Philip Seymour Hoffman’s movies are one of a kind because the talented actor always brought a characteristic depth to his roles, as no matter how much is revealed about his characters, it always seems like there’s more to figure out. Hoffman also had great range; he was capable to switch from nonchalant to furious, serious to comical. He sadly passed away in 2014, though his son, Cooper Hoffman, carries on his legacy.
Hoffman has an extensive filmography that appeases all tastes, and although it includes modern classics such as The Big Lebowski and Synecdoche, New York, these movies are either too divisive or Hoffman plays too small of a role to count them as his best. The movies where he truly stands out are bold and thought-provoking pieces where he’s got the freedom of a lead role to carry the narrative by himself, or are otherwise highly-rated movies where Hoffman manages to steal the show in a supporting role.
Happiness‘ title can seem misleading because the film is essentially about loneliness and despair, as it centers on a mosaic of puzzling characters, all of them enveloped by a mysterious darkness. Hoffman, for example, plays Allen, an insecure man who becomes lost in his disturbing sexual fantasies, gradually losing his grip on the violent reality around him. Co-starring the film alongside Jon Lovitz and Jane Adams, Hoffman delivers the unsettling performance of a man who feels imprisoned in his vicious mind, unable to change.
Happiness is a good movie and especially a unique experience, but its heavy content can be too much for some; although there are not many instances of graphic violence, the narrative delves deep into the twisted mind of its characters. While some viewers regret not walking out on Happiness, the movie predominantly hit the right targets and was well-received by critics, earning 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Although Mission: Impossible III isn’t considered a bad movie, it’s often regarded as an “okay” film. Taking Mission: Impossible II into account, it certainly feels like a step up, even if J.J. Abrams meticulously crafted it to feel like a TV movie, with some of the most digital-looking cinematography of the 2000s.
These are only minor inconveniences compared to the level of danger that Hoffman’s 007-like villain brings to the table. From the opening minutes, it’s clear that he poses a huge menace to Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) life, who now has a family to protect. The third outing can be considered one of the Mission: Impossible franchise’s most rewatchable movies solely because of Hoffman, whose villain certainly came the closest to destroying Hunt.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Created by the novelist Patricia Highsmith, Mr. Ripley is a fascinating character that appears in many movies such as The American Friend, Purple Noon, and of course, The Talented Mr. Ripley. The character is sometimes portrayed as a cold anti-hero, although he becomes most villainous in the hands of Matt Damon, who successfully adapts the idiosyncrasies of Tom Ripley into a charmingly dangerous personality. In the film, he sets his sights on a wealthy unsuspecting man, Dickie (Jude Law), whom he intends to steal the identity of, engaging in a dangerous game of duplicity and murder.
Hoffman comes into the picture as Freddie Miles, one of Dickie’s closest friends, who immediately suspects something is off about Ripley. The Talented Mr. Ripley is one the best movies in the Tom Ripley series because it doesn’t romanticize its character’s brutality: Freddie meets a tragic fate near the end and features one of the most memorable scenes in the movie, when Ripley ambushes Freddie and bludgeons him to death with a sculpture. Hoffman precisely captured Freddie’s suspicious impression of Ripley right away and his performance adds to the suspense of his death scene, becoming one of the film’s many highlights.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Punch-Drunk Love is utterly different from other Paul Thomas Anderson works because there’s not a single character in the movie that looks slightly ordinary. In his pursuit of love, Barry Egan, one of Sandler’s most likable characters, stumbles upon Hoffman’s hateful Dean Trumbell, an unpredictable man who owns a mattress store and runs a scam business in a phone sex line. In a memorable scene, Hoffman gets darkly funny as he shouts at Barry over the phone; an exaggerated, hysterical moment that he manages to convey with ease.
Punch-Drunk Love is predominantly a love story that flourishes amid embarrassment and isolation: Barry’s passiveness in the face of Dean’s violent impulsiveness results in an epic face-off, but viewers need patience until they understand what the film is aiming at.
Magnolia crosses the line between reality and fiction with the absurdity of chance: in reality, frogs don’t fall from the sky, but here, it’s a sign that these lives are aligned by fate. Magnolia is perhaps the Paul Thomas Anderson movie that best nails the assignment of crossing the lives of unrelated characters in an intricate web, constantly reminding viewers that life is a box of surprises. The characters in Magnolia pursue seemingly simple objectives: happiness, money, and family, yet these goals seem desperately unattainable. Amid the chaos, Hoffman’s character, Phil, works as a mediator in this interrelated narrative, but he’s just as lost as everyone.
The Hunger Games Franchise (2012 – 2015)
Hoffman made his debut in the Hunger Games franchise with Catching Fire and sadly passed away during the filming of Mockingjay – Part 2. Director Francis Lawrence utilized old footage and digital tricks to disguise Hoffman’s absence and pay tribute to the actor. Hoffman’s character is Plutarch Heavensbee, a Gamemaker at the Capitol who betrays Snow and turns out to be the revolution leader in District 13. Plutarch is a key character in Catching Fire, which is considered the best movie of the franchise. Plutarch meticulously designs the arena as a clock in order to achieve his master plan in the end.
The Master (2012)
The Master is one of Anderson’s most sophisticated films, a fictional story that looks uncomfortably real. The narrative revolves around Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a troubled veteran who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. He crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), the leader of a religious movement based on the teaching of Scientology. Hoffman’s performance in The Master is sharp and cold; there’s little Lancaster says that should make the characters suspect him, yet he brings a distinctive uneasiness with him every time he shows up.
A patient slow-burn that relies heavily on its strong performances, The Master has memorable quotes and uses the tragedies of the past century to develop a creative original story. Hoffman, Phoenix, and Amy Adams were all nominated to the Oscars for their respective roles, though none of them won.
Mary and Max (2009)
Though not common knowledge, Hoffman was also an exceptional voice actor, offering a unique performance in Adam Elliot’s distinctive animated feature Mary and Max. With 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is Hoffman’s highest-rated project, and it tells the story of the unlikely friendship between the lonely eight-year-old Mary (Bethany Whitmore), and Max (Hoffman), a peculiar elderly man. They each live on a different side of the world but develop a strong bond through letters and gifts. The film offers dry humor and minimalist visuals despite the incredible stop-motion animation, delivering a sincere message of hope.
Moneyball is one of the most realistic baseball movies, as it covers the real-life story of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who resorts to unexpected measures to put together a brilliant baseball team on a budget. When it came out, Moneyball was a major Oscar contender, and it was warmly received by critics, scoring 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Hoffman plays a supporting role as Art Howe, who poses a threat to Beane’s plans by sticking to the traditional rules of the game. Moneyball lays out different perspectives on how sports are always evolving despite rules established long ago. The kind of supporting role that cooks up the narrative’s conflict, Hoffman is the face of tradition while Pitt represents a step in the future.
Almost Famous (2000)
Hoffman plays Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, a real-life rock journalist whom director Cameron Crowe met when he was a teenager (via Rolling Stone). Adapting this life-changing moment to the movie, Bangs delivers some of the best Almost Famous quotes and assigns aspiring journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) his first assignment: review a Black Sabbath concert.
Set in the ’70s, the movie follows William as he hits the road alongside an up-and-coming band, Stillwater, seeing the good and the bad of a life filled with music, drugs, and wannabe stars. Almost Famous is Hoffman’s most accessible film; a lighthearted road movie that uses Crowe’s personal experiences to shape a dreamlike rock fantasy.
Capote delivers an in-depth look into one of America’s most puzzling writers and his process of writing a masterpiece. Truman Capote’s biopic not only offers invigorating insights into the publishing scene of the ’50s but also exposes a disturbing world of violence and murder.
Hoffman’s work in Capote is flawless and unsurprisingly earned him a Best Actor win at the Oscars, reproducing the strength of a writer who doesn’t let the shocking reality he witnesses harm the integrity of his work. Capote is forced to keep his head down on an intricate case in order to get his book, In Cold Blood, completed, investigating and reporting the circumstances of the murders of four members of the Clutter family in rural Kansas.
Boogie Nights (1997)
Boogie Nights might not deliver Hoffman’s most memorable performance but is often remembered as his best film. After Hoffman worked together with Paul Thomas Anderson in Hard Eight, Boogie Nights seemed to seal a long-term partnership between the two.
Anderson offers an accurate portrayal of the depravity of the ’70s, evoking memories of when he grew up in California. The movie nearly got an NC-17 rating due to its graphic depiction of the adult film industry, showing that Anderson didn’t skimp on resources to portray the liberal aspects of that era.
Boogie Nights captures the freedom and the ideals of a defining time but also takes its time to address how easily dreams can be crushed by LA’s ever-changing scene. Boogie Nights‘ characters, including Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty, are always on the move, but not all of them manage to keep up.
More: 10 Facts Fans May Not Know About Paul Thomas Anderson’s Movies