Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman's Greatest Performances

After losing one of my favorite actors to a terrible struggle with addiction, I first decided to seek the assistance of co-writer, Greg Rouleau, to devote my February Movie List of the Month (click here for January's List) segment to the top ten Philip Seymour Hoffman performances. However, it felt mildly disrespectful to try and nit-pick some sort of order or ranking to all of this talented man's finest achievements. Instead, for this month's list, Greg and I have selected our 10 favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performances which will be presented in alphabetical order. The late actor's long list of phenomenal work can hardly be summed up in a list of ten, but may this serve as a tribute and reminder to a fantastic legacy that PSH leaves behind.

Honorable Mention: Paul Zara - The Ides of March, Wilson Joel - Love Liza, Owen Davian - Mission: Impossible III and Jon Savage - The Savages.

Lester Bangs - Almost Famous

In early 2001 I rented a film on VHS called Almost Famous and it was the first time I had seen a movie with Hoffman in it.  PSH plays Lester Bangs, a rock journalist that gives our protagonist his first writing assignment that kicks off the story of the film.  Most of his scenes are early on, and despite the film being great from start to finish (a Top 10 of mine) you can’t help but feel the void left by his departure.  You can imagine a spinoff movie focusing on Lester’s character would be a perfect companion piece.  I was unaware of who PSH was at the time, but I remember him leaving a lasting impression on me, which inspired me to catch up on most of his filmography over the years.  Later in the movie Lester returns with a late night phone call with the young writer, William.  This scene, featuring his monologue about being uncool, really stands out as the emotional climax of the movie and cements Lester as the soul of Almost Famous. (Greg)

Sandy Lyle - Along Came Polly

Although John Hamburg’s romantic comedy, Along Came Polly, has been widely accepted as a virtual “miss”, the movie has always been a guilty pleasure of mine and I have Philip Seymour Hoffman to thank.  PSH goes off the reservation as Sandy Lyle, “that kid from Crocodile Tears” who can’t move on from life as a childhood star and frequently offers terrible advice on dating.  Hoffman’s healthy dose of comedic flair elevates this otherwise bland rom-com into a laugh-filled experience every time he takes the screen.  PSH will always be remembered as a remarkable dramatic actor, yet his role in Along Came Polly serves as a much-needed reminder to just how versatile he truly was. (Dave)

Scotty J. - Boogie Nights

It can be argued that the film that really put Philip Seymour Hoffman on the map is PTA’s Boogie Nights.  With a filmography full of more dramatic and intense roles, it’s almost ironic that it essentially began with a performance where he sports a too small tanktop and shorts akin to daisy dukes for most of the film.  PSH lights up the screen as Scotty, and his idolization of Dirk Diggler is so endearing; from trying to mimic Diggler’s chic fashion sense, to impressing Dirk with the new paint job on his car and finally going in for a kiss.  He may not have been successful in stealing a kiss from Dirk, but Scotty stole our hearts with the first of many memorable roles. (Greg)

Truman Capote - Capote 

Hoffman would win his first and only Oscar for his portrayal of effete intellectual author, Truman Capote.  It was a deserved win in a year full of strong contenders.  While I think he had a few roles that were slightly stronger, one can’t deny the powerhouse performance in Bennett Miller’s dark, thrilling biopic.  He embodies Truman, nailing the mannerisms, the distinct voice and the jovial exterior of a truly tortured soul.  Hoffman apparently went the method route and stayed in character in between takes, becoming Truman for the duration of the shoot.  His scenes in the film with Perry are strong displays of his talent.  I also really loved the interaction between Hoffman and Catherine Keener who plays his friend, Harper Lee.  An early scene on a train between the two is one of the lighter moments of an otherwise bleak film. (Greg)

Gust Avrakotos - Charlie Wilson's War

Without a question, my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performance comes from Mike Nichols’ fantastic true-story drama, Charlie Wilson’s War.  PSH seemed like a perfect fit for the role of fiery CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos, so much so that it landed him one of his four total Oscar Nominations (1 win and 3 losses).  In the film we watch Hoffman stand as tall as well-regarded performers such as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and a young Amy Adams, but PSH managed to be the only one to garner Oscar recognition from this highly underrated film.  This is definitely the performance for which I’ll always remember Philip Seymour Hoffman. (Dave)

Father Brendan Flynn - Doubt

One of the major players at the 2009 Academy Awards was director John Patrick Shanley’s play-turned-motion picture, Doubt.  The undeniably talented Meryl Streep stars as a Catholic school principal who struggles to make sense of the relationship between a priest and troubled youth.  PSH and his regularly lauded counterpart share some unforgettable on-screen moments as Hoffman received another one of his Oscar Nominations for this gripping and sympathetic role as Father Brendan Flynn.  Clearly a benchmark in a sadly shortened career, Hoffman demonstrated his relentlessness and commitment to excellence with this magnificent performance. (Dave)

Rusty - Flawless

It seemed every role that PSH took on, he would disappear into the characters he was portraying.  In 1999, director Joel Schumacher gave him the chance to play a pre-op transgender in Flawless.  A character like this can easily turn even the strongest thespians into scenery-chewing, campy cartoons, but there is a considerate amount of restraint in his portrayal of the drag queen Rusty.  Nevertheless, he still turns up the dial in this performance when needed and it’s thrilling to watch.  Going toe to toe with legendary actor Robert De Niro was a sure sign that Hoffman had the ability to carry his own film. (Greg) 

Phil Parma - Magnolia 

Also in 1999, Hoffman would collaborate on the third of five features from director Paul Thomas Anderson, in Magnolia.  This large ensemble piece meant some sparse screentime for PSH, but as always, he really delivered in all scenes.  Once again placed opposite a legendary actor, this time, Jason Robards, Hoffman played the caretaker of the cancer-stricken man desperately seeking one last moment with his estranged son.  As fate would have it, Hoffman’s Phil Parma gets a lead on tracking down the dying man’s son, and in one of the film’s crucial scenes, he pleads with the company “Seduce and Destroy” over the phone to put the two back together again. (Greg) 

Lancaster Dodd - The Master 

Appearing in a handful of collaborations with director Paul Thomas Anderson, a filmmaker who certainly helped catapult Hoffman’s career, many would claim that the late actor’s finest role occurred in 2012’s The Master.  PSH went on to receive an Oscar Nomination for his portrayal of Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic leader who begins a movement called “The Cause” and takes an animalistic Navy vet under his wings.  Although he was ultimately beaten out by Christoph Waltz (Django unchained) at the Academy Awards, Hoffman gave a tantalizing and captivating performance that will never be forgotten. (Dave)

The Count - Pirate Radio

One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most fun and light-hearted roles occurred in the wonderful Richard Curtis comedy, Pirate Radio.  “The Count” steals our hearts as one of many crazed disc jockeys living on a huge vessel floating aimlessly in the North Sea and illegally broadcasting Rock n Roll throughout Great Britain in the 1960s.  The actor’s somewhat prophetic send-off in the film’s final moments has never carried as much weight as it does in this post-Hoffman world we now find ourselves in.  “Nothing Important dies tonight, just a few ugly guys on a crappy ship. The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there’ll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play. But, believe you me, they will still be written, they will still be sung and they will be the wonder of the world” – The Count. (Dave)

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