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A goodbye to Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at the age of 46 today. He was maybe my favorite actor working and his loss is deeply felt. He was a great actor who took major risks, able to blend into a cast, be the livewire of an ensemble or carry a picture on his shoulders with ease.

If you’re looking for a rundown of the ten movies by Philip Seymour Hoffman you should see; this isn’t that. This is merely a rundown of my personal feelings to an actor whose career has been there as something to seek and relish my whole adult life.

Hoffman first caught my eye, silly enough, as the goofy Dusty in Twister, that Bill Paxton/Helen Hunt blockbuster from 1996 about a bunch of tornado chasers. Hoffman played a brash slob, belting that big laugh and smile that was hard to beat. It was one of the last “fun” roles I saw him in for years, as Hoffman partook in a string of memorable supporting roles in dramas. The arrogant gambler in Hard Eight, the insecure cameraman in Boogie Nights, the boorish snob in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The chatter in film magazine and blogs began ranking Hoffman as one of, if not the, best character actor working at the time. Hoffman, who certainly took the occasional role in a bigger Hollywood project, seemed the rare actor whose inclusion in a movie signified quality. In a world where a lot of the best people do a “one for them (Hollywood) and one for me,” his ratio skewed far more to the latter. He kept slipping into new classics, creating memorable characters, no matter the length of screen time. For an actor many think of often playing a sad-sack, Hoffman always felt far more diverse to me. His handful of minutes as the wild rock-critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous were a spectacular answer to that concept; funny and inviting.

I loved seeing the man begin getting lead roles, with both Owning Mahowny and Love Liza being exciting releases. Then we got Capote and the game changed. Hoffman sank into the role of the infamous author, won an Oscar and I couldn’t be happier. It wasn’t merely that new roles opened up to him – the baddie in a Mission: Impossible movie for example – but that the smaller works he was involved in received larger attention. The amazing dark comedy The Savages made it into more than a dozen theaters, his directorial debut Jack Goes Boating had a chance to be made. Plus, he continued to mix in the ensemble stuff.

Hoffman continued to be somebody whose every movie meant must-see, a rarity for an actor. Typically only directors get that recognition and faith. However, when The Master, Moneyball, The Ides of March and the like are the norm, the norm must be recognized.

It won’t be the same living in a world without Hoffman. The idea that a new Paul Thomas Anderson movie could be made without him is sad and weird. That the only belly laughs of his I’ll ever hear again are ones I’ve heard before isn’t something I want to contemplate. But we do, so let’s remember all that he gave us.


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