With Varsity rapidly approaching, the focus on sport has really picked up, infiltrating the thoughts and actions of everyone at Swansea. No? Maybe it’s just me… Either way, thoughts of sports are constantly in my head, and who am I to stop them? So, I’m going to explore what is, in my opinion, the best sporting movie I have ever seen: Moneyball.
My nominee for the best sporting film is one that managed to snatch up six nominations at the 2012 Oscars. Best Picture, Best Actor and Supporting Actor (for the two leads respectively), and Best Adapted Screenplay (adapted by Aaron Sorkin, a modern genius when it comes to adaptation who has a spectacular ability to capture realism with his dialogue) were the most notable of the lot. Bizarrely, it was also nominated for Sound Mixing, which was most definitely because of the movie’s portrayal of Billy Beane and Peter Brand as the founders of the Moneyball approach to signing baseball players.
This approach to film is apparent in its story, being based on the focus on ability and the financial price tag, instead of just going for big names. For example, players were often undervalued despite possessing great ability, but were overlooked for a multitude of reasons, like preferring to throw the ball in an unfavoured way, or simply because they did not look like a baseball player. Due to this signing method, they were able to build a talented team for a fraction of the price that bigger teams like the Red Sox pay. Though this revolutionary way of thinking was born out of necessity due to the poor financial situation the Oakland A’s found themselves in, it later emerged as a viable approach for the biggest and best teams to operate with. The Red Sox actually won the 2004 World Series using this very system. But its success isn’t limited to baseball: it has been utilized in other sports. Football teams like Dortmund have used a similar strategy. They look for cheap, young players that have potential that other clubs may not be willing to take a punt on, and give them the platform to perform to a high level before selling them on for an inflated profit. This is what happened in the cases of Ousmane Dembélé and Jadon Sancho.
This may sound rather monotonous and statistical, but stay with me. The film couples this signing strategy with the more mundane and routine jobs within the team, making them appear both interesting and incredibly difficult.
This is conveyed expertly by Brad Pitt playing Beane, the Oakland A’s General Manager, and Jonah Hill, as Peter Brand, who takes on the role of the young assistant GM straight out of Yale. Together, they form a fantastic double act. Balancing the statistical expertise needed for talent identification and the charm and negotiation skills required to be a GM, they both bring their A-game and it really pays off. The Sorkin dialogue grounds the characters in realism and with the insight bought by dealing with the harder parts of a sport, like transferring a player for another or releasing a player from their contract, or the stress of sticking with the same team over a development period, whilst they lose game after game. These moments in the season of the A’s are excruciatingly hard to watch, making you wonder how you would cope in that situation and inviting you into the world of being a General Manager. It also spreads the message that you don’t have to look or necessarily play like the best to be the best, as the most unorthodox and inventive play can get you to the top: don’t conform to the masses.
Unfortunately, this film didn’t win any of the Oscars for which it was nominated. In my opinion, Moneyball should’ve won the awards purely based on its inventive way of presenting the life of a General Manager, instead of focusing on the upcoming star or the veteran that has still got something to give. The beauty is that it does cover those topics, but it is hidden within the former. This also acts as a fantastic metaphor for the job of a General Manager; that of diverting the spotlight on to themselves and away from the players when times are tough, so they can get on and work harder.
So that’s why I think Moneyball is the best sporting movie. Sure, Rocky and Chariots of Fire both won Oscars, but this is better. Trust me.
by Harvey Stanton