Philip Seymour Hoffman was a father and a husband, an artist and a raconteur. He was a star and a character actor, an artist and a worker, a marquee attraction and a member of the ensemble. Hoffman filled many roles throughout his fertile career, becoming an in-demand talent without conventional good looks, without a media-friendly personality, and without a consistent onscreen persona. He could be fierce and pathetic within the blink of an eye, and while he was generous in ensembles, he had the capability to blow co-stars out of the water.
The passing of the 46-year-old Oscar winner sent reverberations throughout Hollywood. The industry had undoubtedly lost one of its brightest lights. But we are fortunate that Hoffman crammed a vivid, unpredictable career in those few years he shared with us, giving us a chance to recognize a performer that brought us a raft of memorable performances in, more importantly, a magnificent body of work.
So we’ve set out to honor him with this 24 Hour Philip Seymour Hoffman marathon. Hoffman’s filmography is an embarrassment of riches, and ultimately you could fill two days or more with some of the heroes and miscreants in his repertoire. The goal here was to provide a solid collection of performances and films that represent the diversity he brought to the art form. It was also to stuff a full day’s worth of film into one schedule, giving the viewer a chance to sample nearly every flavor Hoffman could provide, at a breakneck speed that allows for very limited breaks. Hopefully you’re ready for some full-throttle Hoffman.
It’s with a heavy heart that we mention this list doesn’t even include room for Boogie Nights (where he plays a pathetic hanger-on), State And Main (erudite screenwriter) and Flawless (where he goes toe-to-toe with Robert De Niro). There was also an impossibility in finding spots for his ensemble acting in Happiness, The 25th Hour and Moneyball. Any list you make would ultimately exclude some of Hoffman’s best work. Sound off with your own in the comments section below.
Hoffman collected many lead roles as his stature grew, and his work had enough integrity that seeing his face seemed like a recommendation on its own. However, in Cameron Crowe’s nostalgia-fest, Hoffman is deployed as the perfect weapon, used early and quickly as mentor figure Lance Bangs, a disaffected hippie who now thinks it all stinks. In Hoffman, Bangs is defeated professionally and emotionally, but he perks up with the chance to pass his dogma onto a young wannabe, one of many savagely funny character beats in this bittersweet film. At noon, the film’s shaggy-dog charms and good-time vibe are the ideal place-setter.
One of the more delightfully catty, possibly-imaginary gossipy Oscar moments was when Heath Ledger lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to Hoffman and proceeded to tell a confidante that the prize was for Best acting, not Most acting. It’s a funny lie with a kernel of truth to it: there’s an awful lot of acting going on in Capote, a smoky drama that follows Truman Capote on his quest to write In Cold Blood. Hoffman’s gestures are mannered and theatrical, but those who knew Capote (captured here as often vain and petty) would understand this was an actor creating a simulation driven larger to interrogate the whole of Capote’s writing. Capote is heavy afternoon viewing, but Hoffman’s achingly precise performance, which amusingly pits Capote’s morals against his own egotism, is more than entertaining enough.
This is a very little seen drama, one where Hoffman plays a gambling addict far over his head. The film didn’t receive any traction because it is enormously understated: as much as a capital-A Actor Hoffman was, he could also re-create the sad milieu of everyday life on his face. Hoffman sports a pretty gnarly mustache in this, and he’s pitted against Minnie Driver as his exasperated wife, in a character piece that spans several years and ultimately builds to a very subtle, tragic outcome. Owning Mahowny is based on a true story, but only Hoffman makes you believe that you’re watching a true story.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
FYI, the scheduling here would be packed, so we’d be up to 5:45, perfect for something a bit more commercial. Hoffman didn’t often lean in that direction, but if the paycheck was right, he was game. That’s how he arrived in the massive Hunger Games series, and it’s how he became a threat to megastar Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible films. Many consider this the worst film of the four in that series, but Hoffman is by far the most intimidating antagonist of all the films. His scheming Owen Davian sizes up Cruise’s unstoppable superman Ethan Hunt and lets him know all the terrible things that are going to happen to Hunt’s wife. And while Cruise matches him in intensity, for the first time in his career you can look into Cruise’s eyes and see something entirely new: fear.
One of the treasures of the Hoffman filmography is that he worked with great filmmakers on a couple of truly massive films. Arguably, none were bigger than P.T. Anderson’s sprawling Magnolia, where Hoffman was part of a loaded ensemble as a nurse helping an elderly Jason Robards cling to life. The film should ably take you from primetime into late night, but what it really does is take you on an emotional journey, full of sadness, regret, absurdist humor and the notion of coincidence as something specific to the San Fernando Valley. It’s also amusing to see this after Mission: Impossible III and watch Hoffman and Cruise act against each other in an entirely different context, with the exact opposite dynamic. With Hoffman, you forget it’s the same actor.
JACK GOES BOATING
One of the sadder elements of Hoffman’s passing is that, while he gave us so many terrific performances, he had only begun to discover directing. This was his directorial debut, based on a play, where Hoffman plays an isolated limo driver brought out of his shell when a new relationship beckons. Particularly following Magnolia, one has to acknowledge that Hoffman’s directorial skills are slight, but he keeps this film focused on the actors and light on its feet, even when the subject matter takes a dark turn. John Ortiz, Amy Ryan and Daphne Rubin-Vega are terrific in the ensemble, while in the lead, Hoffman’s performance recalls the bearish vulnerability of a young Ernest Borgnine.
We’re past midnight, and we’re in the world of hardcore Hoffman devotees, getting pure, unfiltered PSH. This low-key drama with darkly comedic undertones finds Hoffman as a bruised widower struggling to cope with the suicide of his wife. There is a letter she has left for him, but instead of opening it, he’s driven into a bout of self-destruction, developing an addiction to paint-sniffing and remote-controlled model planes. It’s a tiny film, but Hoffman is titanic in it: on paper, the character seems wildly incongruous and almost unbelievable, but Hoffman makes him feel so real, so identifiable, as that friend who ultimately collapsed in the face of unspeakable tragedy.
Can’t say there’s much understanding of the people who claim The Master is a boring film. Beginning this at 2 AM should serve as a nice espresso shot for film lovers, as it features Hoffman at his blustery, actorly best. As the blowhard jackass Lancaster Dodd, philosopher and leader of "The Cause," Hoffman is almost taking a piss out of the craft of acting. Prone to terrible, self-serving ad-libs and irrelevant narratives, stories and theories, Dodd is just an idiot drawing diagrams in the sand, but Hoffman does it with the authority of a genius, enough to hoodwink an entire fleet of followers. With other actors who have passed on, there’s the temptation to show off an example of how great they really are with some sort of sweet or touching footage. But if the lasting memory of Hoffman is the scene where he runs out of b.s. to spew and he stutteringly calls a dinner guest a "pig fuck" as his verbal ammo runs to zero, is it still not a fitting tribute?
It’s 4:30 in the morning, time to wake the fans with a monster movie. And if you don’t have access to Godzilla Vs. Ghidorah, why not Hoffman versus Streep? Very obviously based on a play, John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation is mostly stagebound, but that works when pitting two gargantuan actors against each other. Streep’s nun is convinced that Hoffman’s folksy New Testament priest has committed a grave indiscretion, but without evidence, it’s merely her fire against his brimstone. Hoffman quietly underplays the role, simmering on a low boil as Streep menacingly takes aim at him. But Hoffman’s native intelligence in the role keeps you on your feet as to which way the power dynamic truly lies. If you enjoy the work of great actors, this is the equivalent to a prize fight.
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
Wake up! It should be around 6:15 when you cue up Mike Nichols’ caustic Gulf War comedy, where Tom Hanks plays an aw-shucks politician attempting to broker some Middle East peace while getting his share of the pie. As political satire, it’s fairly soft, as befitting stars Hanks and Julia Roberts. But walking in from a better, more angry film is Hoffman’s avuncular Gust Avrakotos, a magnificently mustached power broker who wields verbal dynamite at any fool who can’t keep up. Hoffman was justifiably nominated for an Oscar for this role, but who needs a little gold man when you’ve successfully stolen a film from America’s Sweethearts Hanks and Roberts?
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD
If you only saw a select few Hoffman roles, you’d conclude that he was one of the nastiest, most evil men in the world, and acting was his only outlet. In Sidney Lumet’s final masterstroke of a film, Hoffman is a belligerent ass who bullies brother Ethan Hawke into finally standing up for himself and plotting to engage in some nefarious criminal activity. Like Training Day, Hawke is again paired against a more fiery, extroverted actor who attempts to emasculate him at every turn. But as great as Denzel Washington was, there’s a more primitive push-and-pull in the cop film (largely thanks to director Antoine Fuqua) than there is in this picture: Hoffman’s sweaty insults practically size up Hawke on their own, but it feels more like two performances in symphony with each other, one brother belittling the other in a way that makes both interesting to watch. If you’ve timed it right, this should be finishing slightly before ten, which leaves space for one more movie.
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK
Looking through his filmography, hOFFMAN played several characters with a fixation on death, and a deep reservoir of sadness. Charlie Kaufman’s masterpiece perfectly crystallizes these sentiments. Hoffman is Caden Cotard, a playwright who finally earns a grant to direct a play that allows him to put himself into his own work. The result is an endless, apocalyptic self-examination, as Cotard begins to put together a massive warehouse of never-ending rehearsal space, where actors are tasked with living their characters, to the point where he casts actors to play himself, and then actors to play the actors playing himself. The passage of time is key in Synecdoche, as is the dissolution and confusion of language: Hoffman ages considerably as the world slips away from him, and he realizes his life has been his life’s work all along. It’s a powerful way of saying goodbye, and should wrap things up right at noon.
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