You wait all year for a star-driven movie that says something about the state of the US of A, and where the leads play hardball with each other and get to butt heads with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and wouldn't ya know it? Two come along at once.
Moneyball is Brad Pitt's baseball movie, a pet project based on a non-fiction book (Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis) about how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane's lateral thinking about player selection changed the game.
On the other side is Ides of March, George Clooney's latest and arguably best directing effort which he and his co-writers have adapted from a stageplay about how Ryan Gosling's flack for a Democrat presidential hopeful (Clooney) is transformed from idealist to cynical opportunist.
They're both movies about men vying to be the smartest guys in the room and wondering what their urge to win at all costs is doing to their souls. But of the two, only Moneyball is in a league of its own.
It's already drawn comparisons to The Social Network, which also had an Aaron Sorkin screenplay of snappy dialogue. And like that film about the guys behind Facebook, it too is about how mathematics - in this case statistical analysis as espoused by Jonah Hill's Yale economics graduate who Beane hires as his data-miner - can be applied to human endeavour.
In this case how an underfunded major league Californian baseball team took on the big-money star-poaching franchises from the East Coast and won with a team of oddballs, picked, broadly speaking, on base-reaching potential rather than the sport's ancient yardsticks.
In many ways it's a typical sports movie, following the prescribed arc (dream, defeat, rethink, loss, rethink, triumph) and a good one. But director Miller smartly knows this isn't just a baseball movie. He captures the uncaring world of pro sports as Beane trades players as if they were baseball cards, as well as telling Beane's own story about how he went from gifted teen player to big league strike-out to the man who can't bring himself to watch his team play live, less he jinx the outcome. Hill nicely underplays the nerd-in-residence role (his character is a composite) and there's a punchy supporting turn from Hoffman as the team's grizzled player manager, who, like the rest of the franchise selectors can't believe their wizened wisdom is being ignored. But it's Pitt as the brusque, tightly wound Beane, who helps knock this one out of the park.
Meanwhile in Ides of March, Clooney might be Governor Mike Morris, who is on the campaign trail to be selected as the next Democrat presidential candidate, but he lets everyone else do the acting - big scenery chewing performances abound - in a film that's part morality play, part modern political thriller.
The story is told through the eyes of Ryan Gosling, Morris' loyal press secretary who finds himself in a double-bind.
Firstly he's been shoulder-tapped by rival campaign manager (Giamatti) and lets himself be wooed. Secondly, he's sleeping with Molly (Wood), a campaign intern. Both actions are ill-advised, especially under the watch of Morris' paranoid campaign manager (Hoffman) and the constant scrutiny of Marisa Tomei's political reporter, who is seemingly the only journalist covering the campaign.
Gosling is impressive and curiously convincing as a supposed campaign veteran and the movie resounds with what feels like Democrat disillusionment with the Obama administration and the tawdry legacy of Clinton.
That the American political system and media climate forces compromise on the most promising of politicians is hardly revelatory. And state-of-the-union credentials aside, something doesn't quite add up in how its story plays out, which requires a volte-face or two from key characters.
Still, it is mildly entertaining, especially in the head-butting bits.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Bennett Miller
Running time: 133 Minutes
Rating: M (offensive language)
Verdict: Pitt's home run
IDES OF MARCH
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: George Clooney
Running time: 101 mins
Rating: M (Sex scenes & offensive language)
Verdict: George's political thriller, less than thrilling