10 Great Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances

Published 1 year ago by , Updated February 4th, 2014 at 8:44 am, This is a list post.

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Catching-FireA day has passed since beloved actor Philip Seymour Hoffman tragically passed away in his Manhattan home; even so, it's difficult to register the fact that he's gone, and far too soon.But while the loss is immense, Hoffman left behind a vast, impressive array of performances in an equally vast range of films dating back to the early 90s - from game-makers to drag queens, US spies to arms dealers, compulsive gamblers to cult leaders.Today, we mourn his passing, and also celebrate his contributions to his craft in our list of 10 Essential Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances.

Happiness - 1998

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-HappinessHappiness may be the most uncomfortable movie Todd Solondz has ever made, which is saying something in light of how uncomfortable most of his movies are.In that same vein, Hoffman's role in the film - that of sniveling pervert Allen, would-be suitor to sisters Helen and Joy Jordan - might be one of the most discomfiting roles of his entire career.Viewers are used to seeing Hoffman play complicated, self-disintegrating men. Allen at least partially fits that bill, and yet the character has an unnerving menace in him that isn't often seen throughout Hoffman's filmography.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - 2007

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Before-The-DevilSidney Lumet's final film, an intricately made, smartly told story about the complications of family relationships, puts Hoffman front and center as the driving force behind the entire plot.Here, Hoffman plays Andy, a drug-addicted payroll executive in dire need of cash; to that end, he schemes to rob his parents' jewelry store with the help of Hank (Ethan Hawke), his younger brother. It's a perfect crime that ultimately goes spectacularly wrong.We're left to watch Andy slowly go down in flames as he tries to put the pieces back together, and Hoffman brilliantly ratchets up his desperation as he tries to cover up his guilt.

Mission: Impossible 3 - 2006

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Mission-Impossible-3Hoffman wasn't known for being a big genre star, yet he made an appearance in J.J. Abrams' Mission Impossible 3 to give the film its villain, the thoroughly dangerous Owen Davian.Davian could arguably be the best bad guy in the franchise to date; he's an unassuming threat at first glance, but he's brutal, ruthless, cunning, and willing to go to any lengths to punish his enemies.Hoffman gives an enormous amount of gravitas to a character that, on the page, reads like a fairly boilerplate megalomaniac; through his work, Davian becomes a genuine terror, a man to be feared and respected for his lethal tendencies.

Magnolia - 1999

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-MagnoliaAn interesting bit of trivia:  Hoffman has had a part in almost every single one of Paul Thomas Anderson's films, from Hard Eight (1996) all the way up to The Master (2012).Magnolia marks Hoffman's third appearance in the acclaimed auteur's filmography; he portrays Phil Parma, a nurse caring for dying producer Earl Partridge, who asks Parma to search for his estranged son, Frank Mackey.Phil's a rarity in Hoffman's career: he's a straightforward character defined by decency, compassion, and warmth. He doesn't track down Frank because he's told to; he does it because he's just a good human being.

Doubt - 2008

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-DoubtDoubt is an actor's film, one that exists foremost to showcase the talents of its excellent cast, but this parable of clerical paranoia is never better than when Hoffman clashes onscreen with Meryl Streep.In the film, Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier; Hoffman plays Father Brendan Flynn, the object of her suspicions. She believes Flynn is guilty of child abuse, though she has no proof to support her claim as she pursues him.Their conflict comes to a head in one of Doubt's final scenes, where the two explode in a volcanic confrontation that leaves us weaving between Streep's conviction and Hoffman's indignation. When all is said and done, only that titular uncertainty remains.

Boogie Nights - 1997

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Boogie-NightsBoogie Nights - another Anderson film - is littered with damaged, lost souls trapped in the machine of the adult entertainment industry, but none of them is as profoundly pitiable as Scotty.He's not a performer like Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler; he's a man of almost no consequence in the porno pecking order. But that doesn't stop him from reaching out to Dirk as the New Year's Eve countdown commences in the misguided hope of forming a connection.The result of their exchange is heartbreaking. He hunkers down behind the wheel of his new prized possession, weeping uncontrollably; he's wracked with self-loathing, humiliated by his own actions.

Charlie Wilson's War - 2007

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Charlie-Wilson's-WarHoffman wasn't just a master of theatrics - he also knew how to fire off a punchline and crack a joke. Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War, boosted by an Aaron Sorkin screenplay, lets him do just that.But it also lets him do what Hoffman did best: dramatize. Charlie Wilson's War tells the story of Operation Cyclone; Hoffman plays Gust Avrakotos, a CIA agent recruited by Tom Hanks' titular character to help figure out how to increase mujahideen funding.While the film doesn't quite hit the mark as a fictionalized retelling of history, it's always made better whenever Hoffman's alternately blustering and insecure character makes his presence felt.

Almost Famous - 2000

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-Almost-FamousThere's a running sub-theme here: some of Hoffman's most iconic turns were those where he had only a precious few minutes of screen time to his name.None of those roles embody his knack for making the most out of a little than that of Almost Famous' Lester Bangs. Bangs, an uncompromising rock critic working in a field littered with hack journalists, shows up only briefly in the film, but he has a huge impact on the plot regardless.The character walks a fine line between jaded, bitter pessimism and a genuine, deep-rooted passion for rock music; Hoffman manages to pull off that balancing act effortlessly.

The Master - 2012

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-The-MasterHoffman's fifth venture with Anderson, The Master, could also be his last great performance; he's at the top of his game here, commanding, authoritative, and yet shockingly insecure all at once.As Lancaster Dodd, leader of a philosophically inclined cult known as The Cause, Hoffman strays more toward quieter pronouncements than not; Dodd maintains an oft-calm exterior that belies the swirl of emotions beneath.When that exterior snaps, he's a force to behold, most of all when he faces off with a skeptic who openly questions The Cause and Dodd's beliefs at an extravagant New York party. Hoffman's build to Dodd's resultant, vulgar outburst is acting at its best.

Capote - 2005

Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-CapoteAmong Hoffman's many and varied roles, none quite so perfectly makes use of every single one of his gifts as a thespian as Bennett Miller's Capote. There's a reason he won an Academy Award for this performance, after all.Hoffman doesn't simply "play" American author Truman Capote - he sinks into the role, fully becoming the man with the high, lisped voice and a biting sense of wit. He invites us into his portrait of Capote, allowing us to understand who he was and what drove him.Most of all, he lets us see the ways in which Truman connives and manipulates his subjects while writing his true crime book, In Cold Blood, and yet keeps him sympathetic and human all the same.


Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-MahownyAll of this only scratches the surface of Hoffman's body of work; in just over two decades, he appeared in over fifty films (such as Owning Mahowny, pictured left), dabbled in directing, and still found the time to put in time on Broadway in productions such as Death of a Salesman.In other words, he had a prolific artistic output. And though he's no longer with us, he still has a few more films up his sleeve - notably,  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and the Sundance hit A Most Wanted Man.Hoffman left us before his time, but he didn't leave us without. Farewell, Philip - you will be missed.
TAGS: doubt, the hunger games, the master


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  1. How about Along Came Polly? He was hilarious in that film.

    • +1! This was a personal favorite of mine, glad it didn’t go completely unnoticed!

    • Thank you!

      I’ve been mentioning his Along Came Polly performance to whoever will listen.

      His most underrated performance by far! I would put it ahead of at least half the the characters he played mentioned in this article.

    • He was funny in that. I love when he tell’s Ben Stiller that he “sharted” haha then he defines the term.. so great.

  2. My favorite 3 films with him were:

    Patch Adams
    Mission Impossible 3
    Catching Fire

    most of these I haven’t seen….yet

    • Do you like movies?

      • yep lol a few of these Ive had a hard time watching such as the Master (should probably give it another chance.) didn’t mind Twister and there were a few others Id have to look at his fimography again lol

    • They’re all well worth your time, if not for Hoffman than because they’re (mostly) great movies.

      • yeah Ive been having a hard time finding these movies. the stores in my town suck with a selection of movies

    • Patch Adams, MI3 and Catching Fire? You really need to get on seeing his movies. Patch Adams is awful. MI3 is an OK movie that he raises up. And I loved Catching Fire, but he wasn’t the number one thing that makes it a great film.

      • well we all have our like and dislikes I liked them for what they were. I didn’t have any expectations for them. Catching Fire I watched without reading the books. Patch Adams I didn’t even know existed and liked the message it was giving. MI3 I thought was pretty good along with the others and that’s coming from someone who has never seen the tv show. I wasn’t a big fan of Twister because I was young when I saw it (haven’t seen it in a long time. The Master I had a hard time watching because Im not a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix because I think hes kinda dull and boring (I only liked him in Gladiator). Im sure Ive seen him in others without realizing it. I try to pick up on everybodys movies but its hard with a tight budget when your living on your own. eventually I will, Im sure of it since most of its on my Netflix lol

  3. No love for the quirky synecdoche, new york? :(

    • Great movie, and I have a lot of love for it – but I like each of these performances just a little bit better than his performance in that film.

  4. Very nice tribute to a very talented actor….

  5. I first noticed him in that 1999 movie “Flawless” opposite Robert DeNiro.
    He played a drag queen. And I thought “this dude can act”.
    Years later he finally got an Oscar for “Capote”. Well deserved.
    It’s a shame he was a drug addict.

  6. Aw. No Synechdoche, New York?

  7. Really great list. One of my favorites is Twister.

  8. my personal favorite performance of his was in Pirate Radio….

    • I agree! Pirate Radio is one of my favorite films!

  9. Your going to hear a lot of negativity now as well as later (like Mr, Obviouses insensitive comment above) about Philip Seymour Hoffman dying of a Heroin Overdose.Of course the majority of people will feel sad and upset at the loss of such a great talent at such a
    young age.But there will be a small minority
    who will judge and condemn him in some
    form….I personally cannot imagine wanting
    to even try Heroin. Doesn’t mean I don’t know about addiction Its a struggle but I can
    only think the struggle to kick Heroin is possibly one the hardest things to do
    imaginable….not every body can do it.. we
    don’t even know if we could. so don’t judge
    or condemn..because you have no idea at all what he was going through.Self medicating,Depression Isolation Its hard for people to conceive of how a person who is so so successful and talented could throw their life away.obviously there were much more underlying problems that he was trying to escape from.
    I can only hope for is his death has some
    meaning and helps others to overcome their
    own addictions..

    • From the tone of Mr. Obvious’s comment it seemed more like he was lamenting that he was a drug addict because it resulted in his death, not because it ruined or changed his opinion of him as a person. It IS a shame, but I wouldn’t label it shameful. Tragic is better.

      • Yeah ur right. I used the wrong word. Tragic is more appropriate.
        Sorry folks.

    • wah wah.there are people who are way worse off than he is and don’t turn to drugs.it’s a choice.people want to call it a disease but its a self inflicted disease.you make the wrong choice there are going to be consequences.drugs are just the easy way out.facing your problems is the difficult thing to do.

      • The easy way out huh?? lol. its best not to comment on something when you have no idea what your talking about…

  10. what about Twister and Silence of the Lambs!?

    • He was in Red Dragon as the reporter, which was the prequel to the Silence of the Lambs and a remake of Manhunter.

      He was also in the Big Lebowski which I never noticed until I saw it again a few months ago. He was good in 25th Hour too. Like the article said he was in so many movies it is hard to really pin down how many times you may have seen him,

  11. The Boat That Rocked

    • Forgot that he was in Moneyball as the very obstinate coach, and loved him in State and Main.

  12. Not one of his best roles, but I will always remember him from Twister, that Bill Paxton Tornado movie.

  13. 25th hour. Classic.

  14. He was also in The Big Lebowski and was wonderful.

  15. Oh believe, we had a lot of the movies mentioned in this thread on our radar. Originally we were going to do just 5 examples – but that wasn’t nearly enough!

  16. He was also great in The Savages.

  17. I just remembered, A Late Quartet.

  18. i think his greatest performance was convincing people he wasn’t a drug addled junkie who didn’t have the sense god gave a duck.for the record i have no sympathy for people who intentionally toss their lives in the toilet and leave their families to clean up the mess.i consider these people cowards who need the balls to face their problems and take care of them instead of hiding from them behind drugs or alcohol.sorry if i sound harsh but it comes from personnel experiences not indifference.

    • wow. I would hate to be a friend or family member of yours if I had an addition and needed to turn to someone for help……because your so frigging perfect.

      • actually i have been there and like you i won.i’m happy for you and hope you stay clean but i’m not going to feel sorry for people who get like that because we did it to ourselves.it was intentional.i didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me because i messed up and it was up to me if i wanted to change or not.so sorry if the way i feel about upsets you but that’s the way it is.it’s a choice.make the right one,hooray.make the wrong one,too bad.

  19. Always lived him in Twister.

    • Sorry. LOVED.

  20. The Big Lebowski, Along came Polly, 25th hour, and Red Dragon should’ve been included. Suffice to say he was a talent and contributed to lots of memorable entertainment.

  21. Thanks for including MI:3!!

    I mentioned that performance in the OD yesterday. It’s my favorite of his.

  22. What…no “Flawless”???

  23. I’m just wondering why no one ever mentions Owning Mahowny (2003). It’s an uncomfortable look at a self loathing Canadian Banker. It’s got a film fest quality to it. It’s the first Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie I ever saw and it rocketed him to the top of my list of favourite actors.

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