When I glanced at my e-mail alerts on Sunday and saw that Philip Seymour Hoffman, arguably the greatest film actor of his generation, had died of a probable drug overdose, I felt the same mix of sadness and anger that came over me when Whitney Houston died.
Again, a performer taken way too soon… again a drug death preceded by reports that the artist was “clean and sober”…again that empty feeling of a creative resume half-filled, never to be completed.
In Hoffman’s case, though, the news was especially poignant because he seemed approachable in a way a diva like Whitney never was. Hoffman was so convincing in each of his masterfully interpreted roles we felt—correctly or not—that we were seeing another layer of his vulnerable self.
Hoffman never gave a bad performance, but here are five must-see movies that put his astonishing talents to unforgettable use:
Capote (2005) Hoffman won his Best Actor Oscar for this one (and the movie won our Best Movie for Grownups Award). Playing Truman Capote in the months he wrote In Cold Blood, Hoffman pulls of a remarkable feat of hocus-pocus: By this time in the 1960s, as a staple on TV talk shows, Capote was essentially playing a public parody of himself. Hoffman manages to portray the man trying to reconcile his public persona with his burning literary ambitions.
The Savages (2007) As an aimless college professor who finally finds direction as he tries to connect with his dying father (a marvelous Philip Bosco), Hoffman gives a wickedly funny, ultimately redeeming performance. As his exasperated sister, Laura Linney, was nominated for an Oscar, and the film won our Best Movie for Grownups Award.
Jack Goes Boating (2010) Hoffman directs and stars in this gem of a working class romantic comedy. He’s a loner limo driver who gets dragged into a blind date—and ends up discovering that the heartaches of connecting with another human being are ultimately worth it. He created the role on stage, so this is the closest most of us will ever get to seeing one of Hoffman’s legendary theatrical performances.
State and Main (2000) Hoffman is the fictional stand-in for writer/ director David Mamet in this ensemble comedy, in which he plays a severely blocked screenwriter trying to save a seemingly doomed movie, shooting in a small town. You can still laugh at most of the film, but try not to choke back a tear when Hoffman’s writer jots down an overheard phrase uttered by a local: “The only second chance is the chance to make the same mistake twice.”
Doubt (2008) We got used to Hoffman playing conflicted, aimless, ultimately sympathetic characters—but when he sank his teeth into the part of a priest who might be a pedophile, the result was galvanizing. Meryl Streep (winner of the Movies for Grownups Best Actress Award for this one) plays a crotchety nun who’s convinced he’s guilty. Hoffman pushes us into agreement with her, then convinces us of his innocence, so many times that by the end of the movie we feel positively throttled.
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