the help of Fincher favorites Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the haunting, perturbing score brings Larsson’s snowy world to newly vibrating and unnerving proportions. Sweden is alive, cold, and monitored. The result is hip, problematic, and deeply layered.

As far as its Oscar future goes, it’s somewhat unclear at the moment. If it has anything going for it, it will not meet the same “peak too soon” fate of Fincher’s 2010 “they were absolutely robbed for Best Picture” film The Social Network. The dream team of producer Scott Rudin and David Fincher will get Oscar voters attention with some nominations, but will maybe not result in many wins. It  received a bit of confidence from the Hollywood Foreign Press, with two Golden Globe nominations: Rooney Mara for Best Actress, Drama and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for Best Original Score. However, Fincher and the film were snubbed for Best Director and Best Picture nominations. That being said, the film had not been widely released yet and it just may not have been in GG voters’ minds at all.

I predict The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo securing a Best Director nod for Fincher, a Best Actress nod for Rooney Mara, and a Best Original Score nomination for the Reznor/Ross team. Other than that, the film will need to pick up some critical steam if it wishes to lock down a larger list of nominations.

Did you read the Millenium trilogy? Did you see the Swedish film versions? Will you be seeing this adaptation? Drop me a line in the comment section!

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People Behaving Badly

There is something painful and true in the way the four key players of Roman Polanski’s Carnage dance around each other in pleasant niceties, going through the motions of civility, only to ultimately turn on one another in such a horrifying sound and fury. It is a human rhythm so intrinsically understood that the balance and soul of this film feels all at once in step with the audience’s inner instincts, yet totally perplexing in its brashness with the cruelty of the human spirit.

Based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony award-winning play God of Carnage, Polanski’s giddy adaptation tells the story of two New York couples meeting to discuss a schoolyard fight between their two sons. In their spacious Brooklyn apartment, the Longstreets play host to the Cowans in order to liberally resolve their sons’ unfortunate run-in; the Cowan’s son Zachary hit the Longstreet’s son Ethan across the face with a stick, knocking out a few teeth and setting the ball rolling for some awkward parental interference.

Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster), a writer working on a book about the Darfur genocide, is quick with the gentle niceties of liberal conflict resolution, but clearly feels a sense of moral high-ground in the matter, as her son was on the receiving end of the stick, and the Cowans are a metropolitan cliché that she feels she has ethically mastered. Her husband, the illusory easy-going Michael (John C. Reilly) is kindly accommodating, but his veil of civility is fleeting and his disguise comes off with too much press. The Cowans, morally and physically trapped by social pleasantries and an issue with the psuedo-civility of the Longstreets, are clearly from the other side of the bridge. Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) is a pharmaceutical executive wrapped up in some sort of legal crisis with one of his company’s drugs. The constant vibrating of his cell phone feels also to be the buzz of his wife, Nancy’s (Kate Winslet) contempt for his lack of attention for the matter at hand. The Cowans are all business and ready to leave, but the perceived unbalanced hierarchy of the Brooklyn liberals against the Upper East Side financiers proves too high a coterial hill to climb; the four are confined to the claustrophobic, tulip-filled apartment to shed their badinage, and pick and pull at each other until each one comes undone.

Much like John Patrick Shanley’s film adaptation of his play Doubt, Carnage operates best when its actors are left to play out the script and their considerable talents without the flourish and the whirl of too many film smoke and mirrors. Polanski understands this, and allows his camera to be a fly on the wall, not intruding or suggesting a tendency or partiality with an emotional close-up or heartfelt montage. He allows the camera to experience the ridiculous, funny, exhausting human drama, just as the naked eye would.

However, unlike Shanley’s masterful adaptation, Reza and Polanski’s adapted work feels somewhat forced when translated to the screen. Some of the phrasing, awkwardly poetic and self-aware, would feel far less obscure in a New York playhouse. However, the considerable talents of the well-hired cast are the ultimate saving grace. Jodie Foster feels manic, squeamish, and forcefully obsessed as Penelope. We know this person, so thoroughly concerned with moral injustice that this conflict, to her, is akin to the African massacre she muses about in her book. John C. Reilly, who makes the most obvious shift from politeness to petulance, is immediately recognizable as the doting husband who merely puts it on for the big city yuppies. His calmness, kindness, and coolness in front of the camera is jovial and deceptive. This is one of the strongest performances of Reilly’s considerable career.

Christoph Waltz’s Alan, the slick, fast-talking pharmaceutical executive with a perceived lack of conscience, is perhaps consistently throughout the film the most true to his character’s inner self. Therefore, his shift is far less broad and feels the most natural as he hones in to verbally bitch-slap Penelope, or to rhetorically belittle Michael for his practical work as a salesman. His wife, horrified and nauseous, is played to scale by the masterful Kate Winslet. We feel her unrest with her husband’s vibrating career, and sense her defensiveness at the rose-colour judgement being offered by the Longstreets, be it in a piece of cobbler or the careful wording of a letter. Winslet is one of the greatest actresses of our generation and she is in fine form in Polanski’s human disaster of epic proportions.

Still, there is a sense of insecurity and superficiality to Carnage. The actors’ dutiful and fine labor to transmit some authenticity to their performances feels ultimately overshadowed by the overall smugness of each character’s caricature. These people are archetypes – familiar ones, but archetypes nonetheless. There is something inauthentic about the beautiful apartment that a writer and a salesman could never afford, even in Brooklyn. There is something too easy about the slick, moneyed Republicans having the son who would beat the granola’d, free loving Liberals kid to a pulp. There is just a convenience and a calculation about a class issue between two Western prototypes; the bleeding heart of the Left and the iron hand of the Right. Perhaps the stereotype is true, but the script in Carnage is not masterful enough to avoid spewing a stereotype-filled conscience.

As far as its Oscar future goes, the award star power of such a decorated cast can perhaps not be denied. Both Winslet and Foster have received Golden Globe nominations and I feel perhaps these nominations will ring true for the Academy Awards nominations. I feel Polanski’s work was well-mannered, but ultimately undeserving of a Best Director nod. The picture is strong, but is easily outmatched by many other films this year. It is doubtful that Carnage will receive one of the 5-10 Best Picture nominations, but still entirely possible. Besides, if I’ve learned anything over the last few years it’s never rule out Polanski.

Will you be seeing Carnage? Are you a fan of the play? Drop me a line in the comments section.

Rain, Rain Go Away

People call awards season the feel bad months of film. This year, they may have a point. Whether it be the looming planet of death in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, or the cyclical creation and destruction of the world in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, the 2012 Oscar race seems not only concerned with the usual griefs, but more so with the ultimate end: the destruction of the world. Jeff Nichols’ remarkable Take Shelter is no exception.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter tells the story of construction worker Curtis (the astonishing Michael Shannon), his quietly strong wife Samantha (the omnipresent Jessica Chastain), and their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). The family lives modestly in Northern Ohio. In their own way, Curtis and his family have achieved the American dream; they earn a decent living that allows them good health benefits, some vacation time at the beach, and a possibly life-changing surgery for their deaf child. Their home is small but well maintained. They are accepting of their hardships and happy with each other. The mere thought of losing this unassumingly fulfilling life proves to be enough to push Curtis over the edge.

Curtis, whose mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, begins to have apocalyptic dreams so horrific and scarring that he feels their torments hours after he wakes. All of them involve a great storm that threaten the earth’s survival and ultimately set humans against each other. Curtis tries to protect himself and his child, but the illusions of the dreams torment him during the waking hours too; there is no protection from his own mind. Soon his fears of the catastrophic flood overtake his life. Curtis and we, the audience, are left to question if these visions of the End are delusions or premonitions.

Take Shelter is through and through an affecting and deeply unsettling film. Lead by the simply perfect performance by Michael Shannon, this film is so appropriately cast and their world so authentic and familiar, the horrors of Curtis’s nightmares, though far-fetched and melodramatic, seem deeply possible. Like The Blair Witch Project, Take Shelter understands the terror in the possible and uses this tool as a weapon against the audience’s comfort. We are never fully at ease watching Curtis build a pen for his dog, eat supper with his family, or visit the library for information on mental illness. There is something not right in this world, and Curtis and the audience sense it intrinsically.

Shannon’s portrayal of Curtis is so monstrously inept at speaking, opening, and allowing himself to admit his fears and delusions, he operates as a pot close to boil. We feel with every thunderous nightmare, pricey gas mask, and work set-back as if at any moment he will blow. Shannon is so effective at keeping the audience hanging on every lift of his eyebrow, slight quiver of his lip, and mild stutter of a response. He is a scene stealer in every right and absolutely blows this movie out of the water. His performance has once again proven to me what I have known since his horrendously unfair loss at the 2009 Academy Awards for his stunning performance in Revolutionary Road; Michael Shannon is one of the most talented and underrated actors of our generation. It is an absolute travesty that he did not receive a Golden Globe nomination for this performance. As much as I love Ryan Gosling and his abs, his performance in The Ides of March was child’s play in comparison to Shannon’s absolute mastery. Shannon must win an Oscar for this; Jean Dujardin, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt be damned.

Jessica Chastain had much quieter work to be done in this film, and it is a testament to her incredible skill that she is able to rival Michael Shannon in such a small, understated role. Again, it is a travesty that her performance in the disturbingly overrated The Help earned her a Golden Globe nomination over this fine performance. The Hollywood Foreign Press don’t know what’s up, let me tell you.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I hate to say it but it looks pretty bleak. This is the type of movie that turns me into the Oscar a hole; I’m going to get stark, raving mad if it gets overlooked and start ranting about how close-minded the Academy is. Although it rightfully won the Grand Prize at the Critics Week competition at Cannes, Take Shelter has been shut out of both the SAG and Golden Globe nominations, a.k.a. the mainstreams. It’s not looking so good for O Day. In my opinion, Michael Shannon’s performance is so much more powerful, thoughtful and skillful than Clooney’s, Pitt’s, Dujardin’s, Gosling’s, or DiCaprio’s. His name doesn’t have the star power necessary to evoke the red carpet flash bulbs, so he’s being overlooked. All I can say is please go see it for yourselves. Free your mind and the rest will follow.

Did you see Take Shelter? Are you planning on it? Drop me a line in the comment section.

A Patron Torn: Jets and Arts Fans Downtown

Last Thursday, I attended Greg Selinger’s State of the Province address. Some fellow Cre Comms and I sat at the media table, enjoyed the free sandwiches and coffee, and scrummed with the rest of the media when Premier Selinger was finished speaking. I felt alls professional and stuff.

One of the first mentions in Premier Selinger’s speech was how Winnipeg’s downtown was quickly becoming re-invigorated, thanks to the return of the Winnipeg Jets. This statement made me a tad uncomfortable.

I am beyond happy that the MTS Centre’s placement in the downtown has reminded Winnipeggers that we actually have a downtown area that’s worth visiting. However, since their return, I have become concerned with what it means for the Arts community: a strong, vibrant group of people who have been coming downtown for years. We’ve been buying tickets to MTC, PTE, RWB, and MTC Warehouse. We’ve been eating in the amazing downtown restaurants and trying to make it feel alive again. We never left.

I have heard differing opinions of what the Jets’ return will mean for the Winnipeg Arts scene; some say the patrons of the Jets and the theatre/galleries/ballet are inherently different and no one is choosing between the two. Others say that advertisers are pulling their funds away from program ads in favor of plastering them across arena boards that will be broadcasted to millions of people on Hockey Night in Canada. I don’t know which is true, but it makes me worried nonetheless.

Now, before you die-hard Jets fans start getting your backs up, as you can see from the picture above of the August Gloop boy look-a-like wearing a Jets jersey, (i.e. me), I have been a Jets fan since before I could say the word ‘Tkachuk’. My Dad was and is again a season ticket holder. He used to take my two sisters and I to as many games as we could. We’d cheer on Selanne, get a different treat in between every period, and generally leave in sugar-fueled tantrums. On the video of my younger sister Elizabeth’s birth, my Dad asks the nurse what ended up happening in the playoff game between the Jets and the Oilers. My Dad never got to see the end as my Mom went into labor, something he gives Elizabeth grief about to this day. Of course, he was saved the cruel experience of watching the Edmonton Oilers beat out our poor Jets in Game 2, in a score of 3-2. The Edmonton Oilers would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year, while the Jets would face extinction less than 6 years later.

Naturally, as an actor, Theatre and Jets patron, I am torn here. Maybe last Saturday night was just an unfair example, but when the beloved Teemu Selanne returned to Winnipeg with the Anaheim Ducks to play against the revamped team that made him a star, I was at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s closing night performance of Romeo and Juliet. It was pretty empty. And to be fair here, had my Dad offered me his other ticket, I might have passed up the greatest love story ever told to eat a $6 pretzel and feel the overwhelming pride of a city reborn.

I am a Jets lover, a theatre die-hard, and a patron torn. I will continue to try to support both, but worry that the Jets’ return will mean the demise of an Arts community that never left at all.

What do you think the Jets’ return means for Winnipeg’s theatre community? Did you once resemble a boy, too? Do you like $6 pretzels? Whatever your thoughts, I want to hear them. Comment and start the conversation.

Those Were The Days

It’s so incredibly easy to fall victim to the allure of the past. Nostalgia is bred and multiplied in enticingly hungry, non-sensical variations that value something so essential and utterly lost. Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris understands the sweet seductiveness and cruel let-down of nostalgia, and explores its duplicity in a playful, charming, and fantastically hopeful depiction of Paris at its best.

Written and directed by neuroses superstar Allen, Midnight In Paris tells the story of Gil (Owen Wilson), a romantic, happy-go-lucky Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in Paris, accompanied by his perpetually nagging fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her snobby parents John and Hellen (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).

Unfortunately, Gil is the only one particularly taken with the French vacation. Seduced by the lily pond where Monet painted his famous water lilies, and thoroughly charmed by the little vintage record shop where he finds Cole Porter vinyl, Gil wants nothing more than to ditch his successful, swanky career in Hollywood in favor of a Parisian life as a novelist, a la Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald. Inez and company make tremendous fun of Gil’s overly romanticized nostalgia for 20s Paris. Meanwhile, Inez seems more taken with Paul (McAdams’ real life squeeze, Michael Sheen), an old college crush who they encounter by chance in a left bank cafe. In an effort to escape too much sight-seeing with the nauseatingly pretentious Paul, Gil escapes alone for a midnight walk and is transported to the past, the people, and the city he has so thoroughly fallen in love with.

Allen’s newest, and now most profitable film, Midnight In Paris is the New Yorker’s most charmingly optimistic film since his underrated 1996 musical throwback Everyone Says I Love You. Midnight In Paris joins the ranks in the newest chapter of Allen’s career: “the city films” (see Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and the soon to be released Nero Fiddled). However, where the past two depictions of London and Barcelona felt shadowy, interestingly deceptive, and pessimistic, Midnight In Paris seems to adopt the plucky, charming, and often infectious tone of the city in which it’s set. Allen has returned to the warm, fatalistically hilarious, and magical embrace of fantasy and it suits him well.

At the heart of this film’s remarkably quirky charm is Owen Wilson’s wide-eyed portrayal of Gil. As his character must deal with petty and downright cruel jabs from Inez, her parents, and the loathsome Paul, Wilson’s idealistic and almost ridiculous cheerfulness still feels sincere and totally infectious. His plucky, romantic attitude make the more fantastical aspects of the film feel grounded and enjoyable. Without such believable optimism, the farce in Midnight In Paris could easily read as mundane or idiotic. Paris’s seduction of Wilson’s Allen prototype is totally magical and entrancing, in its own right.

Allen’s knack for casting is made even more obvious by the band of supporting performances that Wilson’s Gil mixes and mingles with. Rachel McAdams’ Inez is so thoroughly irritating in the most authentic way possible. Embarrassingly enough, she reminded me of myself, jet-lagged and nagging my significant other in The Louvre, complaining of back pain and too much bread. It was somewhat horrifying to stare into such a beautifully packaged looking glass, but entertaining nonetheless.

Similarly, Michael Sheen is a grade A-hole to the point of recognizably hilarious annoyance; we’ve all met that person, correcting the museum guide and gurgling wine, musing about the seductive bouquet: the worst. These archetypal caricatures only aid in our annoyance with the present, and our longing for the romantic, exciting past of Modernist writers, all night flapper parties, and a life set to a Porter soundtrack. Although within this longing there is a sadness and a sobered realization that nostalgia is an illusory understanding of a different time, Allen still finds magic and hope within its appreciation. Although we may never fully appreciate the era in which we are currently a part of, there can be joy, passion, and hilarity in our misperception of the then and now.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I’m excited about its prospects. Coming off of its three Golden Globe nominations, including one for Best Picture Comedy/Musical, Midnight In Paris has garnered a reputation as not only a commercially successful film, but a critically adored one as well. Depending on how a few unreleased films are received, Midnight In Paris could very well take the token comedy spot in the Best Picture category. I also feel that Woody Allen could earn a Best Original Screenplay nod, along with a possible nomination for Best Director. I’m not seeing any acting nominations, but still feel that it will scoop up enough technical and creative nominations to garner it a win or two come O day.

Did you see Midnight In Paris? Did you also nag your boyfriend in The Louvre? Weigh in in the comments section.

Golden Globe Nominations Are Here

The Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning and I, of course, streamed theme live from the comfort of my snuggie. Leading the pack with the most nominations are The Artist  with six, followed closely by The Descendants with five. The Artist received nods for Best Picture Comedy/Musical, Best Actor Comedy (Jean Dujardin), Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Supporting Actor (Bérénice Bejo), Best Screenplay (Michel Hazanavicius), and Best Original Score (Ludovic Bource). The Descendants received nominations for Best Picture Drama, Best Actor Drama (George Clooney), Best Director (Alexander Payne), Best Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley) and Best Screenplay (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash).

Also, we got some lucky double nominees happening here. George Clooney racked up nominations for both Best Director for The Ides of March and Best Actor Drama for The Descendants. Then we’ve got Ryan Gosling, my sweet, sweet Ryan, who received Best Actor nods in both Comedy and Drama for his roles in Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March. Those suits and abs are Best Actor in my book.

A whole slew of other films received some nominations including Bridesmaids, Midnight In Paris, 50/50, My Week With Marilyn, The Help, Moneyball, Hugo, J. Edgar, Shame, and The Iron Lady, to name a few. Dang, those Golden Globes just love to include errrbody.

That being said, there still were some major snubs, namely to my beloved, dino-centric The Tree of Life. Unsurprisingly, Malick’s masterpiece received not one nomination, due to The Hollywood Foreign Press being ignoramuses who clearly didn’t get what was happening during that 2 h 45 min epic. Okay, okay, I had no clue either. But it’s still a far superior movie to The Help or Ides of March. Oh well, thems the breaks. Luckily, The Academy Awards are uppity biatches, like myself, and don’t give a Harvey Weinstein if The Golden Globes were nuts for Crazy Stupid Love. 

Another major snub came with David Fincher for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s omission from the Best Director category, and Beginners from the Best Picture Drama category. Films that got the altogether shaft include Cameron Crowe’s animal loving We Bought A Zoo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and that other Olsen sister’s cult movie Marcy Mary May Marlene.

As far as The Golden Globes being an Oscar predictor, I don’t personally agree. I believe the Comedy/Drama divide make up for a lot of the random nominees (cough cough Gnomeo and Juliet cough). However, if one thing has been made clear over the last few weeks of award season hype, it’s that The Artist is the one to beat this year.

To see the full list of the 2012 Golden Globe Nominations, click here.

Root For The Home Team

It’s rare to see a sports movie with so few montages, racial stereotypes, and not one Motown song on its soundtrack. Bennett Miller’s Moneyball is the thrilling and candid exception to this tired and true sports film equation.

Directed by Oscar nominated director Bennett Miller, and written by the masters of adaptation Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, (both Oscar winners in their own rights), Moneyball tells the true story of the storybook 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team. Brad Pitt plays A’s general manager Billy Beane, a charismatic, rude, fast-talking former player who’s sick of seeing big spending teams, like the Yankees, poach their talent and rob them of their title. Beane’s been dealt another minimal salary budget and sees little chance of turning their luck around in the ’02 season.

But when Beane meets Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), he’s told of a new strategy that just might change the economic injustices of America’s favorite passtime. Brand is peddling the ‘moneyball’ formula, one that relies on sabermetric analysis of the player’s individual statistics: baseball by the numbers, if you will. Beane hires Brand and immediately enacts the moneyball plan, ruffling a few feathers along the way, including those of Athletics manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Beane, already juggling the worries of single parenthood, must push against the skepticism and the odds in order to change the logistics of American baseball forever.

Moneyball might seem like an odd choice for Bennett Miller, Oscar nominated director of the relentless and cruelly powerful Capote. Still, without Miller’s unsentimental, bleak lens and without Zaillian and Sorkin’s unassuming and raw screenplay, Moneyball could have easily fallen into the unremarkable status quo of so many sports movies, one that is profusely littered with adversity narratives of racism and the love of the game. It is within Moneyball’s restraint that it distinguishes itself: Miller’s restraint of too many glossy close-ups of Pitt’s alarmingly perfect bone structure, Zaillian’s restraint in overtly sentimentalizing the film’s father/daughter relationship, and in Sorkin’s restraint in word count (seriously, see the opening scene of The Social Network).

It also doesn’t hurt that there is plenty of appealing talent in Moneyball to execute the creative team’s modest, yet original vision. Brad Pitt is as cocky and explosive in personality and temper as is necessary to fill out Beane’s extensive muscles. Oddly enough, his character in Moneyball is similar to that which he played in The Tree of Life, (although there are no dinosaurs or solar systems in this film). Jonah Hill is authentically kind, insecure, and modestly brainy. The camera likes and roots for him, no matter what he weighs.

The only  acting pity in this film falls with Philip Seymour Hoffman, an actor who under Miller’s past direction in Capote was successful to the point of a Best Actor win at The Academy Awards. In Moneyball, Hoffman’s Art Howe is powerfully frustrated, but ultimately underused. It seems Oscar treason to have that much incredible talent and to waste it on a few minimal scenes in which Pitt’s pecks draw most of the focus.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I can easily see the Academy turning up their pointed, lovely, pretentious, little noses at a sports film. There just might not be enough heroin abuse, molestation, or grainy close-ups to make Moneyball a sports movie worth their time. However, the talent on both sides of the lens might be too tempting too pass up, especially if a nomination or two means Pitt brings his pouty She-Wolf to the telecast. I personally feel that Pitt’s performance as Father in The Tree of Life is more deserving and will edge out his performance as Beane in the category of Best Actor. I could see Bennett Miller receiving a nod for Best Director, but ultimately feel he’s in danger of being edged out by the more soulful directorial performances of the year, such as Terrence Malick’s or Michel Hazanavicius’s. The best bet for a nomination for Moneyball ultimately falls in the Best Adapted Screenplay category with the unbeatable combination of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. After all, it is within its stellar script that Moneyball’s success begins and ends.

What did you think of Moneyball? Did you want more Motown or Brad Pitt peck shots? Drop me a line in the comments section.