TYLER MALONE’S FAVORITE PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN PERFORMANCES
PMc Magazine’s Resident Film Critic Counts Down His Favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances in Memory of the Recently Deceased Actor of Immense Talent
By Tyler Malone
Philip Seymour Hoffman was such a great actor that when I first saw There Will Be Blood, I remember thinking as I left the theater: “Wow! That was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but it would have probably been even slightly better somehow if P. T. Anderson could have found a way to wedge Hoffman into the cast.” I thought that because it was the first–and, as of this post, only–of P. T. Anderson’s films not to include Hoffman. He has a tiny role in Hard Eight, Anderson’s first film; he steals the show by being a “fuggin’ idiot” in Anderson’s sophomore effort Boogie Nights; he’s marvelous as a caretaker and timid Hustler purchaser in Magnolia; he’s the best part of Punch-Drunk Love; and he’s masterful as The Master‘s Lancaster Dodd. Just based on his work with Anderson alone, I think Hoffman could be considered one of the best of his generation.
And yet we needn’t only base it on his work with Anderson alone. He also made films with other top tier directors such as the Coen Brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Lumet, Spike Lee, Todd Solondz, Bennett Miller, J. J. Abrams, Mike Nichols, George Clooney, David Mamet, and Cameron Crowe. And unlike the few others of his generation who possess his level of talent, even when Hoffman was slumming it in a movie far below his level of excellence, he always managed to give a Grade A performance. His “arrogant, pompous prick” Mitch in Patch Adams comes to mind, as does his shartingly silly Sandy Lyle in Along Came Polly. The second of those reminds us of something else it’s all too easy to forget about Hoffman: his comedic chops were as finely tuned as his dramatic chops.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a unique talent, snatched from us all too soon, who will be missed by any and all cinephiles, including myself. As a way of coping with the loss of this great thespian, I decided to make a list of my top ten favorite Hoffman performances.
10. As Dean Trumbell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love:
Like a perfect mattress, Hoffman balances firmness and softness as Dean Trumbell the Mattress Man and phone-sex line “supervisor” in Punch-Drunk Love, his fourth collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson. If you don’t agree with me that he is absolutely brilliant here, the Mattress Man has only one thing to say to you: “SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! Shut up; will you SHUTUP SHUTUP! SHUT SHUT SHUT SHUT SHUTUP…SHUTUP!”
Great Hoffman Moment: Punch-Drunk Love Clip
9. As Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous:
Hoffman’s take on Lester Bangs, the great gonzo music journalist, in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous could have easily veered into unintentional parody or over-the-top caricature. It never does. The actor walks the razor’s edge, and as with his role in Punch-Drunk Love, becomes arguably the best part of Crowe’s semi-autobio-pic.
Great Hoffman Moment: Almost Famous Clip
8. As Andy in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead:
Playing a guy with a bad drug habit (which, in light of the recent events, seems all the more tragic), Hoffman mesmerizes us in Sidney Lumet’s cinematic swan song, the brilliant crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. As smooth-talking Andy, Hoffman showcases his uncanny ability to move from self-satisfied smirk to tearful “It’s not fair!” breakdown, going anywhere emotionally that his character needs to go with an ease and grace that feels more natural than nature itself.
Great Hoffman Moment: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead Clip
7. As Allen in Todd Solondz’s Happiness:
The character Allen, Hoffman’s role in Todd Solondz’s Happiness, allows the actor to show off a peculiar talent in his repertoire: the ability to make phone scenes fascinating. Though this talent is utilized in later films like Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, Allen’s penchant for making obscene phone calls to his neighbor is not only Hoffman’s phone scene breakthrough performance, but probably also remains his best telephone work.
Great Hoffman Moment: Happiness Clip
6. As Phil Parma in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia:
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, as the desperate nurse Phil Parma, looking for the son of the dying man he’s taking care of, Hoffman is absolutely heartbreaking. His timid attempt at buying nudie mags is one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies. And as Phil, Hoffman gets to ask the question on all our lips as we view Magnolia for the first time: “Why are frogs falling from the sky?”
Great Hoffman Moment: Magnolia Clip
5. As Brandt in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski:
Though many of the films featured on this list have comedic elements, the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski is the only straight-up comedy that made the cut. Though he plays the straight-laced, stick-up-his-ass personal assistant to the Big Lebowski, Hoffman as Brandt is able to stretch the comedic muscles that will show up later in lesser comedies.
Great Hoffman Moment: The Big Lebowski Clip
4. As Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s Capote:
It was for his role as the eponymous writer in Bennett Miller’s Capote that Philip Seymour Hoffman received his Oscar. He definitely deserved to win an Academy Award more than just this once, but this was surely one of his most deserving performances. Here Hoffman literally becomes the In Cold Blood author. Truman Capote’s voice, his gestures, his affectations were all reproduced with unfathomable precision.
Great Hoffman Moment: Capote Clip
3. As Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights:
As self-proclaimed “fuggin’ idiot fuggin’ idiot fuggin’ idiot” Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Hoffman finally found a role where he could adequately demonstrate the extent of his acting abilities. Amongst a cast of truly talented individuals, Hoffman stole the show back before most moviegoers even knew his name. This was his breakthrough role, and remains one of his most unforgettable.
Great Hoffman Moment: Boogie Nights Clip
2. As Lancaster Dodd in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master:
By the time Hoffman starred in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, he was already a master of the craft–and yet he still managed to surprise us with his beyond brilliant performance of Lancaster Dodd (the Charles Foster Kane-like barely-veiled depiction of L. Ron Hubbard). Now thinking about the fact that this will be his last appearance in an Anderson film, I can only dream about where else that duo may have gone.
Great Hoffman Moment: The Master Clip
1. As Caden Cotard in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York:
As Caden Cotard, an aging theater director who receives a MacArthur Fellowship, Hoffman mined new emotional depths in Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. Cotard decides to use his MacArthur money to create a piece of brutal honesty, and whether Cotard succeeds or not within the universe of the film, Kaufman certainly succeeded with the film itself. But I have to think that he would possibly not have been nearly as successful without the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman, a man whose talent will be missed for years to come.
Great Hoffman Moment: Synecdoche, New York Clip
Tyler Malone is the Editorial Director of PMc Magazine. He is also working on a novel and freelances for various magazines.
Written and Compiled by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics
Design by Francesca Rimi
Film Still from Synecdoche, New York, Photography Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics