It doesn't take long at the Toronto International Film Festival, the biggest in the world in many ways and the one where the studios and independents showcase their Fall releases and put them through an Oscar trial run, to learn how the world works.To figure out how the ticketing system here works is another matter. Be that as it may, many of the films seem to have as their theme the inside story on how the really important things operate behind the scenes. Things that really weigh on our minds, like the looming Presidential elections. And, more importantly, baseball and the World Series.
An example of the latter is "Moneyball," Bennett Miller's adaptation of the bestseller of the same title about Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. In baseball, as in politics, the received wisdom is that the team with the most money - read Yankees, or Red Sox - wins. But Beane was able to transform the lowly A's, whose salary budget was about a quarter of that of the highrollers, into a perennial playoff contender that almost, but not quite, won a championship.
How did he do it? Well in the movie version, he had the good fortune of having Brad Pitt play him. Pitt brings a Redford-esque, glamourous solidity to Beane, perhaps by his technique of nibbling on peanuts or chips in every scene. Also helping is Assistant GM Peter Brand, played in dryly hilarious geeky glory by Jonah Hill,
a Yale-educated economics whiz whose statistical approach to the game is emulated today by all those who scoffed at it back when they first broached it (the film bears more than a little resemblance to the revenge of the nerds scenario of "The Social Network," and both are co-written by Aaron Sorkin). The system that said that you spend money on wins not names, and that runs are what get you wins, and so the way you win championships is not with Jason Giambi but... Scott Hatteberg?
One of those scoffers was the A's own manager Art Howe, played here by Philip Seymour Hoffman,
who looks distressingly more like Don Zimmer.
In George Clooney's follow-up to "Goodnight, and Good Luck"(2005), "The Ides of March," Hoffman plays Paul, the veteran, cynical, chain-smoking campaign head for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), the charismatic Democratic hopeful who just needs to win the Ohio Primary to lock up the nomination. Which in this not quite real world automatically means the Presidency, since the only candidates the Republicans can field are a bunch of dingbats (these days maybe more of an asset than a liability). Even more cynical than Paul is their opponent's handler, Tom, played by Paul Giamatti. Tom has one of the best moments in the movie, in which he points out that the Democrats won't win until they adopt the same ruthless tactics as the Republicans; they need to "get down in the dirt with the elephants." That doesn't play well with Morris, apparently, nor with Paul's idealistic assistant, Steve, played by Ryan Gosling.
Timely stuff -- if it had been made prior to, say, "Advise and Consent" (1962) and perhaps with too many shades of "Primary Colors" to be fully relevant. But it does remind you, as Tom notes, that elections have nothing to do with democracy, and everything about winning.