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2/2/14

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (1967 - 2014)


Today we mourn the loss of one of Hollywood's very best and one of my personal favourite actors around.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's impressive career, which looked like it was only going to get better and better with time, is sadly cut short and all we can do now is remember his great work and posthumously thank him for his important contribution to American cinema.

I first noticed Hoffman as an actor when watching Magnolia, an ensemble piece from Paul Thomas Anderson packed to the brim with great actors doing great work. Hoffman did genuinely stand out as easily one of the best of the bunch, however, with his portrayal of a male nurse going through a particularly emotionally draining night.

Handling the drama seriously and convincingly, the actor subtly captured how difficult this situation was for his character and brought out of him a real sadness and goodness. He also injected the odd humorous moment, in order to light things up a little and emphasise the surreal aspect of the scene.


"I think they have these scenes in movies because they're true, you know? Because they really happen. And, you gotta believe me, this is really happening."

I then noticed Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of my favourite Coen Brothers films and one of my favourite comedies full stop: The Big Lebowski.

His part was minor but completely memorable.

Tasked by the other Jeffrey Lebowski to show "The Dude" around his home, here was Brandt, a cartoonish, nerdy character with a geniusely awkward laugh. In lesser hands, this could have been a forgettable role but in Hoffman's hands, it was gold.



"They're not 'literally' his children, they're the little Lebowski urban achievers!"

It was 2002 and this was the time where I would actually start going to the cinema constantly, a lot of the time by myself, to discover films from all around the world. That's when I saw Punch Drunk Love, another terrific Paul Thomas Anderson flick, this time starring Adam Sandler, with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Dean Trumbell: the Mattress Man. 

So I'd already seen dramatic Hoffman, witty Hoffman and now I was about to see full-blown angry Hoffman and it was awesome.

The moment where Sandler's character and Dean finally meet is particularly tense but it's Dean's random outbursts which steal every scene he's in. 


"Oh... *grunts* ... y- F***!!! Did you just say: 'go f*** myself?'"

Now intrigued as to what else the actor had done prior to all this and wanting to find more of his work, I looked around video stores for some of his movies (yes, I was still buying VHS tapes then). And, since I was a big fan of Vanilla Sky, that other Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman in a smaller role, sounded like a safe bet.

I enjoyed the film though it didn't blow me away but, as expected, one of the very best parts about the movie was Hoffman, who played the cool yet douchey music critic Lester Bangs.


"Iggy Pop! A-MEN!" 

And then I caught a movie on TV I'd already seen in school years prior, Twister, a mindless CGI-infested disaster movie about, you've guessed it, a twister.

You had Bill Paxton in the main role but one of his helpers was played by Hoffman, a rock-loving dude so excited about going to see a twister that he makes it into an impromptu van party!

Turns out that the actor had already been in my life back in 1996, I just didn't know it yet.


"It's the wonder of nature, baby!"

I actually soon started discovering more and more VHS tapes of movies which just happened to have Hoffman in them.

I was a big Steve Martin fan so I picked up Leap Of Faith, only to find that he was in that too and Hard Eight, just because it was another P.T. Anderson movies and everything I'd seen thusfar from the director had been fantastic.

Hard Eight was a very good movie and Hoffman's obnoxious craps player added a welcome burst of humour to an otherwise mostly gloomy flick.


"Jesus Christ, why don't you have some fun? Fun! FUN! *laughs*"

At the cinema, I skipped Cold Mountain, not knowing he was in that, and went straight for Along Came Polly, a film all about its goofy side characters, the best of which was Hoffman's Sandy Lyle, a down-and-out actor who somehow managed to be Reuben's (Ben Stiller) best friend despite the fact he's a loser with a huge ego problem and a tendency to "shart" himself in public and play basketball horribly.

Anytime Hoffman was on-screen in that movie, the film became worthwhile. He turned a little rom-com with a plot you've seen a dozen times into a fun little flick with some of the actor's funniest moments and that was definitely something to stick around for.

I still quote good old Sandy Lyle with some of my friends to this day.


"Let's not bull-crap each other!"

I eventually got around to watching the masterfully sleazy Boogie Nights, in which Hoffman plays the well-meaning but awkward Scotty who eventually reveals his true feelings towards Mark Wahlberg's character in a surprising and somewhat heart-breaking scene.

Another Paul Thomas Anderson film, another masterpiece with another stand-out turn from Hoffman. This is usually the first scene I think of when thinking back to this movie.


"I'm crazy right now, I-I'm really crazy..."

I also checked out Scent Of A Woman on TV and enjoyed it fine, though I had no idea he was even in that. That was an added bonus. Same goes for Patch Adams, I didn't expect him to be in that and it turned out that this was probably the only truly awful movie Hoffman did.

The character he was tasked with playing was about as predictable as anything else in the movie but he played his part well, creating an amusingly uptight douche who, of course, becomes Patch's best bud by the end of the movie because no one can resist the charm of a creepy old dude who haunts hospitals with a red clown nose and bed pans on his feet...

You'd think it would be impossible for anyone to survive Patch Adams with any dignity and yet Hoffman pulls it off beautifully, especially in the scene below.


"I don't LIKE YOU!"

More great performances from the actor included his bit part in Red Dragon and, more recently, his show-stealing, Oscar-nominated role in the Tom Hanks-starring political drama Charlie Wilson's War

Hoffman was almost unrecognisable in that movie but still had that unmistakable presence you expected from him. He never disappointed and this movie was no exception. Every time he was on-screen, he made the film about 10 times better than it probably anticipated to be.


"I've spent three years learning FINNISH!"

Other notable films Hoffman starred in included The Talented Mr Ripley and Joel Schumacher's oddity Flawless, in which he starred alongside Robert De Niro as a drag queen, get this, helping rehabilitate a post-stroke De Niro through song.

Doesn't that just sound like the best film you've never seen?!

Well it was mostly great thanks to Hoffman's completely out-of-left-field performance which, as larger-than-life as it was, was certainly captivating and a thing to behold.


"I was the greatest god damned Snow Queen in the history of PS11 Paramus New Jersey"

25th Hour was another key role for the actor and, around the same time, he got the opportunity to play more main roles like in the underrated, underwatched Owning Mahowny, Jack Goes Boating and indie movie Love Liza, a film I still own on VHS to this day.

This was a slightly depressing but well made little flick with another strong Hoffman performance at its heart.

Directed by the actor's own brother Gordy, Love Liza was no bundle of joy but it showed how good the actor was at nailing character pieces and that he was not above starring in smaller films.

Check it out if you get the chance:


"I don't want a letter! I dn't want a f***ing letter!"

Luckily I was older when I saw Happiness for the first time...

Todd Solondz's demented film was a black comedy masterpiece about human perversion and Philip Seymour Hoffman's foul character was definitely one of the highlights. Even though this was an ensemble piece packed with strong performances, you do miss him when he's not on-screen.

You wouldn't think that a guy who calls random women off the phone book in order to perv verbally and get off on their responses would end up being even remotely likeable but somehow Hoffman made it happen. Not that by the end of the film you feel like going on a camping trip with this guy but at least you feel bad for him.

If you haven't checked out Happiness, do. It's one of the actor's best and it's a terrific, if twisted film overall.


"Pump pump pump..."

I remember rooting for Hoffman when he received a nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of "In Cold Blood" writer Truman Capote in that famous biopic. That he won was both a really nice surprise and not that surprising at all since his against-type turn in Capote was simply hypnotic.

Again, a lesser actor would have distracted too much with a voice like Capote's but, as the film develops, you start to understand this character more and more, as Hoffman gives us subtle clues throughout as to what motivates him and why writing this book was such an emotional struggle.

Capote's final breakdown is one of Hoffman's most moving moments.


"I did everything I could..."

Hoffman then turned his attention to a lighter project which would prove him to be a worthy presence to have onboard a blockbuster. I'm talking of course about his villainous turn in J.J. Abrams' Mission Impossible III.

Now, the villains in those movies are rarely too memorable but most people remember Hoffman's chilling performance as the man who threatens, very convincingly, to kill Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) beloved before his very eyes. When the trailers for this movie came out, that scene had me on the edge of my seat, I couldn't wait to see it.

The result was a fun, more down-to-Earth outing for the franchise and is still regarded by many as the best of the bunch. 


"You don't think I'll do it!"

Loads more great performances followed: The Savages, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, and, of course, Synecdoche, New York

Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, this movie promised to be a strange character piece following a man's mad dream of creating a project that would translate his soul to the world. Literally. Of course, the project gets out of hand and we end up following Hoffman's character all the way until he reaches old age after spending his entire life working on the project, a project which eventually consumes him.

The film is very dense but it's a bittersweet, at times heartbreaking and at times impenetrable work of genius and Hoffman is perfect in it:


"It's a nightmare in there."

Hoffman popped up in Doubt after that, playing a flawed character to say the least and earning yet another Oscar nomination, and then in lighter comedies like The Invention Of Lying and Pirate Radio before going back to dramas with the underrated, actually very good The Ides Of March.

The Ides Of March ended up being one of my favourite films of 2011 and he followed that tense performance with another in the Oscar-winning Moneyball.

He finally reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson in The Master soon after that. 

The Master was yet another fascinating P.T. Anderson project and, this time, Hoffman's role was more substantial, playing an L. Ron Hubbard-style head of a dodgy cult. His chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix was electric and these two polar opposite characters facing each other was simply captivating. 

Hoffman's Master was a scary dude but a charming one and you could really see how someone could get roped into his mythology and his "science":



"You will be my guinea pig and protégé..."

He was even more recently seen in the second part of popular franchise The Hunger Games. And although I may have been disappointed by Catching Fire as a sequel, the new addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman was certainly one of the best aspects of it all and probably the one thing that could have gotten me back into the theatre to see Mockingjay.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of my favourite actors because no matter which role he took on, whether it was a villain, a depressed hero, an egocentric, a drag queen, a priest, no matter which role it was, he took it on full blast, without short-changing the filmmakers or the audience. You could tell there was a lot of work behind each role, a lot of heart and a lot of talent. That we lost him this early is tragic and devastating for his family, the people who knew him, his fans and for cinema in general. The idea that there won't be any more Philip Seymour Hoffman films is a depressing one and the actor, one of the great character actors of his generation, leaves a void ahead of us which will be impossible to fill.

I have followed his films, and his performances specifically, ever since I realised how much I loved film and how much I wanted to make films. The roles listed above all had an impact on me and I'm deeply saddened by this loss because it means that the films which lie ahead will be much less good because he won't be around.

My condolences to his family and loved ones.

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