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Friday, 27 May 2011

Top 5: Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman is easily one of the best actors working today in Hollywood. He is effortlessly charismatic despite his features which are far from being typically "good looking".
He chooses excellent roles with few exceptions and even when in a sub par film he always stands out amongst the rest of the cast. His career has been a mix between small roles in large casts such as in the films of PT Anderson, artistic independent type films such as Synecdoche New York, Award winning films such as Capote and mainstream blockbuster successes such as Mission Impossible 3.

His career is a relatively short one, have lasted 20 years to date. He had his first on screen role in 1991, however he only rose to fame with his performances in Paul Thomas Anderson's films of the late 90's.

And now without further ado, here are my choices for Philip Seymour Hoffman's Top Five best performances:

Andy Hanson in Before The Devil Know You Dead - 2007
Hoffman's performance in this film is stunning. He is quite simply one of the most chilling, yet believable villains I have seen for a very long time.
He is cowardly, callous, and his gradual descent into a cold calculated killer is a fascinating transformation.
Hoffman perfectly captures this repressed character, wishing for a new life yet too cowardly to abandon his present luxuries. Instead he contents himself with escapism.
When he does finally attempt to change his life, it is in a cold hearted and selfish fashion with little though for those around him. Naturally this back fires causing all his repressed emotions to erupt in a murderous frenzy.
Despite the highly unpleasant nature of the character, Hoffman will keep you transfixed to the screen. This is possibly his best performance out of these five, although the next entry is a strong contender for that spot as well.

Caden Cotard in Synecdoche, New York - 2008
In this film Hoffman portrays a large chunk of the characters life, from maybe late 30's to his death. And the change he goes through is amazing to watch. I'm sure a lot of the credit goes to the make up department, but one must not underestimate how difficult it would be to convincingly play a character that ages over time. De Niro did it well in Once Upon a Time In America, and Hoffman does it equally well here in this film.
The real quality in this ageing performance is it's subtlety, it ages so perfectly that often you will barely notice and you quickly become used to seeing the character age by many years right in front of your eyes. In other words, it avoids being to obvious and jarring.
The character Hoffman portrays is a very complex one, emotionally he is seriously messed up. Physically he has many nervous ticks and disorders throughout the film which seem to come naturally to Hoffman. I was totally convinced by his portrayal of a struggling playwright, whose life is falling apart around him while he works on a play based on his life and the fact that it's falling apart around him.
Very good film, made even better by Hoffman's performance and some great supporting actors.

Phil Pharma in Magnolia - 1999
In such a large cast of actors, including Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, John C Reilly (who is terrific), Jason Robards, Willian H Macy and many more. It might be surprising that I noticed Hoffman's performance in particular, sure the others were all excellent, but this is the film that made me realise how great an actor Hoffman was, having only seen him in Mission Impossible 3 previously.
Here he has a limited amount on screen time yet makes the best of it. His character is probably the most likeable in the entire film, he has few problems of his own and is a compassionate individual. He serves rather to bear witness to the emotional turmoil of the characters he is in contact with and help them through it. Not the most flamboyant performance of the film, that would probably be Tom Cruise's, but the character serves as a kind of moral grounding point amongst all the messed up characters. And Hoffman's does is excellently.

Truman Capote in Capote - 2005
In this film Hoffman is completely unrecognisable, his voice and all his mannerisms have changed beyond recognition and he gives a true "method acting" performance.
I will admit that I knew little of the real Truman Capote before seeing this film, but from now on I will always associate Hoffman's performance with the real life figure. That's surely the sign of a great performance. And even if I don't think this was his best performance, it was the one he won the most awards for which in turn caused him to star him the other later films mentioned on this list. The film as a whole I found to be pretty average, but Hoffman succeeded in holding my interest throughout which a lesser actor would not have done. He really makes the best of a pretty uninspiring script.

Father Flynn in Doubt - 2008
This film is a very ambiguous one by nature, and much of this ambiguity comes from Hoffman's character. The film revolves around him and what he may or may not have done.
The audience must always been uncertain as to whether he is guilty or not, and Hoffman manages to create a very complex character that you'll believe one minute and doubt the other.
The character is neither a hero nor a villain, and Hoffman's ability to juggle with the audiences sympathies was quite astounding.
An interesting film made far better by the talented cast that includes as well as Hoffman, Meyl Streep in perhaps her best performance I've seen so far, and Amy Adams who surprised me with here good performance.

Honourable Mentions:
                                    Boogie Nights - 1998, The Big Lebowski - 1998, Almost Famous - 2000

                               25th Hour - 2002, Punch Drunk Love - 2002, Mission Impossible 3 - 2006

Upcoming Films:
The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
A film loosely based on the foundation of Scientology by Hubbard, Hoffman will portray Hubbard and I have to admit he's a perfect choice for the role.
I'm expecting this to be a really great film, PTA and Hoffman have yet to let me down, and although the subject matter is controversial, I hope the film makers do not given in to any demands by people who may not wish this film to be made (ie the subjects of the film), I really hope it's a honest look Scientology, for it will be the first film to do so.

Further Thoughts:
Hoffman is truly a great character actor, capable of taking on wildly different roles and portraying them to perfection.
In his relatively short career he is already one of the most award winning actors in history, he is one of only seven actors in history to have won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same performance. His career to date has garnered him an impressive 48 wins and 38 other nominations.

Thus I feel justified in claiming that he is one of the very best actors of his generation. Far outranking the more popular faces such as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.
His choice of roles has always been interesting, the characters he plays are often very tough ones to portray on screen, which much emotional conflict going on., which is more than can be said for the previously named actors.

So to put it simply, he's one of my favourite actors of all time who I always find interesting to watch on screen.
Furthermore, he is one of the few actors that rank among my favourites who has never once disappointed me so far. Even De Niro and Nicholson have been in some pretty terrible films where they act in a fashion that will disappoint even there most die hard fans. And while this doesn't their finer performances any less great, it still makes them lower in my esteem slightly compared to the likes of Hoffman, who I have never seen give a bad performance to date.

If you have anything to add, or perhaps you would recommend a film featuring Hoffman that I haven't seen, then don't hesiate to comment below!

1 comment:

  1. He was good in "Patch Adams" as well!!