Philip Seymour Hoffman was the kind of actor you take for granted, not realizing how great he was or how much you'll miss him until he's gone. The late actor had bravery few actors could match, tackling roles that were otherwise unattractive due to their subject matter or personalities, and managing to deliver outstanding performances with each movie he was featured in (no matter how small).
Whether Hoffman was playing the charismatic leader of a cult, or had a small cameo playing a hyperactive, loudmouthed gambler on a roll, he managed to give his performances life and believability that transformed them from simple film characters into living, breathing individuals of complexity.
His nearly 25-year-long career—unfortunately, cut short when the actor was in his prime—gave us some of the best, most memorable characters you'll ever see on film, and its doubtful audiences will ever see an actor of such bravery and versatility as Hoffman ever again.
In a touching tribute to the actor, frequent collaborator, and close friend, Paul Thomas Anderson, cast Hoffman's son, Cooper, as the star of his upcoming film, Licorice Pizza. With the film set for a limited release on November 26, we thought we'd take a look back at some of Hoffman's greatest performances throughout his career to celebrate the actor, from his initial start as a supporting cast member, to his eventual rise as an Oscar-winning talent in the final few years of his life.
Hoffman received his start in the early 1990s', mainly through TV show guest appearances and indie films at first, before taking on supporting roles in more noteworthy films like Leap of Faith and Scent of a Woman.
In 1996, after a string of minor films that saw him similarly featured in supporting roles, Hoffman would find himself cast in a promising young director's debut film, Hard Eight—arguably one of the most important small roles in the actor’s entire career.
Hard Eight tells the story of an older, mysterious professional gambler named Sidney (Philip Baker Hall) who takes a young protege (John C. Reilly) under his wing. The two form a successful partnership at first, but all that is eventually threatened when the protege falls for a cocktail waitress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and an old acquaintance (Samuel L. Jackson) threatens to reveal a dark secret about Sidney's past.
The movie responsible for Paul Thomas Anderson's seemingly overnight transformation into a full-fledged directorial talent, Hard Eight was an immediate success on the indie film scene, propelling Anderson to larger-budgeted projects like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, both of which would earn similar success and would each feature Hoffman in minor supporting roles.
In Hard Eight, Hoffman portrays an overeager gambler who annoyingly antagonizes Sidney at a craps table. The role was a minor one for Hoffman, but would mark the beginning of a long relationship between Hoffman and his eventual frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson, who would cast Hoffman in nearly all of his following movies, resulting in one of the best creative partnerships in modern film.
Streaming on Prime Video
After the success of Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson set out to make an epic character study set during the Golden Age of Porn in the 1970s'. The film—Boogie Nights—featured a huge cast of characters working within the porn industry from its peak period into its gradual downfall in the 1980s', and once again saw Hoffman team with Anderson in what would be the second of their five films together.
Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a lowly nightclub dishwasher with few professional prospects to rely on. His fortune in life changes, however, when he is discovered by a veteran adult film director (Burt Reynolds), who wants to cast him in his latest movie. Now an established actor in the porn industry, Eddie and his colleagues live a carefree lifestyle of splendor, with each of them facing some sort of personal backlash as a result of their professional careers in the years to come.
A huge success upon its release in 1997, Boogie Nights would earn numerous award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Reynolds), and Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore). Like Hard Eight before it, Hoffman was again featured in a minor supporting role as Scotty, a quiet boom operator who is hopelessly in love with Wahlberg's character.
As was the case in Hard Eight, Hoffman managed to take an otherwise small role and flesh it out, making Scotty a fully-formed character who shared some wonderfully awkward and hilarious scenes where he tries seducing Wahlberg’s character.
By 1997, Hoffman was already becoming a standout supporting actor in every film he appeared in, and it's roles like Scotty that gave him enough room to add his own signature flair to an otherwise forgettable character.
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By the end of the 1990s', Hoffman had steadily risen to career prominence as a versatile actor able to stand out even in the most unremarkable movies (Patch Adams, Twister). At the start of the 2000s', Hoffman—still a supporting actor at this point—continued his critical rise as an actor able to take on any role, as evidenced by his next role as legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe's universally acclaimed, Almost Famous.
Set during the 1970s', a teenage journalist (Patrick Fugit) for Rolling Stone takes on an assignment to write a feature about up-and-coming rock band, Stillwater. Joining the band as they tour across the US, the journalist bonds with the band members and their various groupies, including a mysterious young woman (Kate Hudson) that he eventually falls in love with.
Loosely based on Crowe's own experiences as a young Rolling Stone reporter who interviewed numerous bands in the '70s, Almost Famous is a wild ride of a movie that offers a perfect glimpse into the rock and roll era during its gradual downfall into the 1970s' (something Hoffman's Bangs laments about throughout the film).
The film may not include Hoffman's greatest performance, but it still manages to illustrate his strengths as an actor, this time able to perfectly embody the real-life personage of Bangs—mannerisms, vernacular, and all.
In the film, Hoffman's Bangs—a fiercely combative music journalist (in)famous for not holding back on his opinions on what he saw as the deteriorating state of the 1970s’ music industry—serves as a mentor to Crowe's main character. When Crowe's young journalist gets dejected or suffers some sort of professional issue, Bangs is only a phone call away, offering numerous pieces of professional and personal advice to the inexperienced, idealistic young reporter.
It's an underrated performance in a filmography full of great roles by Hoffman, and one that makes you wish you had a Philip Seymour Hoffman to call up when you're feeling down in the dumps.
Streaming on Prime Video and Paramount+
In 2002, Hoffman would join Anderson in what would be their fourth collaboration together in Anderson's fourth film, the comedy drama, Punch-Drunk Love.
The film stars Adam Sandler as a lonely, depressed, unstable salesman named Barry who falls in love with his sister's coworker (Emily Watson). Their mutual romance between each other is continuously hampered by Barry's social awkwardness, as well as his involvement with a sex line operator that is attempting to blackmail him.
In the film, Hoffman plays “The Mattress Man” Dean Trumbell, a mattress shop owner and the “supervisor” of the phone sex line that Barry calls. Though lacking significant screen time, Hoffman manages to take advantage of every scene he's in, playing Trumbell as the sleazy, dishonest criminal whose bark is a lot worse than his bite.
Throughout the movie, you're led to believe Trumbell is the underground kingpin capable of making Barry's life a living hell. At the climax, though, you see Trumbell for the pushover he really is, a complete coward when faced with someone who doesn't fall for his heavy-handed, loud-mouthed attempts at threats like Barry.
It’s a short but memorable performance, and one that was a lot meatier than any role previously given to Hoffman by Anderson, serving as a stepping stone from the bit roles in Hard Eight, Magnolia, and Boogie Nights and his later starring role in Anderson’s The Master.
Streaming on HBO Max
By 2003, Hoffman's rise to prominence would reach its final stages, resulting in him delivering a few last supporting roles before his eventual establishment as one of Hollywood's finest actors, such as the eccentric Reverend Solomon Veasey in the incredibly underrated 2003 anti-war film, Cold Mountain.
Adapted from the award-winning novel of the same name by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain tells the story of a Confederate soldier (Jude Law) who deserts his post, journeying across the war-torn South to return to his love (Nicole Kidman). Hunted by Confederate Home Guard, the soldier encounters an assortment of people affected by the war in some way, all the while his romantic interest struggles to support herself with the help of an eccentric but strong-willed and able-bodied local woman (Renée Zellweger).
The film was a huge critical and commercial success, earning a total of seven Oscar nominations. For some reason, however, it would eventually fade into obscurity in the years following its release.
In the film, Hoffman's Rev. Veasey is a more-or-less kind-hearted but immoral small-town preacher who assists Law's soldier on his way home, briefly joining him for a short time. He's a vain, shallow man of the cloth who is not above getting hopelessly drunk or unwittingly putting both his and Law's character's lives in jeopardy, but Hoffman gives him enough eccentricity to make him both morally repulsive and yet incredibly likable.
It would be one of Hoffman's final roles before his penultimate rise to critical success, a peak period that saw him starring opposite numerous Hollywood veterans and consistently earning nominations (and in some cases wins) for numerous awards, including the Oscars.
Streaming on Netflix and Paramount+
Years of Hoffman's hard work would finally pay off from a career standpoint with Hoffman's title role in Capote, which saw him portray the iconic American writer Truman Capote.
Based on the 1988 biography of Capote by Gerald Clarke, the film follows the novelist's efforts to research the 1959 murder of a family on their Kansas farm in an attempted robbery, resulting in Capote's critically acclaimed true crime nonfiction work, In Cold Blood.
The film would be a major turning point in Hoffman's career, earning him widespread praise for his performance as the famous novelist, rightfully earning Hoffman the Academy Award for Best Actor, among a slew of other awards (the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the Screen Actors Guild Award, etc.).
In the film, Hoffman perfectly manages to bring the larger-than-life personality of Capote to the screen during a crucial time in the writer's career. Hoffman’s mannerisms, voice, and accent all make you feel as though you're really watching Capote, with not a trace of Hoffman anywhere on screen—a telltale sign of a great performance, as is certainly the case here. In an otherwise flawless filmography, it may honestly be one of Hoffman’s best performances in his career.
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After Capote, Hoffman managed to maintain his leading man status in the years to come, appearing in central roles in larger-budgeted movies like Mission: Impossible III, and later garnering his second Oscar nomination for 2007's Charlie Wilson's War.
In between those two successful films, Hoffman would deliver yet another raw performance in Tamara Jenkins' underrated dark comedy, The Savages. The film stars Hoffman and his co-star Laura Linney as two estranged, middle-aged siblings who—after years of having not seen each other—reconnect in order to put their emotionally distant, abusive father (Philip Bosco) in a home to treat his dementia.
The film would be one of several that saw Hoffman in a starring role, and like virtually all of his movies, The Savages would win critical acclaim, with audiences praising both Linney and Hoffman's performances, as well as the direction and script by Jenkins.
Blending comedy with hard-hitting drama, Hoffman manages to show the effects a troubled childhood could have on a person later in life, giving Hoffman's character an extreme vulnerability that manifests itself throughout his adult life (including an inability to maintain a serious relationship).
It's a tense, often gut-wrenching movie, but one that will leave you ultimately hopeful about the future, seeing Hoffman and Linney's characters able to grow past their previous shared traumas, and find a mutual bond that strengthens between the two as a result.
Not currently streaming, but can be rented online
Charlie Wilson’s War
Following his critical establishment as a leading man in Capote, Hoffman entered a period of his career where he took virtually every meaty role he could get his hands on. Sometimes, this would see him as the leading man in a film, or sometimes back in a supporting or co-starring role. Either way, the characters Hoffman played had a far more prominent place in the film's action than his early impressive but minor roles, with Hoffman always managing to tackle each character in a wholly distinct and unique way.
Such would be the case with Hoffman's 2007 film, the Aaron Sorkin-penned Charlie Wilson's War.
In 1980, Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is more concerned with partying than he is with political matters. After a congressional investigation nearly costs him his job, he is encouraged by his friend and romantic partner (Julia Roberts) to turn his career around, leading him to join a knowledgeable CIA Agent (Hoffman) and launch Operation Cyclone, a program dedicated to helping the Afghan resistance drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.
The film—like virtually everything written by Sorkin or directed by Mike Nichols—was a huge success, earning five Golden Globe nominations and giving Hoffman his second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he would be the only cast member to be nominated for his role in the film).
In the film, Hoffman played real-life CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, perhaps the most competent and fully aware person in the entire movie. Decked out in a loud '80s wardrobe, stringy longish hair, and a huge Wilford Brimley mustache, Hoffman' manages to bring Avrakotos totally to life, portraying him as a hardworking, scrupulous agent who is perhaps the only one who realizes that to help the Afghan people requires the US's attention both during and after the Soviets' have left the country (something that would become one of the US foreign policy’s biggest mistakes, directly leading to the rise of Osama bin Laden).
Like every Hoffman film, he's a marvel to watch on screen, managing to even outshine Hollywood heavies like Hanks and Roberts.
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Hoffman starred in two dramatically different films in 2008, the first portraying the shy, depressed lead character in Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, and the second playing opposite Meryl Streep in the psychological drama, Doubt. Both films would earn mostly positive reviews, but it’s Hoffman’s appearance in Doubt that is consistently seen as one of the actor’s finest performances.
Adapted from the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play, Doubt: A Parable, the film focuses on a naive young nun (Amy Adams) at a Catholic elementary school who begins to suspect one of the priests (Hoffman) is taking advantage of a male student. Enlisting the help of a far sterner, older nun (Streep), the two attempt to figure out if the priest is guilty of pedophilia.
The brilliance of Doubt lay both in its central storyline and conclusion (you never actually find out if Hoffman's priest is guilty or not, and you're left just as unsure about his guilt as the two nuns), as well as the performances of the three principal actors.
In the film, Hoffman plays his character almost entirely as a charming, wise, charismatic father figure to the boys. However, there's something underneath this outwardly caring persona, something potentially sinister, with the priest frequently falling back on the bureaucratic hierarchy of the Church when the two nuns investigate him (at one point loudly screaming, “You have no right to act on your own… You answer to us [the Church]”).
Whether his character is guilty or not is up for debate, but there's no denying how indelible Hoffman's performance is. Not many actors are able to hold their own against someone with as much talent as Streep—one of the finest actors currently working—but Hoffman has always managed to thrive off of other actors' performances, and again does so here, with each new scene between the two resulting in pure cinematic magic.
Streaming on HBO Max
In what would be Hoffman and Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth and final collaboration together, Hoffman starred in Anderson's 2012 film, The Master.
Set in the early 1950s', violently unstable alcoholic and WW2 veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself drawn to a Scientology-esque cult, led by the enigmatic Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). As Freddie spends time with the group, he begins to learn directly under Dodd, with each of them eventually confronting their own insecurities and attempting to find their place in the world.
Like nearly every Anderson film, The Master was a critical success, earning praise for the movie's script, direction, and the performances of both Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. As had been the case with Streep in Doubt, Hoffman again managed to thrive off the performance of Phoenix, each of them building off each other's energetic acting styles, creating numerous memorable scenes as a result.
As Dodd, Hoffman manages to balance the confident, charismatic leader with a more deep-seated uncertainty about his own abilities and religion. In the movie, Dodd is quick to assert his role as a wise believer in his group’s message, yet is also just as quick to burst out in angry tirades when directly questioned about them, at one point screaming at a man who accuses the group of being a cult.
Named by Anderson as his personal favorite film, The Master would go on to achieve widespread success, earning nominations for Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman), and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams). Sadly, it would also be one of Hoffman's final, most noteworthy roles before his untimely death in 2014, though one that critics continue to praise for the nuances Hoffman brings to the character.
Streaming on Netflix
Philip Seymour Hoffman was a rare kind of actor. Throughout his short career, he appeared in numerous films, always managing to completely invest himself in each character and bravely portraying them, faults and all. No matter how small a role he had, he always managed to give it his all, making the seemingly most uninteresting, two-dimensional characters into fully-fleshed out, complex individuals.
He had a tenacity and work ethic few actors could maintain, always investing him into his roles completely, once even stating, “The job isn't difficult. Doing it well is difficult.” Ultimately, you can easily see Hoffman's efforts to go full-in on a role throughout his career, being one of the few actors out there who always managed to deliver a memorable performance, sometimes even in an unremarkable or unmemorable movie.
He's an actor the likes of which we're unlikely to ever see again, but given his extensive filmography, at the very least we'll be able to admire his career for all that he managed to give us in such a short period of time. And what's more, with his son Cooper set to star in Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza, we're sure Hoffman's name and legacy will continue to live on in the years to come.