Thursday, February 27, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman passes away

I called my sister (who could be categorized as an ordinary moviegoer) the night Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away and she scratched her head when I delivered the news. "The guy from the Hunger Games?" she asked after IMDBing him. "Oh no, what's gonna happen to the sequel?" Because there are members of my immediate family (the main readership of this blog) who think of Hoffman primarily as the guy from The Hunger Games, I feel compelled to raise awareness for this late great star.

Was I a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman? Let's just say I was a fan of great films around the turn of the century like "25th Hour", "Almost Famous", "Cold Mountain"*, "Big Lebowski" and "Talented Mr. Ripley." In other words, it was impossible not to be a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman if you started becoming serious about watching films in that era because he had a great supporting role in practically every underrated film in those years. I'm not even counting "Magnolia" or "Boogie Nights."

If you might have missed Philip Seymour Hoffman in those years, it's because a lot of those movies weren't as famous now as they were back then. One might think Hoffman had a crystal ball predicting what would be a classic years later. Considering his talent and his heavy interest in the theater (his estate went to a foundation that would award promising playwrights with grants), it seems likely that Hoffman had a great talent for discernment.

Although he had the lead in small films like "Owning Mahowny", Hoffman had a sort of breaking out in 2005's Capote. While the film only grossed $28 million domestically, (which while admittedly better than Owning Mahowny's $1.1 million) it earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination and it gave Philip Seymour Hoffman the ultimate accolade for a leading man: a Best Actor Academy Award.

At that point, Hoffman could have gotten some meaty leading man parts** and been spared the indignity of only having my sister remember her as "The Hunger Games guy" eight years later. He could have also just stuck with his bread and butter and been a subtle character actor.

Instead, he did a little bit of everything. He carried films as the lead or co-lead in "Doubt" (my personal favorite), "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead", "Synecdoche New York" and "The Master." He lent his weight behind smaller indie films like "Pirate Radio," "A Late Quartet," and "The Savages." He stole scenes in supporting roles like "Ides of March," "Moneyball," and "Charlie Wilson's War." He even played a classic action villain in "Mission Impossible 3," he had a comic cameo in  "Invention of Lying," and he dove into a fantasy franchise with the "Hunger Games."

In short, Hoffman knew no boundaries when choosing films and his filmography is astounding. A highly experimental piece that Roger Ebert named the best film of the year (Synecdoche), Sidney Lumet's most acclaimed film in years (Devil) and a quiet anti-hero sports film inspired stylistically by "All the President's Men" that got nominated for Best Picture (Moneyball). He might be remembered as the quintessential character actor, but because his film choices were so smart, he was one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood in my book. Was there a film role he couldn't take on? Was there a better indication that a film would be something special than seeing his name in the opening credits?

I haven't even said much about his acting, but it's probably just to let it speak for itself

*To be fair, "Cold Mountain" is largely remembered as a failed Weinstein Oscar vehicle more than an underrated film but its a great historical epic in my opinion

** I know you're thinking of that Arrested Development reference. Shut up

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