Tag Archives: Capote

Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

I don’t tend to say much when a celebrity dies, even if it’s someone whose work I admire. It’s always very sad, and often I feel sadness about it, even, as though a vague acquaintance of mine has passed. But when it’s someone you don’t personally know, I find it difficult to articulate exactly why a person’s death is so tragic and what their work meant. As well-intentioned as the tributes may be, they often come across as a bit hollow and repetitive when spoken by outsiders. However, I feel the need to say something about the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’m sure I don’t have much to add to the conversation, but I’d like to share a bit about what his work meant to me and to celebrate some of his many, many great performances.

For a long time now, Philip Seymour Hoffman has been one of my favourite actors. Maybe even my favourite, though I’ve never been able to narrow it down to just one. I’ve also seen him in more movies than perhaps any other actor. This is just a testament to the amazing quality of his work; when I see the name “Philip Seymour Hoffman” attached to a movie, I know that it’s a movie I probably wanted to watch. Of the 23 movies of his that I’ve seen, barely any were disappointments, and even in the few that were less than great, Hoffman made the best of what he had and still turned in a strong performance.

Though I’d seen him do comedic roles in films like Twister and Along Came Polly, Hoffman first really caught my attention in Almost Famous. Granted, I came to Almost Famous at the exact perfect time in my life (I was 15 years old, obsessed with classic rock, a young outcast with writerly ambitions and a love of Rolling Stone), so almost everything to do with that movie had a big impact on my life. But Hoffman’s performance was like this little oasis in an explosive and deliciously decadent film. In other words: he was relatable to me, where everything else in Almost Famous was a fantasy.

Playing the famously ornery rock critic Lester Bangs, Hoffman brought his small but important character in Almost Famous to life in such a fully realized way that much like the film’s protagonist, William Miller, I felt like Lester Bangs was mentoring me. And while William was the character in that movie that I wanted to BE, Lester was the one I actually needed to hear from at the time. In one of William’s several telephone conversations with Lester, Bangs says this when William admits that he has befriended the band that he’s supposed to be writing about: “They make you feel cool. And hey, I met you. You are not cool […] And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.” Lester is the thing that keeps William grounded – even when William doesn’t want to be – and he was the character who spoke to me. It’s all well and fine to be Penny Lane off gallivanting with rock stars, but eventually reality is going to hit, and Lester is the one who will talk some sense into you when that happens. And Hoffman delivered that balance of jaded snark, wisdom, and warmth to a tee.

Almost Famous is still one of my favourite Hoffman performances, but in the intervening years, I’ve seen countless other great Hoffman performances. Take his Oscar-winning turn in Capote. Transcending mere impersonation, he once again dove into the character and pulled out something wholly human. This perhaps comes across best in his scenes with Perry (played exquisitely by Clifton Collins Jr.), the murderous subject of his book whom he builds an extremely complicated relationship with.

There are also his numerous collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson, the most recent of which in The Master earned Hoffman an Oscar nomination just last year. Playing Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic cult leader, Hoffman turned in some of his most ambiguous work yet. Watching him share the screen with Joaquin Phoenix feels like a master class in acting. Not to mention his small but extremely memorable turn in Punch-Drunk Love. Say it along with me, now: “SHUT UP!

Hoffman was always great at those explosive scenes. He used them sparingly, but they always cut right to the core of things. Take his performance in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which may be one of his most underrated turns. He plays a quietly scathing man full of dysfunction, and Hoffman portrays that with alarming calculation and restraint. Suddenly, though, it all comes pouring out in one unforgettable scene, which may be Hoffman’s finest onscreen moment. The scene might not work so well out of context, and it does contain some plot spoilers, but if you’ve already seen the movie, here it is to appreciate again:

I could go on and on talking about Hoffman’s many great performances, and I’m sure other people will do so in a more comprehensive and articulate way than I could. But for me, while Hoffman always gave well-rounded, wonderful performances, he was also the master of commanding a scene, when necessary. I’m generally not one to focus on individual movie scenes, but half a dozen really great ones immediately come to mind when I think of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Along with the ones posted, here are a few more that I love (though unfortunately not all of them are on YouTube).

  • Pirate Radio is hardly the shining gem on PSH’s filmography, but he brought this wonderful rapscallion vibe to his performance as a rogue radio DJ. It’s a fun performance all around, but one scene that has always really stuck with me is the scene where his character is sitting on the deck of the boat at night and reflecting on things. “These are the best days of our lives,” he says. “It’s a terrible thing to know, but I know it.” The whole scene is so delicate, and such a nice reminder of Hoffman’s natural skill.
  • Hoffman might not have a big role in Boogie Nights, but he plays a strange, sympathetic character. Watching his harmless crush on Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler go horribly wrong is both sweet and heartbreaking to watch.
  • Magnolia is another great supporting turn from Hoffman. In particular, his final moments with Jason Robarts’ character are especially touching.
  • Watching Hoffman cut Ryan Gosling’s character down to size in The Ides of March was nothing short of spectacular.

I don’t really have specific scenes in mind, but Hoffman’s turns in Synedoche New York, 25th Hour, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Savages are also well worth watching if you haven’t seen them.

It’s certainly a shock to see Philip Seymour Hoffman go so soon. The loss is tragic, and his presence in movies will be missed more than I can say. However, if we can find a consolation as fans, his legacy is a great one. He made more fantastic movies in his too-short life than most will make in their entire career. His filmography is expansive and surprisingly consistent, and all of those great movies are there for future generations to discover and love. Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman, and thank you for the countless hours of fun spent watching your work.

10 Unsung Performances of the 00’s

A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.

Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!

Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003’s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.

Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote

Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.

Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.

Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild

Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.

Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream

Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.

Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose

As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Guy Pearce – Factory Girl

Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.

Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.

Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.

Honourable Mentions

Samantha Morton – Control

Michael Angarno – Snow Angels

Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland

Keri Russell – Waitress

Jason Bateman – Juno

Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire

Top 10 Movies of the Decade

Of course, it was a daunting task to pick my favourite movies of the decade. But after re-drafting my list at least a dozen times, this is what I managed to come up with. These are the ten films that I enjoyed most from this decade.

10. Capote (2005)

For some reason, the #10 spot seemed to be the hardest to fill on this list. But Capote, which won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, was captivating in every way. The acting (of course), the story, and the visuals are all stunning. The evolution of Capote’s character, and his relationship with the murderous subject of his next book, were astounding to watch unravel.

9. Finding Nemo (2003)

I guess this is my requisite Pixar choice. Up and Ratatouille underwhelmed me, but this colourful tale of aquatic life was undeniably joyful. The animation is hypnotic, and the characters are unforgettable. It’s both a touching story of family, and an exciting adventure tale. Throw in Ellen Degeneres’ hilarious Dory character, and you’ve got a fantastic family film.

8. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Spend thirty seconds with the foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine (played by the wonderful Alan Arkin), and you’ll likely appreciate your own family a little more. But underneath the biting, dark humour of this film, there is actually an incredibly heart-warming road trip story. Steve Carrel’s suicidal scholar and Paul Dano’s voluntarily silent teen make one of the best on-screen duos I’ve ever seen.

7. Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce (one of the more underrated actors out there) plays a man who can’t make new memories in Christopher Nolan’s frenzied breakthrough film. The film amazingly manages to keep up its fast-paced momentum, despite the fact that it’s scrambled and chopped, and that scenes play out in overlapping reverse order. It’s amazingly unique, and Memento is both intelligent, and an incredibly entertaining whodunit.

6. There Will Be Blood (2007)

This film seems to be popping up on everyone’s top 10 list (often at the top spot), but that’s probably because There Will Be Blood is such a masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, there are so many striking, unforgettable moments (the whole oil rig fire sequence was amazing, not to mention the final scene).

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

There is no doubt Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most unique films of the decade. From the quiet, realistic courtship of Joel and Clementine, to the unusually messy breakup (they decide to erase each other from their memories entirely), it’s a whimsical, gorgeous film. It feels like it’s made for this time, which is probably why so many people connected to it so intensely.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Honestly, do I need to say anything at all? I’ll just apologize and move on.

3. Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan amazingly subtle performance as a crack addicted teacher is the anchor of Half Nelson, but the film as a whole is entirely absorbing, and it’s a stunning debut for director Ryan Fleck. Half Nelson celebrates and laments the small moments in life that everyone experiences, as well as delving into the tragic problems of the character’s lives. The relationship between Gosling’s Dan and Shareeka Epps’ Drey is beautiful – full of sorrow, understanding, and respect.

2. Juno (2007)

Maybe it sounds stupid to say this about a fairly lightweight comedy, but Juno is a film that really spoke to me. I love that Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody created a fun, mainstream film that actually has something to say, and it features some amazing well-written characters. It’s touching and funny, and Juno is one of the only honest on-screen depictions of what it’s like to be a young woman.

1. Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous has a wonderful sense of joy, and it captures the feeling of being young and loving music in a way that I didn’t even know was possible. Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson (in what may be her only good performance, like, ever), Frances McDormand, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are vibrant, and the killer soundtrack (featuring the first Led Zeppelin tune to be licensed for a film) tops it all off.

Honourable Mentions:
A Beautiful Mind, The Departed, Donnie Darko, Garden State, Into the Wild, Requiem for a Dream, Signs, Snow Angels, Zodiac

Favourite Performances of the Decade: Part 3

I think that I’m going to expand this list from 25 to however many performances there are that I feel are noteworthy. Here are five more performances from this decade that I’ve loved. Be sure to check out the other parts of this feature, and feel free leave me some comments on what you think!

Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starts off as an unconventional love story, and then becomes even more unconventional when love goes sour, and Clementine and Joel decide that they want to erase each other from their memory entirely. The most memorable moments of Winslet’s performance come when Clementine gives glimpses of her emotional, raw inner self. This often comes during spats with Joel. While I loved Carrey’s moody, restrained performance, Winslet is the opposite. She’s fiery and passionate, and Carrey almost feels like the “straight-man” to her ultra-vibrant character. Yet the vulnerable moments are great too. And even the moments where everything is actually going right in Clementine and Joel’s relationship seem elevated from the usual romantic comedy fare. Without Winslet, much of the quirkiness, heart, and charm of this movie would be gone.

Sam Riley – Control (2007)

My favourite musical biopic of the decade was Anton Corbijn’s Control, which chronicles the short adult life of Ian Curtis, and the rise of his band, Joy Division. It’s a pretty grim movie. Curtis cheats on his wife, has horrific seizures, struggles to find success with his band, and ultimately takes his own life. But Riley’s up to the role, clearly. Riley’s Curtis is soft-spoken, withdrawn, and petulant. Yet when he steps on stage, everything comes alive in a bizarre, desperate kind of way. Riley switches between Curtis’ electric stage persona and troubled personal life with startling ease, and you can feel Curtis’ pain. At times, it feels much more like a documentary than the usual glossy biopic, and this is largely because of Riley unaffected performance. Curtis is a figure who is often romanticized in hindsight. But Joy Division was only on the cusp of success when Curtis killed himself. Riley portrays him as the real, troubled human being that he was.


Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

I’m not sure if there’s much left to say about this instantly iconic performance. Only exacerbated by the tragedy of Ledger’s untimely death in January of 2008, his brilliant performance as the Joker was haunting. Darkly funny and incredibly eerie, his take on the anarchistic clown has become a landmark of 21st century pop culture. Some questioned whether Ledger would have won the Oscar (which he was posthumously awarded at the 2009 Oscars) if he had still been alive. I have no way of knowing if he would have, but I absolutely believe that he would have deserved it. His death is tragic for many reasons, but for the fans, perhaps the most frustrating aspect is the idea of the performances that we could’ve seen from this immensely talented actor.


Benicio Del Toro – Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

While it was generally received positively by critics, Things We Lost in the Fire seemed to disappear as soon as it was released. This is a huge shame, because as well as being a really good film, it features one of my five favourite performances of the decade. Benicio Del Toro plays Jerry, a heroin addict who, after the death of his friend, goes to live with his friend’s wife and kids. If you look at a film like Requiem for a Dream, that film is all about the surreal, frightening visuals, which are meant to represent a drug-induced whirl. This film has a much simpler style. It relies on Del Toro to convey the horrors of his addiction, rather than the style and editing of the film. It’s not a by-the-numbers character arc, and Del Toro’s performance is anything but contrived. He takes the performance far beyond the usual one-dimensional “drug addict” stereotype, bringing a surprising amount of warmth to an otherwise bleak role.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Capote (2005)

Whether his Truman Capote was captivating a crowd at a lavish party, or visiting a convicted murderer in his tiny jail cell, Hoffman’s performance was both grand and subtle at the same time. Of course, he imitated the infamous voice of Capote well, but the performance goes far beyond an impersonation and never becomes the stereotype that it could have been. I thought Capote was an excellent movie, and the performances were a large part of that. Some of the supporting performances are great (Clifton Collins Jr. is incredible and understated in his role as one of the murderers that Capote is chronicling), but it’s clearly Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s show. He earned a well-deserved Oscar for his work in Capote, and it cemented his status as one of the best working actors.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5