Like many people, I considered every movie featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman to be mandatory viewing. Even when the film itself wasn’t the greatest (Mission: Impossible III, Along Came Polly, etc.), PSH was always worth seeing. In most cases he either blew his co-stars off the screen or inspired them to be better than ever (Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Linney, etc.). When I heard news of Hoffman’s passing this past Super Bowl Sunday I stopped what I was doing and sat quietly for a while, thinking, surprised at the news. Heroin? Who’d have thunk it. Not me. Sure, the guy often looked disheveled when he wasn’t working, but the rate – not to mention the quality – of his production over the last decade would alone suggest a level of sobriety. Needless to say, I was a bit tore up about the news, as were, I’m sure, just about all the other cinephiles around the world. PSH was, almost undeniably, one of the top three or four screen actors of his time. As something of a tribute, I figured I would take this week to talk about my five favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performances. Looking over the very lengthy list of films I considered for my Top 5 I was shocked by how cool, how tasteful, how good Hoffman’s filmography was. And so, of course, it was hard to pick just five, but here they are …
5. Happiness (dir. Todd Solondz, 1998) - Todd Solondz very eerie, unsettling family sex drama is the only movie to ever make me physically ill. It’s one of the most uncomfortable, odd, divisive films I’ve seen, and much of that drama is driven by Hoffman’s very powerful performance as the sexually frustrated Allen. Chances are good that, if you read this column regularly, you’ve seen this film and already have an opinion on it; if not, definitely rent or stream or steal it ASAP.
4. The Savages (dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007) - This familial drama saw Hoffman paired up with a very powerful Laura Linney as a very true-to-life brother and sister who, through tragedy, both become closer and help each other solve some personal issues. It’s a very authentic feeling film for which Hoffman gave the year’s second best performance (after Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview).
3. Capote (dir. Bennett Miller, 2005) - The movie for which Hoffman will likely be best remembered is also the film he won is Oscar for, playing the brilliant Truman Capote during the years when he was writing his masterpiece, In True Blood. Hoffman falls so deep into his character in Capote that he emerged almost unrecognizable, ultimately beating out Heath Ledger’s Brokeback Mountain performance, which is often considered to be one of the best of the decade.
2. Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008) - A movie seen by very few and understood by only its biggest fans, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is considered by several notable film critics to be the best film of the last decade. Leading that film is Hoffman in a decades-spanning performance that sees the actor holding together a very complicated script and production. It’s a film and performance that I think will earn a legacy over time, maybe even someday standing as an all-time classic.
1. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) - Ahh yes, finally, Hoffman’s masterwork. Everyone involved’s masterwork. Alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, Hoffman leads the way in what is, for my money, one of the best-acted films ever made. It’s a strange puzzle of an art house epic, and Hoffman’s performance is one for the ages. A beautiful, complex, poetic and powerful performance from one of the hardest working and most soulful actors of all-time.
Also Great: Jack Goes Boating; Doubt; Charlie Wilson’s War; Love Liza; Owning Mahoney; Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead; Cold Mountain; 25th Hour; Punch-Drunk Love; Almost Famous; State and Main; Magnolia; Flawless; The Big Lebowski; Boogie Nights; Scent of a Woman; and, a major personal favorite, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Wow. What a career. If only it were longer. R.I.P. Scotty J.