Monday, February 3, 2014

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman: A Look Back at His On-Screen Roles

One of the greatest and most entertaining actors of our time (or of any time), Philip Seymour Hoffman, has died, which is a damn shame. He was 46 years old.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, R.I.P. :(

Hoffman was always the best part of every movie and role he was in, from studio comedies like Along Came Polly and Charlie Wilson's War to fringe independent features like Synedoche, New York and
Flawless, a drama where he managed to even out-shine and out-hammy Robert De Niro. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Capote as the titular writer who was obsessed with perfecting his work that would eventually be In Cold Blood. Hoffman is similar to Capote in that aspect. He immersed himself into his characters, whether they were real life figures (Capote, Lester Bangs) or fictional beings who were more real than many of the characters we see on the silver screen. It was always exciting to see him on the screen. I was unfortunate to never see him on the stage, in which he appeared on Broadway most recently in 2012 in Mike Nichols' production of Death of a Salesman, which earned him a Tony nomination.

Hoffman as The Count in the British comedy The Boat That Rocked

One of my favorite movies is The Boat That Rocked, a British comedy that focused on a group of men who ran the airwaves with rock 'n' roll to millions of people with their station Radio Rock on a ship off the coast of the British Isles. His character, an American DJ known as The Count, was my favorite character, a brash and loud radio personality who butted heads with Radio Caroline's former top DJ, Gavin (Rhys Ifans). At one point, both men decide to play chicken by climbing the masts of the ship, eventually jumping into the cold Atlantic to avenge for a fellow DJ (Simple Simon, portrayed by Chris O'Dowd), The Count doesn't even like.

The movies Philip Seymour Hoffman was in are so diverse and entertaining that they could be collected to create its own film festival. In no particular order, there are some of my favorite performances from one of the acting's finest.

Almost Famous
Though technically the first movie I saw that featured Hoffman was Twister, this is the movie that made me a fan of his. I saw it just after it was released on home video in 2001 and was hooked. Even though Lester Bangs only appears in a few scenes, he helps bring protagonist William down to earth with some wisdom and his no-bullshit approach to rock 'n' roll. "I'm always home...I'm uncool."

The Boat That Rocked
As the brash DJ who must defend his title against a competitor aboard Radio Rock (which was loosely based on the actual Radio Caroline), it was fun to watch him crack jokes, especially after appearing in the dreary drama Doubt, which was released just a few months prior to this Richard Curtis-penned and directed showcase for 60s-era pop culture. The polar end of Bangs, The Count was definitely cool. When I started spinning records at Radio DePaul, I aspired to be The Count, a completely fictional being that Hoffman brought to life with such gusto that it was tough to realize that once the movie was over, he was not in real life.


In addition to winning a slew of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor, Premiere Magazine cited this mesmerizing portrayal of the troubled writer as one of the greatest film performances in history (#35) ""Hoffman provokes sympathy and contempt in equal measure."

Along Came Polly

Easily the best part of this movie, which was pretty lousy even by Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy standards.

The films of Paul Thomas Anderson, which include Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master

Boogie Nights

In a movie where many people have their breakthroughs, from director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson to actors Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights is one of the few films in modern American cinema that dared to go out there. In this scene, Hoffman's Scotty J. wants to impress Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) with his brand new red Corvette and plants a kiss on him. Embarrassed at Dirk's rejection, he tries to make amends while grasping the fact that his affections would never be reciprocated.


As a nurse who tries to help the ailing Earl (Jason Robards, in his final film before his death) reunite with his son (Tom Cruise, who would reunite with Hoffman on-screen in Mission Impossible 3).

Punch Drunk Love

In a span of just a second, he goes from a calm man at a mattress store to a raging lunatic, shouting "Shut up! Shut the fuck up!"

Mission Impossible 3

Immediately following his Oscar victory for Capote, Hoffman does a 180 as the ruthless villain in Mission Impossible 3. Note how calm he is as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) pleads tearfully to save the life of his fiance.

Charlie Wilson's War

Hoffman managed to steal scenes and the spotlight from Hollywood royalty Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts as a rogue CIA operative who helps Charlie Wilson. He earned supporting actor nominations from the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.


This is not the most pleasant movie to endure, but Hoffman brings a sort of empathy to a sad-sack who makes disturbing phone calls to a vain author (Lara Flynn Boyle) who becomes aroused by her abusive secret admirer.

Jack Goes Boating

In 2010, Hoffman made his debut as a motion picture director in the romantic drama Jack Goes Boating, earning acclaim for his work both behind and in front of the camera.


In the play and its 2008 film adaptation, Father Brendan Flynn is the lead male. Oddly enough, the Academy gave him the nomination for supporting actor. He lost to Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), who was also nominated in the same category in 2005 for Best Actor, which he lost to Hoffman.

The Ides of March

As the campaign manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney) and the mentor of ambitious Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), Hoffman's Paul Zara is furious when Meyers decides to meet with the opposition and fails to mention it to his bosses. Hoffman earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this performance.

Mary & Max

In this quirky stop-motion feature from Australia, Hoffman voices Max Horowitz, a lonely and obese New Yorker who later learns he has Asperger's Syndrome. He receives a letter from an equally lonely Australian girl named Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitemore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult) as they bond over a cartoon show and their curiosity over each other's lives over the course of two decades.

A Late Quartet

In 2012, Hoffman reunited with Catherine Keener in the drama A Late Quartet as a middle age married couple who are a part of a chamber music quartet that is facing changes as their cellist (Christopher Walken) faces a terminal illness and Hoffman's Robert wishes to become the first violinist, a decision no one supports, lest of all his wife.

Cold Mountain

In a Civil War-era drama directed by Anthony Mingella, there are three top-billed A-listers (Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger), plus an outstanding supporting cast that includes Natalie Portman, Kathy Baker, Melora Walters (his co-star in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and The Master), Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Eileen Atkins, Jena Malone, and Donald Sutherland, the last two his future co-stars in the Hunger Games series. In the midst of all this buffet of top-notch actors, Hoffman stands out as a corrupt preacher who turns out to be a delight, despite his misgivings.

A CBS News profile at Hoffman from 2012.

Other roles include a voice-over performance in "Arthur", playing an imitation of himself, "Will Toffman"; his three Tony-nominated performance for "True West", "A Long Day's Journey Into Night", and "Death of a Salesman.", cameos as Jim The Bartender in Ricky Gervais' satire The Invention of Lying and as Henry, a Board of Education who pines for a member co-worker (Allison Janney) in the film adaptation of Strangers with Candy. His entire film work is notable, a rarity in cinema, and he will be sorely missed and admired for a long time to come.

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