best film:   Charting Philip Seymour Hoffman’s best film is close to impossible. Hoffman worked often with Paul Thomas Anderson of course, the greatest director of a generation. So, the discussion starts there with Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and The Master. There is virtually no separation on the artistic quality of these four (4) masterpieces from PTA. As if that were not enough, Hoffman is part of the ensemble in The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. That next tier down includes Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York.


Hoffman is essential to Magnolia. Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling ensemble does not dote on Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his achievement is not on the level of Tom Cruise’s – that is for sure – but he is right there after Cruise along with Jason Robards and a few others as far as acting achievement is concerned. All the performances are superb. As good as the actors are in Nashville, these actors here in Magnolia are some of the best actors of the era, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise.


best performance:  The Master and the main contender is Capote (which Hoffman won his Oscar for – there were another three (3) nominations over the years). His Lancaster Dodd is a blending of L. Ron Hubbard and Orson Welles. He is magnetic, smart and entirely supercilious. The processing sequence between PSH and Joaquin Phoenix is one of the greatest displays of acting in the history of cinema. Phoenix’s performance is stronger but Philip Seymour Hoffman’s achievement in the 2012 masterpiece still ranks as one of the best of the 2010s. Paul Thomas Anderson has a heavy use of close-ups, in pristine 70m photography, letting the nuance of Hoffman’s face and performance play out front and center.  His work in Capote is a total immersion – and is the second high-water mark for this truly gifted, versatile actor.


Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lines are absolutely hilarious black comedy. Particularly the “linger at bus stations” and when he reads his qualifications “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you”. PSH can pull off this “making it up as he goes” because he is so damn charismatic.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the five to ten most truly gifted actors of all-time. He is a chameleon who can disappear in a role, an accent, an embodiment of a character’s posture. Hoffman tragically died early from a drug overdose at age forty-six (46) but in his career, he produced a hefty count of twenty-two (22) archiveable films – a crazy high number for someone who did not make it to fifty (50) years old, was nominated for four academy awards, and was in a whopping six (6) masterpieces. That means that from 1997 to 2002 – a total of six (6) years – if a cinematic masterpiece was made, there was roughly a 20-25% chance Hoffman was in it. That is astounding. That said, he is one of the harder actors to rank because for large portions of his career (this 1997 to 2002 period to be specific) he is a supporting actor, a scene-stealer – much like say Thomas Mitchell, John Cazale (hard not to think of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s career from 1997 to 2002 as his Cazale 1970s stretch), or some of Willem Dafoe’s career. However, unlike those three actors, PSH had big, muscular leading performances along the way (Capote, The Master, Owning Mahowny, Synecdoche, New York). It makes it not only tough to rank him on this list – but also tough to rank his performances. He steals scenes in one of the best comedies of all-time (The Big Lebowski) and then gives a nuanced, larger performance in a weaker film opposite Meryl Streep (Doubt) – neither of which made his top ten – so impressive.


Hoffman is the main reason Capote is excellent – it goes far beyond impersonation and mimicry – of course the voice and the laugh is studied but he absolutely disappears – one of the greater chameleon performances showing an actor’s range. The scenes at parties where Truman is entertaining are excellent – he is magnetic, narcissistic, manipulative, effeminate and genius –  it is studied and dissected here by director Bennett Miller and Philip Seymour Hoffman.


directors worked with:  Paul Thomas Anderson (5), Anthony Minghella (2), Bennett Miller (2),  The Coen Brothers (1), Sidney Lumet (1), Mike Nichols (1). There is certainly a what if with the Eli/Paul Sunday role played by Paul Dano in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.


top five performances:

  1. The Master
  2. Capote
  3. Synecdoche, New York
  4. Magnolia
  5. Owning Mahowny


depressing and layered (both the film and performance) – every interaction in Charlie Kaufman’s ambitious Synecdoche, New York is measured.


archiveable films

1992- Scent of a Woman
1994- Nobody’s Fool
1996- Hard Eight
1997- Boogie Nights
1998- Happiness
1998- The Big Lebowski
1999- Magnolia
1999- The Talented Mr. Ripley
2000- Almost Famous
2002- Punch-Drunk Love
2002- The 25th Hour
2003- Cold Mountain
2003- Owning Mahowny
2005- Capote
2007- Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
2007- Charlie Wilson’s War
2007- The Savages
2008- Doubt
2008- Synecdoche, New York
2011- Moneyball
2012- The Master
2014- A Most Wanted Man