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Remembering the Great Performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman

February 3, 2014

By John Corrado

Philip Seymour HoffmanPhilip Seymour Hoffman was an actor who embodied countless unforgettable characters in a variety of different films over the years.  Everything about him was iconic, from his name to his naturalistic screen presence, which included a genuine gift for portraying ordinary guys who were often plagued by anxiety, a role that he played in numerous films including his directorial debut Jack Goes Boating.

The actor was brilliant at bringing multiple layers to characters struggling with hidden demons, people trying to hide pain and conflict beneath the surface of their lives.  The parallels of these themes could be drawn about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s own life, which was cut tragically short yesterday morning when the actor lost his battle to addiction at 46 years of age.  May he rest in peace.

Everything seemed fine on Friday when Philip Seymour Hoffman announced plans to direct a film titled Ezekial Moss, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal.  The actor had just come off the biggest financial success of his career for his supporting role in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with the final two instalments of the blockbuster franchise still to come.  His upcoming films God’s Pocket and A Most Wanted Man both premiered at Sundance just last month, the latter garnering rave reviews for his performance.

Then on Sunday morning, the shocking news broke that Philip Seymour Hoffman had passed away, found dead of an overdose in his New York apartment with a hypodermic needle still in his arm and countless bags of heroin scattered about.  His struggles with addiction chart back to when he was fresh out of theatre school, but he was sober from the time he was 22, before relapsing last summer.  Although taking a short stint in rehab, the addiction ultimately proved to be the prevailing force in this battle.  And just like that, one of the greatest actors of all time is no longer with us.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor who I’ve always admired, having first made an impression back in the 1990s with supporting roles in films like Scent of a Woman.  Then came 2005, when he won the Best Actor Oscar for his masterful portrayal of Truman Capote in Bennet Miller’s Capote.  The biopic remains a showcase for his talent to completely immerse himself in a role, delivering an exceptional take on the title subject, perfectly embodying the signature mannerisms and voice of the iconic writer.  Supporting Actor nominations followed in 2007 for his performance as a CIA agent in Charlie Wilson’s War, and for his stunningly layered portrayal of a Catholic priest suspected of sexual molestation in John Patrick Shanley’s 2008 masterpiece Doubt.

Going through his filmography is like reading a list of some of the best movies of the past twenty years, and even just his collaborations with a few iconic directors would provide a brilliant showcase of his career.  Philip Seymour Hoffman worked with the Coen Brothers on their 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, and had a memorable supporting role in Cameron Crowe’s coming of age triumph Almost Famous.  He appeared in five of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, bringing to life a collection of varied and unforgettable characters that included his breakout work in the 1997 classic Boogie Nights, followed by a role in the 1999 ensemble piece Magnolia and the 2002 dramedy Punch-Drunk Love.

The final collaboration between them was last year’s The Master, which got Philip Seymour Hoffman his third Best Supporting Actor nomination for his breathtaking portrayal of a disturbingly charismatic cult leader.  These are just some of his most famous roles, a collection of acclaimed performances that doesn’t even include his memorable appearances in many smaller films.  His work as an ailing playwright in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York seems even more profound in hindsight, beautifully playing a man who is terrified of dying and fading away.  Even his voice work in Mary & Max was perfect, and the gutting final scene of that animated gem seems even more heartbreaking in retrospect.

I haven’t mentioned his collaborations with director Anthony Minghella on The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, or his work with Bennet Miller on the baseball drama Moneyball.  Then there were his performances in Happiness, the Canadian gambling drama Owning Mahowny, Sydney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and the dramedy The Savages.  The list just keeps going, but how do you summarize the work of an actor who was unforgettable in practically every role?  How do you pay tribute to a life cut tragically short, a man who left us far too soon?  The best way is to remember his work, and Philip Seymour Hoffman will continue to live on through these countless performances.

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