Brad Pitt - A big hitter who's making a pitch for the major league

Hollywood's love of sporting heroes means it could be third time lucky for Brad Pitt at the 2012 Oscars, says Kaleem Aftab

This week, Brad Pitt has gone on record as saying that he'll retire when he's 50 – which gives him just three years to nab an Oscar. He's been nominated twice, once in the supporting category for 12 Monkeys and once for the top prize for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. His chances of making it third time lucky next year may now receive a boost, not so much because he has threatened to spend more time with his children, but because he's decided to appear in a sports movie.

In Moneyball, Pitt plays the Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who in 2002 devised a new scouting system to recruit baseball players. It enabled his unfancied team to go on a 20-game winning streak, setting an American League baseball record.

In the race to win an Oscar, starring in a sports movie is to men what putting on a prosthetic nose is to women. It doesn't matter if the movie is a stinker as anyone who has seen Invictus will attest. Morgan Freeman was nominated for his turn as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's worst film (which, given that Eastwood has Space Cowboys and The Rookie on his directorial credits, is saying a lot).

Eastwood himself has benefited from the Academy's love of a sports yarn. Surprisingly, the actor has only received two acting nominations – one for Unforgiven in 1992 and the other for playing a coach in the boxing, euthanasia mishmash Million Dollar Baby. Hillary Swank won her second Oscar playing the boxer, proving it's not just a trend for the boys.

Sandra Bullock won the Best Actress Oscar last year for her turn in The Blind Side, in which she played a Christian family woman who takes a troubled, up-and-coming African-American football star into her home and provides him with the love, care and attention to enable him to stay out of trouble and work on his game.

The Blind Side is based on the true story of the Baltimore Ravens star Michael Oher which was first written up as a book by Michael Lewis, who also wrote Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game upon which the Brad Pitt film is based.

Almost as surprising as Bullock winning an Oscar was Mickey Rourke's nomination in 2008. Rourke's finest hours came in the 1980s when he was turning out in Diner, Rumble Fish, and Angel Heart. The actor then decided to embark on a short-lived boxing career in the early 1990s before returning to the acting game, washed-up and something of a relic. Along came Darren Aronofsky with the smart idea of casting Rourke as the washed-up wrestling star Robin Ramzinkski, still living off his heyday in the 1980s. Desperate to relive former glories, the wrestler embarks on another return to the ring. The film's theme of sporting success coming hand in hand with failure at home is also a major thread in Moneyball in which Beane desperately tries to reconnect with his daughter.

Denzel Washington and Will Smith have both been nominated for boxing roles, too: Washington in 2000 for The Hurricane in which he played Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxer who was convicted of murder in 1967 following a triple homicide in New Jersey. The conviction was quashed in 1985. And Smith received the first of his two Oscar nominations in 2002 when he played Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann's biopic Ali. Not exactly Smith's or Mann's finest hour, yet the sports theme, civil-rights backdrop and portrayal of an icon all scream gold statue.

 

Last weekend, James Earle Jones received an Honorary Academy Award, aged 80. The actor had been given one best actor nomination in his distinguished career, when he played Jack Johnson, a real-life boxer, in The Great White Hope in 1970.

Yet the sad truth about most of the "sporting" nominations of the past 15 years is that the actors are rarely being recognised for their career best turns. It used to be that the Academy would wait for great turns in boxing movies and reward the performance. Now that they've opened up to other sports, the quality has gone down.

Sports movies are full of clichés and stereotypes. They are primarily – and this is what strikes home with Oscar voters – films about the American Dream and the idea that even the smallest man can overcome the odds with hard work and dedication to get to the top of their profession.

Such idealism used to pervade Hollywood films, but as the gap between rich and poor has grown wider in society and the Occupy Wall Street campaigners are being swept out of their tents, it appears that it's only in the sporting arena that such dreams can still come true.

So now it's Brad Pitt's turn to benefit. He puts in a good turn in Moneyball, and following over-the-top performances in Inglourious Basterds and Burn After Reading, he takes a leaf out of Ryan Gosling's book and goes for the less-is-more approach. It's ironic, though, that all of the Oscar talk is around Pitt and Moneyball when it's not even the actor's best turn this year. In the Cannes Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life, Pitt puts in one of his most studied and heart-rending turns for Terrence Malick. But inbetween the dinosaurs, wars and exploding planets, there just wasn't enough time for Pitt's father figure to get involved in sports.

'Moneyball' is out on 25 November

Perfect Match: Big-screen sports stars

Wallace Beery

The Champ

The first sporting role to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1932, Wallace Beery (above) plays a washed-up, alcoholic former heavyweight champion who tries to pull his life together for the sake of his son.

Richard Harris

This Sporting Life

Set in Northern England, Harris plays a rugby league player in this classic essay on male brutality and working-class life. Harris is pitch perfect as the angry young man.

Paul Newman

Slap Shot

Newman was nominated for a sports movie of sorts, 'The Hustler', but arguably one of his finest hours was playing an ice hockey star wanting to win at any cost.

Gene Hackman

Best Shot

Hackman plays a coach with a chequered past who is given one final chance to shine when he's put in charge of a small-town basketball team. Based on the true story of 1954 Indiana state champions, the Milan Indians.

Robert De Niro

Raging Bull

Yes, De Niro put on a lot of weight but he got it all back in gold when he won the Oscar for his much-celebrated turn as the New York boxer Jake LaMotta in 1980.

Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes