Top Five: Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Like all other art forms, film brings out the critic in everybody. It is very infrequent when there seems to be a near universal assenting voice to the efficacy and merits of a particular film, director or actor. However, Phillip “I put a bomb in your head” Seymour Hoffman is one of those rare cases where you may in fact be hard pressed to find someone eager to vilify him or the wide variety of distinctive and engaging performances that he has committed to film. Appearing perfectly comfortable in goofy romantic comedies (Along Came Polly), blockbuster trash (Twister), hardboiled crime (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) or inventive independent fare (Happiness), Hoffman has demonstrated his boundless range and could easily command any one of the numerous titles that unimaginative film bloggers and lazy critics (like me) might choose to bestow upon an artist they adore (best actor of his generation, acting dynamo).
So, with the impending release of a movie that is surely fated to doom the careers of all involved by failing both critically and commercially (The Master) it is time for your humble servants here at Filmophilia to roll up our sleeves and profile the finest work that this acting dynamo has ever tossed into cinemas. Let’s jump in my lovelies. This is Top Five: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Sit back and reflect on the best actor of his generation.
5. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
“It’s NOT FAIR!!!”
This is the central idea espoused through Hoffman’s growling, wheezing, tear-choked tirade that he delivers to a flabbergasted Marisa Tomei (and, by extension, the audience) and seems to be his character’s most transparent moment. As Andy Hanson, an embezzling, ruthless finance executive, Hoffman is so utterly repellent, so unwilling to accept his circumstances and so shockingly sociopathic that he is almost difficult to watch in certain sequences. However, the actor’s brutish power (which is immediately established in the film’s opening sequence which depicts him obliterating Marisa Tomei in the bedroom) is impossible to deny and his pairing with an equally effective Ethan Hawke (in sniveling, subservient mode) turns Devil into a sublime modern-day crime classic.
4. Mission Impossible III (2006)
Yes, yes, I know this movie was terrible and a bloated wanna-be roller coaster ride that is really a meta-film examination of Tom Cruise‘s psyche at the peak of his self-destructive, “I love Katie Holmes” spewing meltdown. However, that being said, Hoffman is the film’s saving grace and his performance is menacing, sardonic, sadistic and fiendishly entertaining from start to finish. Featuring an endless array of fantastic lines (such as when he states in a blunt, dead-pan and hilariously Buffalo Bill-like voice that he has simply “…put a bomb” in Tom Cruise’s head) and proving once more that a story’s villain is often times much more interesting than its hero, MI3 stands as maybe not one of Hoffman’s “best” performances (meaning simply that it is not super serious) but it is one of his most enjoyable. And, I mean, in the mid-2000′s who wouldn’t have wanted to put a bomb in Tom Cruise’s head?
3. Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Although the role is little more than an extended cameo, Hoffman was able to once again prove himself to be an inimitable component of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s second best film through his performance as Dean “Mattress Man” Trumbell. Consider the scene in which Sandler’s character, Barry, angrily calls up Hoffman to verbally tongue-lash him in response to the abuse he has suffered at Trumbell’s hands. In this scene Hoffman’s character immediately roars to life, matching Sandler’s considerable intensity and providing one of the most hilarious examples of a character being rendered momentarily speechless in all of contemporary film.
2. Synecdoche, New York (2008)
In a movie that is simultaneously both a joy to watch and a chore to understand Hoffman gives a performance for the ages as Caden Cotard. Hoffman’s depressed and fatalistic theater director stages a life-size replica of New York City in a warehouse as part of his attempt to mount an artistic magnum-opus, which will allow him to be remembered long after his death. While somewhat obtuse thematically and filled with surrealistic flourishes which tend to be rather polarizing for its audience, Hoffman’s restrained, nuanced work and ability to honestly depict a character’s entire physical and emotional life over the course of many years is something to be deeply admired.
1. Magnolia (1999)
Magnolia is a movie filled with big, superfluous imagery (raining frogs) and actors getting a chance to really let it all hang out (such as William H. Macy with his braces and Julianne Moore explaining through tears and snot about how she interpreted her wedding vows rather… loosely). So, it is incredible that probably one of the most affecting performances comes from Hoffman, who fights through the film’s occasionally unbearable existential ruminating and gives one of his most sensitive and compassionate performances – imbuing the film with likability and unambiguous emotional weight.
What do you think of the Top Five? What classic PSH moments were left off? Let us know in the comments.