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No Doubt About it, this Guy’s Good

News flash here: Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good actor.

Cut from that unconventional Charles Laughton, Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman mold of movie stars, Hoffman shows up in film after film, always adding depth and humanity to his roles. This year, tack on two more solid performances to the PSH resume with Moneyball and The Ides of March. the latter probably should have snagged him another Oscar nom, but that’s for a different post.

It was not easy to narrow it down to ten films, but I’m always up for a challenge.

Here are my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman roles:

Doubt  (2008)  A performance that gets better every time you watch it. So much going on, attacked with so much energy, intellect and compassion. Hoffman manages to walk the tightrope for us, leaving us to question to the very end his innocence. But not in question in Doubt is the beauty of his craft. “Where is your compassion?” he asks his accuser. And we then ask ourselves the very same question. Isn’t that art at its very best?

Capote  (2005)  A worthy Oscar win for PSH. Always a risk to take on a well-known personality. No problem for this actor, who always lets the material breathe, always pays such close attention to detail, and fully inhabits both the physical and emotional life required.

Magnolia  (1999)  Again, a thoughtful performance in a brilliant film filled with thoughtful performances. Hoffman’s hospice phone call to the min-mart for the dying Jason Robards, after finally getting around to asking for the porno mags, her response “Do you still want the peanut butter, bread, and cigarettes?” is classic.  Magnolia is one of my top five favorite films of all time; and you might say Hoffman’s ‘Phil Parma’ is the soul of the picture. The way he removes the imaginary pen from Robards’ hand on his death bed is genius.

Synecdoche (2008)  I will admit this film is aimed at a very small sliver of an audience: Those who find life in the theatre (or the arts in general) all-encompassing. But if you’re in that sliver, such is such a great flick. Not sure who else Charlie Kaufman could have cast to play this role. Another brilliant piece of acting from an actor who just gets better and better and better.

Savages  (2007)  This one was right in his wheelhouse, but that doesn’t make it any less significant. It’s an adult comedy with a smart sense of family and family loyalty. A very satisfying ending. If you haven’t seen it, put it on your list. You won’t be disappointed.

The Talented Mr. Ripley  (1999)  A supporting role, but one that sticks to your ribs. Fun to see him play this kind of elitist preppy that first put him on the map (see Scent of a Woman). Reminded me of one of my favorite Richard Yates short stories “A Really Good Jazz Piano.” We’ve all known a few guys like ‘Freddie Miles’ in our day. Hoffman nailed it.

The Ides of March  (2011)  Again, not a huge stretch for this versatile actor, but his presence in a picture like this adds so much to the credibility because you know he has done the work to make it so. His scenes with Ryan Gosling provide the best moments in the film.

Punch-drunk Love (2002)  Aside from his Mission Impossible III (2006) role, this was his stab at a villain. And he was sufficiently detestable as the porn pedaling phone con ‘Dean Trumbell.’

Moneyball  (2011)  I would never have thought to cast Hoffman as A’s Manager Art Howe. But there he was, showing up in yet another solid film delivering yet another spot on, believable, and layered performance. His exasperation with Pitt’s micromanaging of his lineup was full of so much heartache. Funny choice. Excellent work.

Scent of a Woman  (1992)  Had to include the role that put this incredible actor on the map. Pacino won the Oscar for his over-the-top turn as the retired (and blind! “Whoo-ha”) Colonel; but I walked out of the theatre that day, 20 years ago, saying to myself “Who is Philip Seymour Hoffman? That guy’s good.”

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