The news of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sudden death rocked the nation, not only because of the shocking nature of his demise – heroin overdose, found cold with the needle in his arm – but also because the character actor seemed beyond all that triviality, wise beyond his years, a sage in the age of the Channing Tatums and Chris Hemsworths. His portrayal of, often, truly despicable characters was refreshing and real, conveying the vulnerability of even the least likeable of characters. His films made us laugh, and mostly cry, and in remembrance, let’s take a look at some of his most beloved pieces.
Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the soft-spoken writer Truman Capote. The biographical film covers the making of Capote’s landmark nonfiction book, “In Cold Blood” and conveys the convoluted nature of evil. For those who haven’t seen it, this riveting drama will subvert your expectations of good and evil, in many ways portraying Capote as a narcissistic monster pandering a fragile justice.
“Synecdoche, New York”
This is definitely one of those love it or hate it films. For those able to sit through the whole thing, it takes you on a surreal journey through a dark and whimsical world. I would compare it to “Being John Malkovich,” in that this film will really bend your mind, and probably also make you cry. Thematically centered around the idea of agoraphobia and the inability to get outside of oneself, the director, consumed by his art, makes it his whole world, to the neglect everything else.
Cinematically stunning and fundamentally uneasy, “The Master” is one of those films you won’t be able to get out of your head for weeks after the first viewing. Loosely based on the life of the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, “The Master” is a strange odyssey into the mind of a corrupt cult leader, who is able to manipulate his followers with his twisting rhetoric. Some messed up stuff happens along the way. Definitely a character you will love to hate.
Don’t let the title fool you, this is probably one of the most messed up films you will ever see. That being said, it is a breakthrough in the black comedy genre, and will have you cringing on the edge of your seat. Hoffman portrays a closeted sexual deviant infatuated with his neighbor. If you find awkwardness oddly hilarious, this is a must see.
Hoffman plays Brant, in perhaps his most annoying role, the assistant to the title character. A pompous, uptight stooge, he play the kind of guy you’d most want to punch in the face. Regardless, he still manages to steal the spotlight in several scenes, and diehard fans will appreciate his performance.
Although Hoffman only enjoyed limited screen time, I think his portrayal of Lester Bangs is notable just because in such a short time he seems to encapsulate the pulse of the film. In a two-minute monologue he explains all of the reasons why the main character should turn and run from his lifelong ambition to be a rock and roll journalist, and then gives him the glimmer of hope he needs to succeed. A great film and an understated performance that won’t soon be forgotten.
All this being said, it is crucial to recognize the difference between the man and his art. He was a masterful artist by all accounts, but let’s not glorify him as a martyr for his art. None of us will ever likely know the demons he struggled with, but we should shy away from reading his performances through the lens of his untimely demise. Not all great artists are great men. Along with his cinematic legacy, he leaves behind a wife and three young children.