Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Top 10 Performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman

If there’s one actor in American cinema who is among the best at this moment, it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman. While he may not have the looks of a leading man, he does however have a personality and a versatility that makes him engaging. He’s someone who always brings in something no matter what type of film he’s in. Even if it’s a small supporting role or a lead role, Hoffman is just one of these men who will always create a performance and just make anyone not forget who he is. He’s just one of those actors that can’t seem to suck and that is rare. He’s been around since the early 1990s and he’s still working today as he’s set to appear in the upcoming Hunger Games sequel. Yet, there are roles that’s defined him in his career and here are the 10 best performances he’s given so far:

1. Almost Famous-Lester Bangs

If there’s one performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman that is his most definitive, it’s the role of legendary rock critic Lester Bang for Cameron Crowe’s semi-biographical film Almost Famous. Only Hoffman can display Bangs’ passion for music as well as his snide critiques as he becomes the one character who guides the film’s protagonist on what to do and what not to do in the world of rock journalism. While Bangs may claim that rock was dead at that time, he would be the one character who displays lots of humor and compassion in his character. Most notably the scene when William calls Bangs about what to write where it’s just a simple, understated moment where Bangs is sitting in his room surrounded by records as he admits that he’s not cool but is OK as he tells William to do what is right.

2. Synecdoche, New York

In Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Hoffman rises up to one of the great acting challenges in playing a man who is trying to mount a play about himself just as he’s facing death. It’s a performance that only Hoffman can do as he’s later mimicked by Tom Noonan in a comical fashion while Hoffman displays the kind of humility and despair into what it takes to be an artist. Notably as it is also a study into obsession and regret as Hoffman brings humanity to this character where he makes the audience want to root for him but also not be afraid to be un-likeable at times.

3. The Master-Lancaster Dodd

If there’s one actor-director collaboration that should be noted, it’s the one between Hoffman and Paul Thomas Anderson as Hoffman has appeared in five of the six features Anderson has appeared in. Their most recent collaboration in Anderson’s 2012 film is definitely their best so far in the way Hoffman exudes all of the characteristics of a man who is definitely unconventional yet engaging. In playing the titular role, there is a complexity to the way Hoffman deals with Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell character as Hoffman believes he can help this troubled man. There’s a darkness to Lancaster Dodd as well where he’s questioned about his beliefs while there’s also some ambiguity to Dodd where he might not be the master after all that is suggested in Hoffman’s scenes with Amy Adams.

4. Capote-Truman Capote

The performance that won Hoffman his first Oscar in the role as the titular writer doing research for the novel that would make him a legend. While it’s a role that requires a lot of charisma, Hoffman definitely brings Truman Capote to life with the physical mannerisms and with the voice. Even as he humanizes Capote in the way he meets the men who committed a terrible crime as well as the torment he faces in the aftermath of finishing In Cold Blood. It’s definitely worthy of the Oscar without trying to be all Oscar-bait as it’s often the case with some performances that wins Oscars.

5. Happiness-Allen

If there’s one performance from Hoffman that one will never forget but for all of the wrong reasons. It’s his role as the very pathetic Allen in Todd Solondz’s Happiness. Here’s a guy where on the surface, he’s never going to get the hot chicks, He so wants the Lara Flynn Boyle character while he calls Jane Adams’ character as he is whacking off and then comes something not seen very often in films. He’s also clueless to the fact that there is someone for him and the person he wants in Lara Flynn Boyle is really a shallow bitch. It’s a performance that is creepy but one that is just needed to be seen.

6. 25th Hour-Jacob Elinsky

Here’s a character that only Hoffman can play that allows him to bring a lot of complexity to a character that is essentially awkward as he deals with the fact that one of his friends is going to jail and that he has a crush on one of his students. Hoffman is very understated in his role as he is just this man who is really unsure about anything as he is in a club with his friends where the student played by Anna Paquin is waiting in line as he gets her in. It’s him trying to impress her as she is intrigued by him but the result becomes just as awkward. It’s a performance that allows Hoffman to be a bit of a buffoon but a sweet one.

7. Love Liza-Wilson Joel

An early leading role for Hoffman, this is a performance that allows him to really go all out. Notably as he is this grief-stricken man just simply falling apart and huffing on gas. It’s a role that is very harrowing to watch as Hoffman displays all of the despair into this character. Hoffman isn’t afraid to make his character look or seem pathetic as he is also entrancing in the way he deals with his grief. It’s a performance that is rooted in realism as it’s something no fan of his should not forget.

8. Charlie Wilson’s War-Gust Avrakotos

When anyone appears in a film headlined by Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts that is directed by Mike Nichols. It’s hard for anyone to standout though there were exceptions like Amy Adams. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as the brash CIA official who helps Hanks’ Charlie Wilson character with information about Afghanistan’s conflict with the Soviet Union. Hoffman essentially steals the film from everyone as he is a no-holds barred guy that isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Notably in a scene with Hanks where the war just finished as Hoffman provides a great monologue about what Wilson should do after the war where it would later provide some eerie moments that would come afterwards.

9. Boogie Nights-Scotty J.

Hoffman’s second collaboration with P.T. Anderson provides him with one of the great characters in a P.T. Anderson film. As the very innocent soundman who is gay, here’s a guy that is just a low-key person in many of the ensemble scenes yet he manages to stand out. Notably as he’s wearing clothes are too small for him as he wants to be part of the gang that includes Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild. Yet, he’s also in love with Diggler as it’s kind of a heartbreaking moment when Diggler is shocked that the fact that Scotty kisses him and Scotty is inside his car crying. It’s a performance that really stands out because Hoffman makes people feel for Scotty.

10. Flawless-Rusty Zimmerman

It’s an actor’s dream to do a movie with Robert de Niro but to act alongside de Niro and in drag. Well, that’s a way to get noticed. Even as Hoffman definitely makes himself very comfortable to act alongside a legend where he brings a lot of humor to his role. The scenes between de Niro and Hoffman show two actors really do something together where de Niro is restrained due to the fact that his character had a stroke while Hoffman is the one helping him out. It’s really a showcase of an old-school actor like de Niro giving Hoffman the chance to shine and let people know that he’s here to stay.

Honorable Mentions:

There’s a lot of performances where Hoffman gets the chance to stand out whether it’s in big movies or in small films. Other performances that should be mentioned are in dramatic roles such as Owning Mahowny where Hoffman is haunting as a compulsive gambler with issues as it’s really Hoffman really bringing a troubled character to life. Hoffman’s work as a supporting actor is key to his brilliance in performances like Cold Mountain, Moneyball, The Ides of March, and an early film role in Scent of a Woman.

Hoffman’s work with P.T. Anderson has definitely showed the kind of range he could do as a supporting actor whether it’s playing a young craps player in Hard Eight, a sympathetic nurse in Magnolia, and as a very aggressive mattress salesman in Punch-Drunk Love where that performance has him and Adam Sandler act out their rage towards each other.

While Hoffman is revered for his work as a dramatic actor, he’s also a very accomplished actor in comedy. One small role that has him being funny but in a subtle way is his role as Mr. Lebowski’s assistant Brandt in The Big Lebowski where he’s this straight-laced guy where the funniest moments that Hoffman has is him saying “dude”. Other funny roles that Hoffman brings includes a very out-going crew member of a tornado chaser in Twister as he steals the film from everyone as this dim-witted guy who always has a cool mixtape around him. Another role that is a standout that has him being funny is in Along Came Polly where he plays Ben Stiller’s best friend as he has some funny moments while also being the guy to keep things watching no matter how mediocre the film is. One performance that should be noted is in The Boat That Rocked where he plays the lone American character in the film as he has this great battle with Rhys Ifans in a variation of the game Chicken where Hoffman screams "I don't even like Simon" as it's Hoffman being goofy and being everything is good about rock n' roll.

There’s a lot to be said about Philip Seymour Hoffman as he remains one of the most beloved actors working today. Yet, he is someone who knows what to do in the art of acting as he is willing to do anything to give out a good performance. Even as he also brings out the best in other actors which is something actors should do. If there’s one guy to count on to bring the goods, it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman.

© thevoid99 2013


Stevee Taylor said...

Has this guy ever not been great? He is simply one of the best, most versatile and unique actors around. If you have in your movie, the quality instantly rises by about 100 points.

s. said...

No "Doubt" or "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead"? He is such a great actor, even in small roles like the one in Boogie Nights he is amazing.

Alex Withrow said...

Great picks. Before the Devil may still contain my favorite Hoffman performance, but I can't argue with any of your picks.

Lester Bangs is a perfect character.

"Who are you listening to?"
[slams phone down]
"Fucking kid's doing drugs."

thevoid99 said...

@Stevee-He should be in a list of actors who can't suck. A very elite list that includes Gene Hackman and Christopher Walken. No matter how bad the movies are.

@Sati-I had never seen Doubt. It's one of those films I missed. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is an OK film but not one of my favorites though I did like Hoffman's performance.

@Alex-That's one of my favorite Hoffman moments though my favorite moment in that film is him bashing the Doors and praising the Guess Who and the going "Iggy Pop... Amen!"

ruth said...

Unbelievable how many roles I've missed. Just added Flawless to my list, oh wow, I have to see that real soon. GREAT list Steven, I'd recommend A Late Quartet also even just to see his performance.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-A Late Quartet is something I want to see as I love the actors in that film. I'm really bummed that he's gone now. One of the best.