''Moneyball,'' ''Abduction,'' and more

By EW Staff
Updated August 12, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT


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It’s not a baseball movie,” says Moneyball director Bennett Miller. ”Period.” Of course, it is a baseball movie — one of the most detailed and realistic takes on the game ever to hit the big screen. But to the film’s director and cast, some of whom say they’ve never been huge fans of America’s pastime, its themes reach far beyond the world of balls and strikes. Based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 nonfiction book, the movie follows Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he struggles to reinvent his cash-starved team in the early 2000s by rejecting some of baseball’s most fundamental assumptions. ”To me, it’s about thinking differently,” says Jonah Hill, who plays a clever young A’s exec working with Beane. ”I saw a story about people being undervalued.”

At its core, Lewis’ best-seller is a book of ideas, and turning it into a movie proved unusually tricky. ”Listen, we’re dealing with economics, we’re dealing with [statistics-driven] sabermetrics, we’re dealing with things that are not necessarily dramatic cinematically and palatable for an audience,” says Pitt. ”How do you get over that hurdle? Even Michael Lewis said to us, ‘Sure, I’ll sell you the rights. I don’t know how you’re going to make a movie out of it…’ I’m not sure we did, either. We just knew that there was something there at the heart of it. It became somewhat of an obsession.”

The movie was plagued by setbacks and false starts almost from the beginning. After original director David Frankel (Marley & Me) dropped out to pursue the comedy The Big Year, Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven) signed on. But just days before shooting was set to start in June 2009, Sony pulled the plug on the project after meeting with Soderbergh about his final script revisions, which outlined a docudrama-style film including interviews with real baseball players. ”Suddenly we got a balk and everything was turned upside down,” says Pitt. ”It was a grim time.” Even so, Pitt refused to give up. ”I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain that one until I’m on my deathbed,” he says with a laugh. ”It just spoke to me on so many levels. I just couldn’t let it go.”

In search of a new director, Pitt invited Miller (Capote) to his L.A. home. They hit it off. ”In that first meeting we talked about a Trojan-horse approach to making a film like this,” says Miller. ”We were going to make it inside the system but try to carry a little bit of the spirit of films from the ’70s.” Miller then made his pitch to Sony and the film’s producers, emphasizing elements of Beane’s personal life that could give the movie a more traditional narrative arc (the film features Robin Wright as his ex-wife and Philip Seymour Hoffman as A’s manager Art Howe). ”It made us see that his version would be inspiring,” says Michael De Luca, who produced the movie with Scott Rudin and Rachael Horovitz. Sony was convinced as well, and the project finally moved forward, with The Social Network‘s Aaron Sorkin also on board (he shares the screenplay credit with Steven Zaillian).

Miller was serious about nodding toward ’70s cinema. A particular source of inspiration was All the President’s Men, another movie about two behind-the-scenes guys taking on the system with an in-depth look at how things actually work. (There’s even a quick homage to the 1976 film when Pitt’s and Hill’s characters meet secretly in a parking garage.) Beane himself was a big help in nailing Moneyball‘s realism — though he seemed ambivalent about being the film’s central figure. ”Billy was very gracious and open, and at the same time very uncomfortable with the idea of this kind of focus on himself, which, although I’ve chosen a business that is antithetical to that, I understand completely,” says Pitt. After seeing the almost-finished movie, Beane recently shared his thoughts with Pitt. ”I think if it was a film that wasn’t about him,” says the actor, ”he would be absolutely in love with it.” —Rob Brunner Sept. 23

Director John Singleton (Four Brothers) gave Taylor Lautner a warning before production began on Abduction. ”I told him, ‘You are going to get smacked in this movie,’?” he says. And indeed he does. In the 19-year-old actor’s first leading role outside The Twilight Saga, Lautner plays Nathan, a high school senior who discovers a picture of himself on a missing-persons website and embarks on a thrill-packed adventure to learn his true identity. ”The goal was to make him the next-generation action star,” says Singleton. ”I wanted him to be not just a guy that girls like, but one that guys can go, ‘Okay, that dude’s cool.’?”

Lautner was surrounded by veterans — including Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver (”I melt whenever she walks on screen,” says Singleton), and Maria Bello — who could show him the ropes. ”I’d go [to the set] even when I wasn’t filming, just to learn and watch,” says Lily Collins (The Blind Side), costarring as Lautner’s classmate and crush who joins him on his quest to uncover the truth. Not that working with pros was strictly educational. ”Alfred just made us crack up,” Collins says. ”He’d be doing crazy accents in between takes, and then you’d hear John call ‘Action!’ and we’re supposed to be really emotional but Alfred had just made us laugh.”

Speaking of action, Abduction allowed Lautner to expand well beyond his wolflike stunts: The actor kickboxes, leaps out of exploding houses, slides down hills, and tosses a bad guy from a train. ”Taylor’s a different guy in this movie than he is in Twilight,” says Singleton. ”I’ve worked with a lot of new talent throughout my career. He is, bar none, one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.” Tom Cruise might want to watch his back. —Sara Vilkomerson Sept. 23

Steven Soderbergh knows that his new thriller, Contagion — about a highly communicable virus that wipes out millions of people worldwide in a matter of weeks — may be even more unsettling than most horror films. ”You can avoid going into the ocean or taking a shower if Jaws and Psycho scare the s— out of you,” says the director. ”You can’t live a normal life without coming into contact with germs.”

Contagion is a kind of Towering Inferno for the science-geek set, featuring an A-list cast whose lives collide amid the ensuing international chaos: Matt Damon plays a Midwestern dad whose wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is one of the disease’s first victims; Kate Winslet appears as a Centers for Disease Control doctor; Marion Cotillard portrays a World Health Organization official; and Jude Law is a crusading blogger. ”It wasn’t hard to get good people because the time commitment was very short,” says Soderbergh. ”You’d call somebody up and you’d go, ‘Hey, look, we just need you for eight days.’?” Was there a sadistic part of him that enjoyed killing off multiple Oscar winners on film? ”Oh, yeah!” he says. ”Especially in the case of Gwyneth. She has a seizure, which was really creepy. That was really fun. She dies good.” —Dave Karger Sept. 9

Dream House
Somewhere amid shooting tentpoles like Cowboys & Aliens, The Adventures of Tintin, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Daniel Craig managed to sneak in a more modestly budgeted psychological thriller about a couple (real-life newlyweds Craig and Rachel Weisz) who move with their two young daughters into a quaint New England home with a grisly past. Anyone who’s checked out the spoilery trailer knows there’s a big twist involving Craig’s character, but exec producer Rick Nicita says if you think you know the whole plot, guess again. ”When people see the trailer, they ask, ‘Why would you give away the ending?’ But it’s not the ending. The twist happens less than halfway through.”

Nicita, who bullishly compares Dream House to The Others and The Sixth Sense, promises that no one will predict what’s coming next. Speaking of not being able to predict what comes next, an offscreen romance between the film’s two stars resulted in a top secret exchange of ”I do”s in June. ”As far as I can tell, it took everyone on our film by surprise,” says Nicita. ”They were very, very discreet on the set.” —Chris Nashawaty Sept. 30

When his friend Will Reiser was diagnosed with spinal cancer at age 25, Seth Rogen began developing a buddy comedy based on their friendship during Reiser’s extensive treatment. Rogen even got Reiser, who’s been in remission for years, to pen the screenplay. ”You see movies where people who have cancer never talk about it,” says Rogen. ”But it was all we talked about. Sometimes very seriously. And other times he’d be thinking about how it could help his single friends get laid.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Reiser’s alter ego in the film, and Rogen, who produces, plays a version of himself. Both actors point out that while 50/50 does shed light on cancer’s unexpected babe-magnet potential, it doesn’t shy away from depictions of chemotherapy, diminished libido, and hair loss. For one literally buzzworthy scene filmed on the first day, Gordon-Levitt shaves his head on camera. ”So most of the time you see me with hair, it’s a wig,” Gordon-Levitt says. ”But don’t print that! Because then people will just be looking for the wig.” —Christian Blauvelt Sept. 30

Dolphin Tale
Winter is coming, and not just on HBO’s Game of Thrones. A Dolphin Tale is based on the true story of a bottlenose dolphin named Winter who lost her tail somewhere off the coast of Florida in 2005 — and the efforts of humans at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to get her to swim again. Winter, who plays herself in the film, bonded well with her human costars, including Harry Connick Jr., who plays a marine biologist, and Morgan Freeman, a doc who helps devise her prosthetic tail. But not all of her animal costars were as friendly. ”I got snipped at by a river otter,” Connick recalls. ”I’m handing carrots to animals that instinctively will confuse your thumb with a baby carrot. So that was a little scary.” Especially for a guy whose other job involves playing piano. —Shaunna Murphy Sept. 23

Red State
Kevin Smith is returning to his roots with Red State, a grindhouse horror bonanza about a cadre of religious zealots led by a preacher (Kill Bill‘s Michael Parks) who are murdering for Jesus. As with his 1997 debut, Clerks, Smith shot the film in a month for less than $4 million. The director publicly shunned the studios by buying his own project at Sundance for $20, then took it out for a nationwide tour last spring prior to its theatrical release (it will also be on video on demand starting Sept. 1). ”Marketing is something I can do,” says Smith. ”I come from Quick Stop. Before we made Clerks, I was a clerk, so I know how to sell something.” —Keith Staskiewicz Sept. 23

I Don’t Know How She Does It
In an adaptation of Allison Pearson’s hit 2002 novel, Sarah Jessica Parker portrays an overworked financial exec who must juggle a demanding client (Pierce Brosnan), a career-challenged husband (Greg Kinnear), and two young kids. ”[She feels] the desire to be all things to all people,” says Parker. For Kinnear, playing a harried father wasn’t a stretch. ”I brought my ‘How are we possibly going to do this?’ face from home,” says the actor. So there’s Method to his dadness. —Kevin Sullivan Sept. 16

What’s Your Number?
Anna Faris stars as a thirtysomething in Boston who loses her job, sleeps with her former boss (Joel McHale), and runs into her newly svelte ex-boyfriend (Chris Pratt, Faris’ real-life husband). Then, after reading an article that claims women who’ve had 20 lovers have already missed their shot at true love, she decides to revisit all her past relationships — determined not to add to her total — with the help of her neighbor (Chris Evans). ”There’s this type A woman in movies, and especially romantic comedies. She has all her s— together, you know?” says Faris. ”It felt like there was a void for the women I know, like myself and my friends, who are a little bit of a mess.” —Breia Brissey Sept. 30

In the high-octane noir Drive, Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver and gets entangled in a crime plot that goes awry. So it’s only fitting that the journey to make the film began in a car. Gosling and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn had met in L.A. to discuss the project, but Refn was spaced out on flu medicine and the meeting had not gone well.

The actor was taking Refn home in awkward silence — ironically enough, the director doesn’t have a driver’s license — when REO Speedwagon’s ”Can’t Fight This Feeling” came on the radio. Suddenly, Refn began tearing up and singing along. ”When the song ended, Nic said, ‘This is the film. It’s about a guy who drives around at night listening to pop music because it’s the only way he can feel anything,”’ Gosling remembers. ”I’d secretly been thinking that as well.”

With Gosling and Refn behind the wheel, the nature of the film changed. ”Drive was originally a $60 million action movie Hugh Jackman was going to make,” says Refn. (The stripped-down thriller earned him the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.) ”It became a completely different movie out of this strange, mystical relationship between Ryan and me in that moment in the car.” We never thought we’d say this, but thank you, REO Speedwagon. —Josh Rottenberg Sept. 16

Boxing has Raging Bull. Pro wrestling has The Wrestler. Heck, even kickboxing has the oeuvre of Jean-Claude Van Damme. But where’s the defining movie for mixed martial arts? Well, Warrior hopes to be it. Two estranged brothers (Inception‘s Tom Hardy and Animal Kingdom‘s Joel Edgerton) must face off in the Octagon, battling each other — and their complicated past with an alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). In order to make the combat believable, Hardy and Edgerton trained hard and long. ”I don’t think I’ve ever been in as good shape before or ever will be again,” laughs Edgerton. ”We threw ourselves into what the film was, which is living and breathing and sleeping and eating like fighters.” —KS Sept. 9

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