The passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman was notable in the grand scheme of celebrity deaths mostly because of timing. Losing screen legends at ripe old ages elicits sad pauses (RIP Peter O’Toole & Ernest Borgnine!) and when a young star goes the way of James Dean, River Phoenix, and Heath Ledger we mourn their potential more than their actual accomplishments.
Hoffman was an actor in his prime who had already done quite a bit (an Oscar win and three nominations are a good place to start) but who still left a lot on the table. For movie fans, there’s a lot to reflect on as we look back on what he gave us and as we wonder what he might have done if he had stuck around for another decade or so.
In that vein, here are some remembrances of an actor who left his mark in more ways than one:
A look at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s filmography will only deepen the sense of loss you will feel at his unfortunate death over the weekend. He was in great films, bad films, and everything in between. But no matter the film, you remember him and his role vividly.
Hoffman’s Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” his portrayal of Scotty J in “Boogie Nights” and Brandt from “The Big Lebowski” are all great characters from the top five favorite films I associate with him.
But my favorite has to be the role of Jacob Elinsky in “25th Hour,” a Spike Lee joint from 2002. Elinsky walks around in a constant state of “is there something wrong with me?” I think we can all appreciate that. His naivety about life, women, and friendships comes from a real place and Hoffman’s work really brings that narrative home. His performance is one I greatly appreciate and consider one of his best.
I’ll certainly miss PSH.
According to the internet Phillip Seymour Hoffman has been in several movies that I either didn’t see or don’t remember him being in. Many of these movies are Serious Actor Movies about Serious Things. “Happiness” “Doubt” “Synecdoche, New York” “The Master” “Magnolia”: those are not the films that come to mind when I want Let’s Have Fun-Time Drunk Movie Night! Those are words I would say when trying to describe a nightmare that I can’t quite remember.
I liked him in “Twister” because, for a period of time, I was convinced that he was actually a graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Dramatic Acting because the OU baseball cap he wore in the movie was stained and distressed to perfection. Like he showed up on set the first day, strode right up to Jan de Bont, and said, “Mr. de Bont, I am a Serious Actor like my fellow university of Oklahoma School of Dramatic Acting alums, Benny from”LA Law” and Dennis Weaver. I insist on wearing this disgusting baseball cap because it is true to my character’s soul.”
And Jan de Bont looked at him and said, “BRILJANT! Some day you, young man, will snatch the Oscar from the hands of a more deserving performer!”
2005 was the year my naive faith in the Academy Awards was shattered. “Brokeback Mountain” was fucking robbed and PSH beat Heath Ledger for Best Actor.
I have major problems with actors in biopics getting automatic blow jobs for life. “So, PSH, tell me, how did you prepare to play Truman Capote?”
“Well, it was SO HARD! I started by watching hundreds upon hundreds of hours of file footage. Then moved on to reading literally thousands of books, articles, interviews, exposes, and the Warhol Diaries trying to get to the heart of this shy and secretive man.”
I realize that PSH didn’t actually rig the voting to deliver the Oscar to himself and the blame lies entirely with the corrupt Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Therefore I can only assume that PSH knew deep inside that he didn’t deserve that award.
What I always loved about seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman pop up in a movie was knowing he was always going to be interesting. He could be great whether he was just dropping in for a small supporting turn or if he was carrying the whole movie on his broad shoulders.
The question then became was he going to play it big or small because he was one of the few actors who could do both so well.
There are plenty of examples to illustrate his range going from a scenery-chewing popcorn villain in “Mission: Impossible III” to barely-breathing baseball manager Art Howe in “Moneyball” to his beautifully nuanced turn as Father Brendan Flynn in “Doubt.”
But two (NSFW) scenes have been coming back to mind over the past day or so, both come from movies from director Paul Thomas Anderson (arguably Hoffman’s greatest collaborator) and I think they probably best illustrate what I’m talking about.
The first is a moment in “Punch-Drunk Love,” a movie he is barely in as a furniture salesman/proprietor of a phone-sex hotline. An enraged Adam Sandler calls demanding to speak to a manager, not realizing he’s reached his psychotic match.
The other is in “The Master” where Hoffman plays a cult leader (totally not based on L. Ron Hubbard. For reals. Seriously.) carted into jail with a nut-job follower played by Joaquin Phoenix. At first, both men are painted as opposites as Phoenix loses his shit in an adjoining cell while Hoffman never moves. But then a breaking point is reached.
In both instances, Hoffman plays a character who sees himself in total control, but then proves he is just as, if not more insane than the person who seems totally unhinged when the scene began.
There’s an element of danger and comedy in these scenes and Hoffman is able to play to both sides to the point that it’s perfectly acceptable to watch them while cowering under a table or laughing with tears in your eyes.
It’s Hoffman’s ability to turn a moment on its head that I will probably miss the most.