Sunday, February 2, 2014

RIP: Philip Seymour Hoffman


Sunday was a terrible day, with the news of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46 in New York City.1

Hoffman was my favorite actor, which isn't something I say lightly.

You know someone's your favorite actor when you even revel in his early, throwaway work, such as the portrayal of "Chuck Bronski" in the 1993 zombie comedy My Boyfriend's Back.2

In July 2003, I traveled to New York and paid $100 to sit extreme stage left and watch him in a riveting Broadway production of Long Day's Journey Into Night, along with Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Dennehy and Robert Sean Leonard. (In retrospect, the play's theme of how devastating addiction can be adds another layer of sadness to all of this.)

In less than 20 years in the spotlight — most count 1997's Boogie Nights as Hoffman's breakthrough performance — he put together a body of Hollywood and Broadway3 work that holds up against any thespian in his generation. (On Twitter, journalist Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) wrote: "The answer to which Philip Seymour Hoffman performance you'd put in a time capsule is: Get a bigger time capsule."

But if you are familiar with Hoffman, you don't need me to tell you these things. But if you don't know much of Hoffman's work and you're a fan of great acting and great movies, here are two checklists of must-see films in which he's featured. Work your way through these lists and marvel at the range and depth of his work.

  • The Master
  • Doubt
  • Synecdoche, New York
  • Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  • The Savages
  • Capote
  • Owning Mahowny
  • Flawless

  • Moneyball
  • Charlie Wilson's War
  • Mission: Impossible III4
  • 25th Hour
  • Punch-Drunk Love
  • Almost Famous
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Magnolia
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Boogie Nights
  • Empire Falls

Beyond telling you to go watch those magnificent performances, I'm really not equipped to write eloquently about Philip Seymour Hoffman's life and career.

For that, here are some articles you should check out:

That last piece, by Hirschberg, ends with this paragraph.
Hopefully, Hoffman will not give up his film career. “I heard that Eastwood is saying that this will be his last film as an actor,” Hoffman said. “There’s part of me that feels that way during almost every movie. On ‘Synecdoche,’ I paid a price. I went to the office and punched my card in, and I thought about a lot of things, and some of them involved losing myself. You try to be artful for the film, but it’s hard. I’d finish a scene, walk right off the set, go in the bathroom, close the door and just take some breaths to regain my composure. In the end, I’m grateful to feel something so deeply, and I’m also grateful that it’s over.” He smiled. “And that’s my life.”

I'll leave you with one clip. If you're hungry for more, everyone else is posting and sharing their most memorable Hoffman clips.

This isn't necessarily my favorite, or his "best." What I like about this one, from Magnolia, though, is that he takes what must have seemed a bit silly (or overly self-aware) from the page of Paul Thomas Anderson's script and turns it something powerful and empathetic.

1. I learned the news from Twitter, while standing in the middle of The Collectibles Store in the soon-to-be-revamped West Manchester Mall, while killing time waiting for my turn at Mastercuts. I just stood there, dumbfounded and staring down at my iPhone, in the middle of the store — surrounded by LaserDiscs, 1970s comics books, Star Wars figures and the like — until the news sunk in.
2. Hoffman's character was eaten in that movie1, which is still probably better than the fate his character suffered in Red Dragon.
3. Hoffman's other Broadway performances included Sam Shepard's True West (in which he and John C. Reilly alternated the dual lead roles) and Death of a Salesman, in which he joined a long list of distinguished actors who portrayed Willy Loman.
4. Hoffman's role as the villain in Mission: Impossible III is fascinating because he was never an obvious choice to play a villain in a summer tent-pole blockbuster. But, as always, he rose to the occasion and portrayed a terrifying baddie, one who makes Hans Gruber or Silva from Skyfall look like a pussycat by comparison.

Secondary footnote
1. Seriously, though, My Boyfriend's Back had a ridiculous cast that included Edward Herrmann, Mary Beth Hurt, Jay O. Sanders, Paul Dooley, Austin Pendleton, Cloris Leachman and even Matthew McConaughey. It was directed by Bob Balaban.

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