He's extraordinary in both films, but Moneyball may be the one to land him the Academy Award
Sony Pictures / Fox Searchlight
Brad Pitt is a great actor. It's easy to forget that fact amid the endless tabloid obsession over his non-relationship with Jennifer Aniston, his ever-expanding brood with Angelina Jolie, and his hunk-for-life status. But few ordinary gossip magnets could have credibly delivered the two vastly different performances Pitt has offered in 2011. The hardscrabble '50s Texas dad of The Tree of Life and the magnanimous Billy Beane of Moneyball don't have much in common beyond the overarching sense that they are stark personalities with emotions that run deep—and that they're both among the most memorable characters on screen so far this year.
The Tree of Life and Moneyball have both racked up rave reviews, and Pitt's performances in each have been singled out for praise. What's more, Pitt is a two-time Oscar nominee without a little gold man on his shelf. As awards season amps up, speculation has naturally centered on whether this could be Pitt's year and, if so, which of his 2011 performances is more deserving of the statue.
Of course, attempting to compare two distinct works side by side is a dicey proposition, especially considering that each film's releasing studio (Fox Searchlight for Tree and Sony Pictures for Moneyball) will make its own decision on how to market Pitt to the Academy. But Oscar precedent shows that when there are two awards-worthy performances given by the same actor in the same year, it's usually best to concentrate on one. So Pitt's hopes rest on a focused, targeted campaign for the performance that's most likely to resonate with voters, a notoriously old-fashioned bunch.