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So Long, Philip Seymour Hoffman

For some reason, the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman stings just a little bit more than other recent Hollywood departures.

It’s got less to do with the tabloid details of his demise and more to do with the fact that he was merely one year older than me.

More than Paul Walker, and so much more than Heath Ledger, I felt Philip Seymour Hoffman was truly an actor of my generation.

In his too-short career, Hoffman established himself as a character actor par excellence. Like the great supporting actors of earlier eras—the Jack Wardens, the J.T. and M. Emmett Walshes, the Philip Baker Halls, the David Strathairns, the Harry Dean Stantons—his appearance in a movie, no matter how limited, immediately elevates the material.

Like those great supporting stars of the silver screen, Hoffman rarely got the opportunity play the leading man—it just wasn’t his style, though the first time he tried, in Capote, he scored an Academy Award for Best Actor. There’s only one other film in Hoffman’s filmography where you could call him the leading man (Synecdoche, New York), and it’s a testament to his skill and dedication as a consummate character actor that even after winning the Oscar, he continued to shine in mostly ensemble pieces.

When I started to reflect upon his total filmography, I was astonished at the number of truly great films he made in his career, and how many times he worked with master filmmakers and Hollywood screen legends.

He will be missed.

In remembrance, here are a few of my favorite PSH performances.


Scent of a Woman (1992)

Hoffman made a memorable debut as the entitled and duplicitous boarding school brat George Willis, Jr. in the film that finally earned Al Pacino an Oscar.

Nobody’s Fool (1994)

Hoffman pops up in the gallery of supporting characters inhabiting Robert Benton’s sublime serio-comedy. His officious Officer Raymer has a chip on his shoulder and winds up getting decked by leading man Paul Newman. Not a bad way to start a movie career.

Boogie Nights (1997)

As loveable schlub Scotty J, Hoffman makes you feel the ache of his unrequited bro-crush on porn idol Dirk Diggler.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Hoffman’s turn as Brandt, the title character’s nauseatingly obsequious valet, is one the film’s many memorable eccentricities.

Happiness (1998)

As Allen the phone-sex perv, Hoffman is both repellent and endearing—like most of the rogues gallery of repressed characters who populate the seamy suburbia of Todd Solondz’s dark comedy.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Hoffman’s snooty and jealous socialite Freddie Miles is one of many piquant secondary characters in this flavorful Hitchcockian psycho-thriller. As with Hoffman, the film’s departed director Anthony Minghella was gone way too soon.

Red Dragon (2002)

It’s perfect little coups of movie casting such as having Philip Seymour Hoffman portray the slimy and rapacious newspaper reporter Freddy Lounds that justify the existence of this polished but utterly needless remake of Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Hoffman relishes the opportunity to play a real scum-bag, and his character’s spectacular demise is one of the more searing images of the entire Hannibal Lecter series.

Capote (2005)

Hoffman’s nuanced Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote is more than a mere feat of physical and verbal mimicry; the actor disappears completely and becomes the embodiment of Capote’s spirit.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Nothing like following up a prestigious Oscar win with a dip into the franchise villain pool. Hoffman’s international arms dealer Owen Davian is a physically unassuming guy, but he quickly proves to be a wily and sinister psychological threat, a ruthless snake that slithers his way under our hero’s skin and into his head. Hoffman is the only one of the four M:I antagonists to generate any semblance of true menace or dire stakes.

Other than his role as Father Brendan Flynn in Doubt and his unfinished turn as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t seen much of Hoffman’s later performances. Catching up with the likes of Moneyball, The Ides of March, The Master and Synecdoche, New York will surely be bittersweet.

 

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