Monday, February 3, 2014

In Memoriam: Philip Seymour Hoffman

I do not always memorialize every actor/singer who has passed away, I should, but I could not pass up the chance to pay tribute to an actor, a man, a father, who had a meaningful impact on me as someone who loved, and appreciated film.

When I first heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman, my immediate reaction was a gut wrenching sadness, this man had been one of my favorite actors in recent years, his versatility was unmatched.  I have always loved film, and appreciated actors/actresses who can become chameleons in their roles, and create a diverse array of characters in many films.  My first memory of him as an actor was in the film Boogie Nights.  I saw Boogie Nights when it came on HBO, I remember I was 14 had a TV in my room and as a young boy was intrigued by this movie about porn, and of course the fake appendage at the end.  The film is still one of my favorites, and is a great study in human development.  As a young closeted gay man I connected to the vulnerability in Hoffman's character, and I will never forget the scene where Scotty J. (Hoffman) see Dirk's appendage for the first time, and has a hard time maintaining his composer, even shaking, while he watches this man in action.  Hoffman could do it all, but I did not realize his true talent until I watched more of him on screen.

Throughout most of Hoffman's career he was known as a character actor, but this man was a true star.  After Boogie Nights he did tend to take on a lot of great supporting work.  One of my favorite roles from him, and the next film I remember him from after Boogie Nights, was as Lester Bangs, the jaded music critic.  Hoffman is Patrick Fugit's Yoda, his guide post into understanding the ever changing more corporate structure to the world around music.  Lester says rock is dead, but he can't turn away this young innocent kid from following, and living his passion.  This is one of those classic humorous Hoffman roles.  While many always saw him as this serious actor, he was pretty funny.  Just look at his roles in Twister (1996) The Big Lebowski (1998), State and Main (2000), and Charlie Wilson's War (2007).

Hoffman's roles often had a dark humor to them, but his brash, and bold sensibility was what made him great secondary role like War.  This is probably on of the weaker Mike Nichols films out there, and Aaron Sorkin's weakest scripts, but Hoffman was a true standout, funny, but held no punches in his acting.  That was the thing for me even in the weakest films, if Hoffman popped up you knew he would ride in and save the day.

Many will want to talk about his best roles, I will, but honestly, there was not one moment where I did not believe this man owned every performance he gave, even Along Came Polly, and Red Dragon.  Hell, he made action films step up their game with his villainous role in Mission Impossible III, and that was right after an Oscar win for Capote (2005), his first and only win.

Hoffman's best roles for me were (in order of release date) Almost Famous (2000), Capote (2005), The Savages (2007),  Doubt (2008), and The Master (2012).  Each of the roles represents a facet to the different skills he had as actor ranging from humor to an intensely dark character.  Hoffman was always shoved down to the supporting categories at the Oscars, in both Doubt and The Master; he was often not seen as the "leading man" type.  Hoffman stole The Master in my opinion, and gave a subtle performance to out-do Streep in Doubt, both of those things are massive accomplishments.  In Capote you get lost in the vulnerability he honed as a young actor in Boogie Nights.   This man left a great legacy to the world of film, along with that he was a loving father/husband, and should be remembered as a great person.

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