Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Throughout the years, the name alone was enough to generate a certain amount of excitement among film enthusiasts all over the world. Why so? Not only is the person behind the name a thespian in possession of a considerable range of skills and depth but also because he played some of the most remarkable characters in movies that resonated throughout his generation.
That’s why when Hoffman was found dead in his apartment two weeks ago, it didn’t feel like your favourite actor just died of an accidental drug overdose. It felt like a cold blooded murder.
To celebrate Hoffman’s legacy of unparalleled acting chops, the members of the MNL Film Club have re-watched his filmography and listed the 10 most essential movie performances of his entire career.
10. Boogie Nights (1997)
In Boogie Nights, Hoffman plays Scotty J., a gay boom operator at a pornographic movie production company who falls madly in love with an up and coming (not to mention well-endowed) male porn star. Truth be told, the role is completely unnecessary to the plot of the movie (heck, it wasn’t even tangential). But thanks to Hoffman’s sensitively spot-on portrayal, the short focus devoted to the character was not wasted; instead it was maximized by the actor himself. In the movie, Scotty J was lost, confused and loveable at the same time – all because of Hoffman’s sheer genius.
9. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
While the highlight of Punch-Drunk Love is the character of Barry Egan and Adam Sandler’s portrayal of him, it would not be complete without the iconic scene wherein Barry complains to Hoffman’s character regarding the extortionist-phone-sex service which the latter offered and the former availed of, and which eventually led to the possibility of a hitch in Barry and Lena’s love. Dubbed as the “shut up scene,” this short but significant part played by Hoffman not only made the story more interesting and gave the film the character it evokes, but it also showcased his greatness as an actor. His performance confirmed his status as a renowned actor, who can steal the spotlight even in a role whose lines consist of about ten shut ups.
8. Magnolia (1999)
He cries. He lip syncs to Aimee Mann’s Save Me. In Magnolia, PSH must have broken all conventions we have come to know him for – and it’s a breath of fresh air. Still, it’s a gripping drama, and the impact his emphatic character made in his limited appearance by ordering porn and being verbally assaulted by Julianne Moore makes a compelling story as any, even without the benefit of a back story.
7. Doubt (2008)
Acting with Meryl Streep, arguably the greatest actress of her time, should be frightening, no? Apparently, not for Hoffman. In fact, he received his third Oscar nomination for his role as an embattled priest in the movie Doubt, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play. Although sharing most of his screen time with his co-actors, Hoffman was never subjugated; he refused to be tossed into the side line while Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis (all of whom also received their respective Oscar nominations) engaged in tense confrontations. Instead, he played the role with great certainty and vulnerability that you would sympathize with and root for his character at the end of the film.
I know because I did.
6. Happiness (1998)
Hoffman delivered one of the most underrated performances of his career in Happiness, where he played the role of Allen, a sex-obsessed serial masturbator, who longs for companionship and understanding.The character is no joke as it gives a voice to a number of people who suffer from the same affliction at a time when it was still considered a taboo.And Hoffman, who at that time was starting to gain critical recognition, did not disappoint: he played the role with an impeccable combination of restraint and passion that you would end up believing that he shares the same affliction as his character. He understood that the character searches for love and he, too, searches for it, albeit a little too aggressively. The movie ended with Hoffman in a better place than where he was when it started. And you would agree that he deserves it.
5. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Hoffman’s second Oscar nomination came in 2007 with Charlie Wilson’s War, a movie that would have fallen flat without his feisty, foul-mouthed and scene-stealing role.
4. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
PSH is the sole stable anchor in this surrealist flood by genius scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman, although he is a powerful force by himself. He plays Caden Cotard, a self-denigrating playwright in perpetual pursuit of perfection. In depth, it is a movie about life, andHoffman is our guide as we view life’s most picturesque tragedies. We plead with him as he stops his wife from leaving. We apologize with him at his daughter’s deathbed. We yearn with him for the lover that he never learned to let go. For me, this is Hoffman at his finest.
3. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Enter: an angry Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Hoffman surprised many by playing Andy Hanson, a conflicted brother and vindictive son, whose actions prove pivotal to the course of the film.The role was not the usual sympathy-evoking character he is known to play; gone are the days of confusion and self-pity, the Hoffman seen in Before the Devil is ruthless and desperately seeks for vengeance. Not surprisingly, he plays it with great ease and commitment that I hated the character and rooted for its demise. The character eventually died and I was satisfied. If that isn’t a testament to Hoffman’s brilliance, I don’t know what is.
2. The Master (2013)
Hoffman’s fourth (and last) Oscar nomination was the result of his fifth (and last) collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson. As Lancaster Dodd, the megalomaniac leader of an emerging philosophical movement in the United States, Hoffman gave a performance worthy of the praises it reaped. As the movie progressed, Dodd screamed, brawled and fought hard for his declining reputation – all of which were perfectly executed in a passionate yet restrained fashion. Thing is, the role may have been easily overplayed and exaggerated if any other actor were cast. But thanks to Hoffman’s raw and masterful talent, it wasn’t. Instead, it was remarkable; it became iconic and would have topped this list if not for his Academy Award-winning role in 2005.
1. Capote (2005)
Topping the list is Hoffman’s performance in the 2005 film Capote where he played the titular role. Throughout the film, Hoffman holds the adorable lisp, the high-pitched voice, the flirtatious gestures and the flamboyant persona firmly together and did not let go. His uncanny resemblance and awe-inspiring performance saw the late author impossibly resurrected from the dead, which can only be the result of pure commitment to the role (and of course, mad skillz). The outcome? His career-defining performance helped Hoffman snatch all the accolades he could get his hand on, including his only Oscar (which says a lot about his performance because it was also his first time to be nominated).
If the movie taught us anything, it’s that Hoffman, at one point in his short life, lived as Truman Capote and honestly, it doesn’t get any better than that.