Tag Archives: The Ides of March

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.

The Times Like Those Alternative Oscars!

Every year, the same movies snatch up a big portion  of the Oscar nominations. Then, we hear about these movies for months as we lead up to Oscar night. And while this year has been a pretty exciting race (I’d say the winners for both lead acting categories are up in the air), and there were a few surprise nominees that snuck in at the last moment (what’s up, Demian Birchir?), it  can get a little bit repetitive to hear about the same movies over and over again, even if you enjoyed them.

In hopes of offering a change of pace, I’ve compiled my own “Oscar”  list of sorts. For my categories, I ignored all of the existing Oscar nominees and focussed on films and performances that didn’t receive as much awards attention this year. I also omitted people like Shailene Woodley, who did not receive an Oscar nomination but still got lots of attention from critics, bloggers, and awards groups leading up to the nominations.

Also, keep in mind that there are still lots of films from this year that I need to see. Shame, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Martha Marcy May Marlene are just a few on that list.

Enjoy, and feel free to post your own “alternative Oscars” in the comments.

Best Picture

Drive

The Ides of March

Meek’s Cutoff

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Win Win

It may be a small, unassuming film, but Meek’s Cutoff stuck with me in a big way this year. The film is unconventional in almost every way (the pacing, the mumbled dialogue, the refusal to punch up the story with high drama), and it’s a true achievement in cinema.

Best Director

Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Clooney, The Ides of March

Carey Fukanaga, Jane Eyre

Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive

Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff

Again, I have to give this one to Meek’s Cutoff. While Nicholas Winding Refn offered a masterclass in cool and Tomas Alfredson built insane tension around old guys sitting around talking in a room, Kelly Reichardt created something truly unique. I didn’t care for her last project, Wendy and Lucy, but her deliberate pace and sparse, terse tone worked wonders in Meek’s.

Best Actor

Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double

Ryan Gosling, Drive

Tom Hardy, Warrior

Ewan McGregor, Beginners

Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Cooper masters not one but two challenging roles in this messy film. He’s chilling and downright crazy as Sadam Hussein’s son, Uday, and also deeply sympathetic as Latif, the man hired as Uday’s double. It’s a towering pair of performances, and Cooper finally realizes the potential he showed in small roles in films such as Starter for 10 and An Education.

Best Actress

Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Keira Knightley, Last Night

Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre

Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids

Robin Wright, The Conspirator

Wiig gives a downright brilliant comedic performance in Bridesmaids, and sometimes that is enough for me. She throws herself into every gag headfirst, and she comes out in the end with a highly charming, perfectly executed performance. McCarthy is also great, but for me, Wiig is the reason to watch Bridesmaids.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre

Colin Ford, We Bought a Zoo

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March

Simon Pegg, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I thought Fassbender was a tad overrated in X-Men (sorry), but he reminded me why I loved him so much in Fish Tank with a similarly physical and subtly threatening performance in the gorgeous Jane Eyre. He oozes charisma here, and makes for a completely magnetic screen presence. Kudos to Mark Strong, too, for fantastic scene-stealing work in Tinker Tailor, and for converting me into a Mark Strong fan.

Best Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

Anna Kendrick, 50/50

Carey Mulligan, Drive

Amy Ryan, Win Win

Michelle Williams, Meek’s Cutoff

It was the year of Chastain, and my favourite performance of hers (though I haven’t seen them all) was as the ethereal wife in The Tree of Life. It’s a beautiful, moving performance, and she slips seamlessly into the languid tone of the film.

My 10 Favourite Movies of 2011


10. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner proved to be the dream team in this surprisingly entertaining franchise reboot. Also notable is director Brad Bird’s seamless leap from Pixar to live action. He created a taught, fast-paced thriller that exemplifies what going to the movies is all about.

9. Beginners

Mixing human drama and gentle comedy, Beginners is a simple but effective story about family and love. The film is loosely based on director Mike Mills’ own experience with his father, and his closeness to the material only strengthens this heartfelt story.

8. Meek’s Cutoff

Director Kelly Reichardt deserves a lot of credit for turning a plotless 2-hour movie about a group of wandering pioneers into one of the year’s more compelling films. Reichardt’s stark visual style suits the subject matter perfectly, and subtle, ambiguous performances only strengthen the material.

7. Win Win

Paul Giamatti shines as a self-serving wrestling coach who takes a child prodigy under his wing in Win Win. It’s a quiet film, but with a stellar cast and a heartfelt story, it sticks with you more than you might think. In some ways it is a standard “indie” film, but without the pretentions that hinder some similar projects.

6. The Ides of March

Clooney directs a high-quality political thriller with a cast that most filmmakers could only dream of. Thankfully, with such a juicy story, he departs from his typically dry directorial style in favour a more popcorn-friendly flick full of drama, suspense, and plot twists.

5. Daydream Nation

Kat Dennings and Reece Thompson serve as very likeable leads in this quirky coming-of-age drama. The film is shot in an appropriately moody style, perfectly encapsulating the overboard misfit teen angst. Daydream Nation is simultaneously funny, moving, and just a little strange.

4. Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids says some nice thing about female friendships, but mostly, it’s just hilarious. Kristen Wiig proves that she deserves many more leading roles, and the supporting cast also gets to shine. With one laugh-out-loud scene after another, it’s the funniest film of the year.

3. The Descendants

The Descendants is a moving story about family and change, set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Hawaiian countryside. George Clooney and Shailene Woodley make for an appealing father/daughter duo, and director Alexander Payne deftly mixes heartfelt drama with small bouts of comedy.

2. Midnight in Paris

If you’ve ever wished to live in a different era, Woody Allen’s great Midnight in Paris will probably ring true for you. It’s a film that celebrates art, history, and the need for individuality, all told through Allen’s sharp, eloquent point of view. It’s also Owen Wilson’s best performance to date.

1. Super 8

Paying homage to the films of Spielberg (who is a producer here), J.J. Abrams crafted a hugely likeable sci-fi adventure with Super 8. Led by a cast of charming and distinct kids, this monster movie is exciting, fun, and everything that movies should be.

6 Things We Learned from the 2011 Venice Film Festival


  • Shame is probably not going to be a mainstream success, but it may get Fassbender his first Oscar nomination
    • One of the most buzzed-about films at Venice has to be Steve McQueen’s new film, Shame. It earned a flurry of attention first for its gritty subject matter, and the suggestions of an NC-17 rating that came along with it. But while some feared that this could scare off potential distributors, Fox Searchlight was quick to scoop the film up. But Oscars buzz really heated up when the film’s star, Michael Fassbender, won the Coppa Vulpi award (the Venice equivalent to “Best Actor”) for his performance in the film. Literally overnight, Fassbender became a legitimate Oscar contender in the eyes of many (he originally was thought by many to have a better chance at a Best Actor nomination with David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method). I’m avoiding making any rash changes to my own predictions, but I certainly think that Fassbender is a much more viable contender, now.
  • The Ides of March may not be the Oscar juggernaut many once thought
    • While the film did receive mainly positive reviews, the critical buzz for Clooney’s latest flick was more muted than a lot of people had expected. As well, Ryan Gosling, who was previously considered a strong contender in the Best Actor race, received somewhat tepid reviews for his performance. I’m not counting it out yet, though.
  • Fish Tank was not a fluke
    • Director Andrea Arnold received raves for her direction of Fish Tank (which starred the omnipresent Michael Fassbender), and it looks like she’s crafted another moody gem with her adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which won the Osella award for Best Cinematography. Though the film did receive mixed reviews at Venice, those who liked it seemed to love it, and many critics championed it dark tone and visual style.
  • Watch out for Gary Oldman and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
    • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy took the spotlight early on at Venice, and the response seemed to be quite positive. Gary Oldman, especially, earned raves, and it looks like it could be the crowd-please that The Ides of March might not turn out to be.
  • Critics didn’t love Albert Nobbs, but they did like Glenn Close and Janet McTeer
    • The period drama Albert Nobbs failed to garner much buzz at the festival, and reviews were quite mixed, but its two leads did receive praise. Close received predictably strong reviews, but the early lack of enthusiasm about the film could hurt her Oscar campaign. However, Janet McTeer can only benefit from the strong reviews for her performance. I still don’t think she’s a major contender, but she’s certainly not out of the race, either.
  • Carnage and A Dangerous Method didn’t excite
    • Though they received generally positive (but not glowing) reviews, Carnage and A Dangerous Method didn’t turn out to be the critical darlings that many had predicted. While films like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Shame are on the upswing after Venice, these two didn’t seem to gain or lose much from the critical response.

Almost all of these films are screening at TIFF, so we’ll certainly be hearing about them over the next few days. All of this can easily change, but I found it interesting to gauge what the buzz was like at the first huge festival of Oscar season.

And for more photos and news from Venice (as well as the latest Oscar news, as always) be sure to check out Times Like Those on Tumblr!