If you google “Philip Seymour Hoffman,” you’re sure to see scores of pages of obituaries dedicated to the recently-deceased actor. His performances were by and large extraordinary, and he left a lasting impression on the film community that won’t soon be forgotten.

Maybe it’s just getting older, or maybe it’s a deeper appreciation for the fragility of life, but I am at the point where when these tragedies happen, all I want to do is go back and revisit the work of the man or woman who has left us, as so many have said, too soon.

I’ve always appreciated Hoffman’s work. I felt he elevated most films he was in, and he was always captivating. You know that old adage about the silent spear-holder in a Shakespeare play is just as important as the lead? He had that quality, where he could say nothing or do nothing and I still felt engaged.

After I get through this list, I’m hoping I’ll have reignited some fire to get watching on what are sure to me some magnificent performances. Let’s begin.

Scent of a Woman

I saw this for the first time about five years ago, and immediately (and I mean that — I think he shows up in the first minute or two) I thought “HE’S in this?” and got a little happier. I don’t remember much about the film, other than the Pacino scenery-chewing, but his antagonistic foil to Chris O’Donnell seemed to work, strangely.
Nobody’s Fool

For years, when I would see Hoffman, I would think of this film. I was 10 years old when it came out, and his do-gooder cop (who’s in a job way over his head) who has zero charm or charisma is perfectly put in his place by Paul Newman in this gem of a film. He embodies a guy who shouldn’t be in a position of power. He’s not in it much, but he’s very memorable.
The Big Lebowski

Since I saw Lebowski for the first time after I’d seen Magnolia, I always imagined Brandt as sort of a bizarro-world Phil, the caregiver who needs to act at the intermediary between his employer and anything else from the outside world. His soft-spoken demeanor is key in both, but of course it’s played for (successful) laughs here. That nervous smile, the constant “mister” being put forth before both Lebowskis’ surnames — he captures the character wonderfully.


This is probably my favorite performance of Hoffman’s. It’s exquisitely subdued and minute, but there is something going on before and after every line reading of Phil’s. He’s got a sense of humor (hey!), but also takes his job seriously and is good at it. Oftentimes the snapshot people think of when they think of Magnolia is Frank TJ Mackey on his knees next to his dying father. I love that image too, but I may be more partial to the quiet longing stamped on Hoffman’s face while he watches a son say goodbye to his father.

Almost Famous

How can such an old (he was only 32?!?), out of shape, shlubby hippie seems so goddamn cool? Lester Bangs, who basically sets the whole story in motion in Almost Famous, doesn’t have a lot of screen time but he does give Patrick Fugit’s William Miller a sense of purpose and empowers him to go on his journey. He believes in him — even if he is only 15 years old — and we believe him.

Love Liza

This movie was hard to watch — it really is a one-man show, about a man whose wife has committed suicide and left him a note that he won’t open. He goes on a bender of butane-type inhalants, trying to push away the fact that he only has one new connection left with his spouse. It’s heartbreaking, but also kind of distant. We never get to know the character (Joel? Time for some IMDb … yep, it’s Joel) too well, and his depression is more pathetic than sympathetic. However, it’s worth it all for the last scene.
Punch-Drunk Love

It was around this time that when a script called for someone to SCREAM AT YOU UNTIL YOU BEG FOR MERCY, your first phone call was Philip Seymour Hoffman. His character is minor, the phone-sex pimp (cum mattress salesman) who initiates the extortion of Adam Sandler’s Barry Egan, but he’s one of the most memorable things about a film that is chock full of memorable moments.
Red Dragon

Hoffman could pull off anything. That’s what a lot of pieces popping up around the interwebs are saying, and they aren’t wrong. Intimidator? Check. Hapless fool? Check. Look no further than Brett Ratner’s underrated (I said it. So what?) Red Dragon to check slimy weasel off the list. He takes on the character of Freddie Lounds, a tabloid “journalist” with a smart mouth and zero ethics. Even here, when we’re watching a piece of scum get tortured, we feel something.
25th Hour

A movie I wanted to love but couldn’t, 25th Hour puts Hoffman back into the “hapless” category, as one of Edward Norton’s oldest friends who is meek and unsure of himself. I’ve only seen it once, but he surely added balance to a movie hopped up on testosterone and machismo.
Along Came Polly

I don’t know that the screenwriter for Along Came Polly came up with the term “sharting,” but I do know that it’s more than likely in the general lexicon because of Hoffman. He basically plays the fat best friend (with sharp dialogue, of course, because all our friends are smarter than us) who gives straight man Stiller something to work with. The movie isn’t good, but he’s a delight in it.

Some call this his best performance, and while I don’t know if I can measure something like that, I wouldn’t call those people wrong. Capote gives Hoffman a vehicle to completely transform himself and become Truman Capote. Unlike some other biopics though, it’s less mimicry than a whole understanding of the man. Hoffman shines through, delivers each line with the same careful thought that the real Capote would have given to it were they his words, and the result is nothing short of excellent.
Mission: Impossible III

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon. Sure, the uncanny chameleon-like performance in Capote is probably “better” than Owen Davian in Mission: Impossible III. But this movie grows on me almost exponentially every time I watch it. JJ Abrams’ first directorial effort has heart-crushing moments in it due to Hoffman. “You don’t think I’ll do it!” is a phrase I often scream, hoping that someone gets the reference. His cool, calm and collected nature as he points a gun at Michelle Monaghan (kind of) is so callous and wretched but also — dare I say it — kind of cool. He toys with Ethan Hunt in way he’s not accustomed to. He’s not physically imposing, but his nefarious plan (and its beautiful simplicity) are executed with murderous joy. I don’t believe for a second that Cruise’s performance would be as good in this film if it weren’t for him.
Charlie Wilson’s War

Remember that thing I said about having somebody scream at you? Just watch Hoffman’s first scene in this film. It’s a master class. And also hilarious. I haven’t seen the whole feature in some time, but as a diehard Sorkinite (is that even true, if I’ve only seen this once?) I’m certainly due.
Synecdoche, New York

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut is weird. I mean, really weird. This is a film that Bobby Shortle and I reviewed on our long-dead podcast Fanboy Remix, and I still am not certain what I watched all those years ago. It’s a film-within-a-film-within-a-film (I think) about a director trying to achieve an ultimate form of art. Hoffman goes more understated here than others would have, and it pays off in spades.

I watched this for the first time about a month ago, and the four Oscar nominations bestowed upon it were no exaggeration. It’s a film that’s so quiet in its plot but thunderous in its themes. Hoffman has an unbelievable way of being both menacing and incredibly sympathetic in his portrayal of a priest who may be harboring a dark secret. It’s a movie that stays with you.


On the flipside of his early appearance in Scent of A Woman, and how I immediately connected, I had no clue that Hoffman was in this film. Then, when he showed up on screen, I didn’t realize I was watching him. The purpose of Art Howe in Moneyball is to show us someone who’s trying to do their job to the best of their ability while getting fought from the front office. He executes this wonderfully, but doesn’t steal the show from Pitt (and nor should he). I believed I was watching the manager of a baseball club — not a man who played Truman Capote to awards acclaim six years earlier.
The Ides of March

God, do I love this movie. The hierarchy of Clooney to Hoffman to Gosling is expertly shown, and when the reveal happens towards the end I truly feel for Paul. He gets a raw deal, but this is the business of raw deals. He’s a professional, and he’s captivating. There’s also some good screaming here. I am gonna miss you, Phil.

I omitted Boogie Nights, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Savages, Pirate Radio, and The Master (to name a few) because I haven’t seen them … yet.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had a great career. Though we won’t get a chance to see him on the big screen any longer, we have an incredible career that we can watch over and over again. I think it’s time I start …

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