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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, February 02, 2014

 
Too soon

By Dennis Hartley


Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014
















You know how I know Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great actor? Because he always made me cringe. You know what I mean? It’s that autonomic flush of empathic embarrassment that makes you cringe when a couple has a loud spat at the table next to you in a restaurant, or a drunken relative tells an off-color joke at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a good sign when an actor makes me cringe, because that means he or she has left their social filter on the dressing room table, and shown up for work naked and unafraid. And Hoffman did so without fail, in role after role, naked and unafraid. I’m sad beyond words that such a giant talent has left us so soon. Here are 10 cringe-worthy highlights:

Almost Famous- Although it’s a relatively small role, this is one of my favorite Hoffman performances, playing the late great gonzo rock critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s auto-biographical comedy-drama about a teenage journalist who gets hired by Rolling Stone to tag along and write a “think piece” about a rock band on their concert tour.

Boogie Nights- While he wasn’t the star, this was Hoffman’s breakout performance. It’s a real testament to Hoffman’s genius that he managed to make such an impression on audiences and critics with his role as “Scotty J.” in P.T. Anderson’s 1997 opus about the porno film industry in the 1970s; especially when you consider that the cast was so huge.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead- Strongly recalling The King of Marvin Gardens, this nightmarish neo-noir-cum Greek tragedy, stars Hoffman as a stressed-out businessman with bad debts and very bad habits, which leads him to take desperate measures. He enlists his not-so-bright brother (Ethan Hawke) into helping him pull an extremely ill-advised heist that involves a business owned by their elderly parents (Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney). As frequently occurs in this genre, things go horribly wrong. Great work from the entire cast, and superbly directed by Sidney Lumet.

Capote- Undoubtedly the film he will be best remembered by, thanks to Hoffman’s well-deserved Oscar-winning Performance as Truman Capote. If you haven’t seen Bennett Miller’s 2005 film about the writer’s complex relationship with convicted killer Perry Smith while researching his true crime masterwork, In Cold Blood, you have no excuse not to now. Hoffman isn’t playing Truman Capote in this movie, he is Truman Capote.

Happiness- This 1998 Todd Solondz film features one of Hoffman’s more underappreciated turns. Admittedly, Solondz’s films are not everyone’s cup of tea (be prepared for a lot of that “cringe” factor I was talking about earlier) but if you’re OK with network narratives involving nothing but completely fucked-up individuals, this is your ticket. Brave performances all around in this merry-go-round of modern dysfunction.

I’m going to round off my recommendations with five more great Hoffman films I’ve covered on Hullabaloo in recent years; click on the links for original full-length reviews:

The Savages
Synecdoche NY
Ides of March
The Master
Pirate Radio






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