Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top 5 Films Featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman

Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order. 

These are just some of my favorite films that Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor and one of the stars of the new film "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" has been in over the years that I enjoyed either based solely on their performance or it was just a generally well made and enjoyable film that they happened to part of in a supporting capacity.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor whose rise to fame was based simply on his immense talent. He didn't have the traditional good looks of a Hollywood leading man nor did he take on projects just to make a quick buck. Looking over his filmography shows a man who picked his roles carefully and made sure that he gave 110% every time making sure that even the films that didn't turn out so well were worth watching simply for the compelling and unique characters he created. All one has to do is look at his work with P.T. Anderson and you will see a man who gave himself over completely to any character he played and those characters ran the gamut of likable to just plain creepy.

But those films were just the tip of the iceberg for a career that would later show us even more diversity than we ever expected. Whether it was playing the neurotic closet homosexual in Boogie Nights, the offbeat complexity of author Truman Capote (which won him a Best Actor Oscar) or the menacing coolness as the best villain in the entire Mission: Impossible franchise in M:I3, he was always at the top of his game. While his sudden and unexpected passing away has robbed us of any possible future work, we at the very least will always have the legacy he left behind. These are the top 5 films I believe best represent the life and career of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the artist and human being who was taken from us all too soon.
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Director P.T. Anderson is arguably the man responsible for putting Hoffman on the map in Hollywood. While every film the two made together such as Hard Eight, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and even the less than stellar The Master can be used as a timeline for watching him mature over the years, Boogie Nights is the film that gave the man his first real role with meat to it and also one of his most memorable.

Try to recall Boogie Nights and not remember his painfully awkward approaches towards Mark Wahlberg and that crushing moment when he finally makes his move and gets rejected. While the film became the launching pad for many of today's biggest stars (Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle and William H. Macy to name just a few), it was also the beginning of a long and prosperous partnership between a fine actor and a visionary filmmaker who would both go on to make some truly inspired work together.


Speaking of visionary filmmakers, Hoffman's one and only collaboration with director Cameron Crowe has all the hallmarks of an instant classic, which most fans labeled it as almost immediately after it was released. While the most notable aspects of the film are indeed the music and the extremely authentic recreation of the 1970's music scene, there was also an incredible cast of mostly unknowns that helped it attain that authenticity.

You can cherry pick almost any of the then unknown actors such as Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel and chart their rise to fame, but one of the most memorable performances in the film still remains Hoffman's Lester Bangs. He isn't in the film nearly as much as you might want, but all his scenes of mentorship towards young William gives a proper voice to the last generation of pure corporate-free rock and sprinkles his warmth all throughout which is the same as having dessert served after every course of an already delicious meal.


In a complete change of pace for any role Hoffman had tackled before, he decided to take on Tom Cruise as the evil arms dealer Owen Davian. As Davian he created a different kind of villain, one that felt all too real and devilishly vicious. He wasn't a super villain, he had no army of henchmen and he had no underground secret base, but what he did have was power over the very people who were charged to take him down and Hoffman gave the character that perfect balance between vulnerability and danger.

The brilliance of his low key performance was understated most of the time but the few key scenes between he and Tom Cruise were endlessly engaging and helped situate him as the best bad guy of the series to date and likely won't be dethroned anytime soon. It's not exactly the type of post-Oscar win role that most would expect, but it did show that we were just barely scraping the surface when it came to the immense range of his talent.


File this one under creepy but completely unforgettable. The film itself isn't creepy but just about every single character in it is seriously disturbed to an unbelievable extent. You have a father who rapes a young boy that was sleeping over at his house after drugging him (and then later tells his own son that he would never rape him, but jerk off instead), a woman who has one of the most brutal dates of all time, a young boy who continuously attempts to ejaculate throughout the film unsuccessfully and a dream sequence where a man walks through a park full of gay men and guns them down with an assault rifle, and you have one of the most f**ked up movies in history.

Then you have probably one of the most positive characters in the film played by Hoffman, who himself enjoys calling women randomly and verbally abusing them as he masturbates. Did I mention that this movie is pretty messed up? If you are one of the few who can stomach its nearly vomit inducing content you will be rewarded with a film that you will never forget and likely never see again despite how much you may or may not "appreciate" it. Plus you get yet another highly effective and brilliantly disturbing performance by Hoffman who somehow actually makes his character just a tad bit endearing while remaining so hopelessly pathetic that you almost feel sorry for him when its revealed his true love is actually a homicidal maniac. 


Rounding out this list of films is probably one of his least known features but is nonetheless one of his most personal and celebrated works. Despite having reservations about stepping behind the camera, Hoffman finally decided to take the reigns and direct his very first (and now his only) feature film which was also based on a stage play in which he portrayed the lead character of whom he would play in the film version as well. It is a very small and intimate film which was in stark contrast to many of his larger than life roles he had been playing and only featured only 3 other key actors which included the very talented trio of John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Amy Ryan.

If you want to see Hoffman at his best while filling nearly all key roles as director, producer and star, Jack Goes Boating remains (in my eyes) the go to film that showcases everything that made the man such a special human being and one of our greatest talents working in Hollywood. Sadly, it now also serves as a reminder of how much of an immense loss it was for the world when he was taken away from us on February 2nd, 2014.


 Honorable Mention
The Big Lebowski

"Careful man, there's a beverage here!", "Nobody messes with the Jesus!", "8 year olds Dude...", "I like your style Dude...", "My name isn't Lebowski...I'm the Dude man!"...choose whichever quote is your favorite, it doesn't matter. In what has become one of the biggest latent cult hits of all time (possibly only surpassed by A Nightmare Before Christmas), The Big Lebowski is a cultural phenomenon. There is nothing I can write here that you haven't already heard, this is more or less just a way to remind those who may have forgotten that Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the many incredible cast members who helped make this a film that, whether they liked it or not, defined a generation.


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