By IAN WILSON
It’s Oscar weekend in Los Angeles and – while Hollywood’s best and brightest gather to hand out Academy Awards – we thought this would be a good time to look at some of our favourite films that have been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In the category of Oscar-nominated movies containing baseball content and some sort of ties to Alberta, here are the nominees:
THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
This 1942 biopic, starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth as himself, came out a year after Gehrig’s death from the disease that now bears his name. The highlight of the movie is Cooper’s re-enactment of Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech at Yankee Stadium.
Oscar Nods: The Pride of the Yankees was nominated for 11 Academy Awards – including best picture, best actor (Cooper) and best actress (Theresa Wright) – but only claimed one Oscar for film editing.
Alberta Connection: Cooper was something less than an accomplished ball player when he signed on for the Iron Horse role, so major league outfielder Floyd “Babe” Herman was brought in as Cooper’s double for much of the on-field action. Before Herman made a name for himself in Major League Baseball, he was a star player for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League. In 1921, the 18-year-old batted .330 for the Eskimos while leading the league in hits and triples.
Based on the best-selling book by the same name, Moneyball delves into the Oakland A’s strategy of using analytics to compete with big-market teams in MLB. The 2011 movie and the book helped popularize sabermetrics in baseball. It stars Brad Pitt as Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as Peter Brand, a character based on assistant GM Paul DePodesta.
Oscar Nods: Moneyball was nominated for six Academy Awards – including best picture, best actor (Pitt), best supporting actor (Hill) and best adapted screenplay – but it did not bring home any hardware.
Alberta Connection: The movie chronicles the 2002 season of the Oakland A’s, who were the parent club of the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers from 1995 to 1998. Many of the players depicted in the movie spent time playing for the Trappers, including third baseman Eric Chavez and shortstop Miguel Tejada. Jason Giambi – who was in Oakland from 1995 through 2001 before bolting for the Yankees in 2002, and whose departure was cited as one of the team’s reasons for adopting a different strategic approach – also played for the Trappers in 1995. Another player in the film, sidearm pitcher Chad Bradford, played for the Calgary Cannons in 1998.
FIELD OF DREAMS
Another book-inspired beauty, this 1989 movie brings the magical words of W.P. Kinsella’s classic Shoeless Joe to life. The plot focuses on Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella, played superbly by Kevin Costner, who hears voices that tell him to replace a section of his cornfield with a baseball diamond. “If you build it, he will come.”
Many do come, including the 1919 Chicago White Sox and author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), who is loosely based on shut-in author J.D. Salinger. The movie is well-written, with a great cast, and it’s a must-see for any baseball fan.
Oscar Nods: It didn’t win any Academy Awards, but Field of Dreams was nominated for three at the 1990 Oscars – best picture, best writing (adapted screenplay) and best original score.
Alberta Connection: Author W.P. Kinsella was born in Edmonton in 1935 and he was raised near Darwell, Alberta until he was 10 years old, at which time he and his family moved to Edmonton. Kinsella was hired as an English professor at the University of Calgary in the late 1970s before Shoeless Joe was released in 1982. The Order of Canada recipient wrote many more baseball-inspired works after that, including The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, The Thrill of the Grass and Box Socials. He passed away on Sept. 16, 2016 at the age of 81.
Wait, this isn’t a baseball movie?! No, no it’s not. Interstellar is a time-bending, science-fiction drama, directed by Christopher Nolan. But if you watch closely, you’ll see some baseball also made the cut.
The 2014 film, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, is a compelling and thought-provoking journey, and one that requires your full attention throughout the movie.
Oscar Nods: Interstellar received five Oscar nominations and won the 2015 Academy Award for best achievement in visual effects.
Alberta Connection: Some of those visuals came straight from southern Alberta, where Seaman Stadium – home of the Okotoks Dawgs – was used to film several baseball scenes. Film production, which also took place in Nanton, Longview and Lethbridge, brought Nolan, McConaughey and actor John Lithgow to the province, along with other members of the movie’s cast and crew.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
It was the feature film that gave the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) – which operated from 1943 until 1954 – the spotlight it deserved and this 1992 movie was a baseball classic.
Starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna, this World War II era flick follows the Rockford Peaches and explores what the women of the league had to deal with during a difficult inaugural season.
Oscar Nods: There’s no crying in baseball, as Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks clearly articulates in this movie, but there might have been some tears shed when the 1993 Oscar nominations were announced. That’s because A League of Their Own didn’t receive any nominations, although it easily could have. The film was, however, nominated for two Golden Globes, including a best actress nod for Davis.
Alberta Connection: Because this movie is a fictionalized account of the AAGPBL, the actual player names are not used. But it does a great job of capturing the spirit of star athletes from the league like Helen Nicol Fox, of Ardley, Alberta, and Edmontonian Betty Carveth Dunn. Both women have been inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.