Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances

Today we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has consistently been one of the most dependable actors.  He has played nearly every type of role and has fit into a small cameo as easily as a leading man.  Every performance he has given has been worthwhile and has elevated the film.  He will indeed be missed.  As sort of a tribute and reflection on his career I wanted to examine the movies I have seen him in.  I have seen 15 movies of his.  I know there are still plenty of great ones that I have yet to watch (Capote being one of them).  But each of these 15 movies represent his extraordinary talent.  The order of these movies does not matter as much as the fact that they are all incredible performances.

15. Patch Adams (1998)
Easily one of the lesser movies in his filmography, but even when Philip Seymour Hoffman is in a bad movie he gives his character the same effort he would in a good one.  In this scene he gives a very restrained performance, while keeping his signature grandness in the appropriate lines.  We are clearly meant to root against this character, but Philip Seymour Hoffman brings an honesty to the pretty contrived scene that earns more sympathy than the manipulative Robin Williams performance.

14. Scent of a Woman (1992)
One of Hoffman's earliest roles is Scent of a Woman.  A decent movie with a few great scenes, this being the best.  This is of course the speech that earned Pacino an Oscar, and an unknown Philip Seymour Hoffman supports it.  He is only in one shot, but he let's you know so much about his character in his reaction.  A lot of his performances deal in revealing a lot of information in very little screen time, which is not a skill that a lot of screen actors have.

13. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Hoffman had a very memorable cameo in his third collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson.  Watch how quickly and believably he escalates from boredom to extreme frustration.  He is being intimidating without directly reacting to anyone, he is just on the phone but he absolutely owns this scene.

12. Ides of March (2011)
This performance was nominated for a BAFTA and is one of the more memorable parts of a forgettable film.  Hoffman is great in this.  There is one scene where he is staring down rival campaign manager, Paul Giamatti, at a debate and all you can think of is how awesome it would be to see these two enormous actors face off against one another.  This clip shows Hoffman as a no-nonsense professional. He is extremely condescending while still holding your attention.  This scene really works independently from the rest of the movie because Hoffman is so good in big speeches.  Later on in the movie he does a great job at playing defeated in an understated way.

11. Nobody's Fool (1994)
I couldn't find a full clip of one of his scenes, but he is well represented in the trailer even though he is an unknown actor playing a small role.  A lot of these examples are of Hoffman playing large and intimidating but he is the complete opposite in this movie.  He is a young, stupid cop who doesn't know how to handle the irascible Paul Newman.  This is a character that we never sympathize with, he is just a loser that aggravates the lead.  Hoffman can really play an unlikable loser better than anybody.  If you have not seen this movie you really should.  Hoffman is great in it, as is the rest of the impressive cast.  One of my favorites.

10. Moneyball (2011)
This is the type of movie that requires Hoffman.  When there is an important character with little screen time Hoffman was the one actor who could quickly and effectively convey the entire character.  His role is not much larger than this 45 second clip, but he perfectly captures the frustrated coach working under an unorthodox manager.  His performance helps to make this premise work on film.

9. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Philip Seymour Hoffman was the big addition to the cast of the Hunger Games sequel.  I won't say too much about his performance because I don't want to spoil anything (even though I am sure that everybody has seen or read it).  But he is perfectly cast.  He is not the focal point and he can play understated to support the story, but he still fully utilizes his skills at playing intimidating.  He is clearly setting up a bigger character for the sequel and Hoffman was the perfect choice for such an ambiguous character that would later grow in importance.

8. Boogie Nights (1997)
This is the movie that first put Philip Seymour Hoffman on most people's radars.  Throughout the movie he is the epitome of awkwardness.  In this incredible scene he fully embodies insecurity, unrequited love, denial and self-loathing.  He is so committed and sincere in his feelings while constantly doubting himself.  This is just an absolutely tragic scene.

7. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Aaron Sorkin is a great writer, but his scripts need great actors for them to make sense to the average movie goer.  Hoffman really makes this movie accessible.  He really finds the perfect tone for this comedic drama.  He plays it over the top with perfect comedic timing, but there is a weight to everything his character does.  He is somewhat of a comic relief, but he also makes this premise work.  This scene stealing supporting role was one of the few Oscar nominations that this Oscar bait film received.
6. The Master (2012)
I was not the biggest fan of this movie, it was good but I did not see it as a masterpiece.  But as one would expect Hoffman gives another great performance in it.  He is so great at ambiguous characters with a lot going on.  This character has a very specific public persona that the audience is asked to doubt.  You do doubt him and see him as fake, but Hoffman is so committed to this role that you understand the character's success.  He plays off of his co-stars perfectly, showing vulnerability in private scenes with Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams that he wouldn't show otherwise.  A friend mentioned that in The Master Joaquin Phoenix gave a masterclass of method acting and Philip Seymour Hoffman gave a performance similar to one that Orson Welles might give.  That was a really good comparison, because Hoffman could always work at his largeness.  This was Hoffman's final collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson and his final Oscar nomination.

5. Magnolia (1999)
This was the clip I shared on Facebook when I learned Philip Seymour Hoffman had died.  This was a character that the movie really needed.  Magnolia is pretty depressing movie with a lot of people that are broken and do terrible things.  Hoffman plays a nurse trying to reunite a dying man with his son.  This scene may be too self aware for some, but Hoffman's earnestness is really moving.  It stands out as one of my favorite scenes of his.

4. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
This is a very difficult movie, Charlie Kaufmann wrote and directed it after all.  This one is very polarizing.  There are people like Roger Ebert who thought it was the best film of the last decade.  There are others who thought it was pretentious and pointless.  I won't analyze the movie itself, because that would take too long and I am not completely sure that I understood it all.  But what I can say with confidence is that this would not have worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead.  This is a tough character and a tough movie to sit through, but Hoffman carries it all on his shoulders.  He remains interesting even when things get even more confusing.  He understands this character and gives his usual great performance.

3. Almost Famous (2000)
My favorite one-scene wonder of his.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the most memorable parts of Almost Famous as legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs.  Here he is being honest with the main kid.  He is clearly carrying a rock persona, but he is also straight forward and helpful.  This is a tough performance to really analyze, because there is not much too it.  It is just a great performance because Hoffman is always so comfortable acting and always entertaining.

2. Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Another scene-stealing, entertaining performance.  Hoffman plays Jude Law's troubling best friend.  Hoffman is just boisterous and larger than life.  He is not a character you like, but he is easily the most entertaining and electrifying thing in an otherwise quiet drama.  Again it can be hard to pinpoint what made every Philip Seymour Hoffman role great, but he could just be so fascinating to watch.

1. Doubt (2008)
After I saw this I remember discussing the movie with my drama teacher.  She believed that Hoffman's Priest was guilty and I believed that he was innocent.  Neither of us were wrong, because the movie leaves it open for both possibilities.  Hoffman does not only play the character of the movie, he plays the premise.  The movie is about something that he might have done so he needs to play ambiguous the entire movie.  He walks that very fine line perfectly while portraying a three-dimensional character.  There are so many great scenes in this movie and he plays off of his small ensemble perfectly.  This and his three co-stars all earned well deserved Oscar nominations.

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