Although Philip Seymour Hoffman had already been appearing in movies both good (Nobody's Fool) and bad (Scent of a Woman), it wasn't until 1997 that he really commanded my attention with his work in two movies by Paul Thomas Anderson: the masterpiece Boogie Nights and the criminally overlooked Hard Eight (in which he has a small part as a smarmy gambler). After that, I looked forward to all his performances, always wondering why he never received true breakout stardom. That finally happened, of course, when he won the Best Actor Oscar for 2005's Capote.
As a tribute to his passing this past weekend at the age of 46, I've narrowed down my list of favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman performances. Considering the depth of his talent, I'm sure others can come up with radically different lists, citing his turns in such films as Doubt, Synecdoche, New York, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Red Dragon, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia and more.
Boogie Nights (1997). As Scotty J., the pudgy crew member who has a crush on porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg).
Choice Moment: After he tries to kiss Dirk and gets rejected, his self-lambasting ("Fucking idiot!") is almost painful to watch.
The Big Lebowski (1998). As Brandt, the personal assistant to "The Big Lebowski" (David Huddleston).
Choice Moment: His priceless reaction to when Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) offers The Dude (Jeff Bridges) a blowjob for a thousand dollars. "Hahahaha! Wonderful woman. We're all - we're all very fond of her. Very free-spirited."
Happiness (1998). As Allen, a pervert who enjoys making obscene phone calls.
Choice Moment: When he finally meets one of his targets, his hot-to-trot neighbor Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle), only to be told that he's not her type.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). As American ex-pat Freddie Miles, wining and wooing his way through Europe.
Choice Moment: As Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) spies on Dickie (Jude Law) and Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) as they make out on Dickie's yacht, Freddie mischievously purrs, "Tommy, how's the peeping? Tommy. How's the peeping, Tommy? Tommy. Tommy. Tommy."
Almost Famous (2000). As legendary rock critic Lester Bangs.
Choice Moment: Explaining to eager young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) why he absolutely cannot become friends with the musicians that he's interviewing, and to avoid their pandering for favor. "They make you feel cool. And I met you; you're not cool."
Capote (2005). In his Oscar-winning performance as author Truman Capote.
Choice Moment: Plenty from which to choose, although his scenes with Catherine Keener as author Harper Lee were especially engaging.
Mission: Impossible III (2006). As arms dealer Owen Davian.
Choice Moment: Owen's intense interrogation of IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Plus, his line to Ethan, "You hung me out of a plane. You can always tell a lot about a person's character by how they treat people they don't have to treat well."
The Savages (2007). As theater professor Jon Savage, who, along with his sister Wendy (Laura Linney), must take care of their ailing - and loathsome - father (Philip Bosco).
Choice Moment: His impassioned rant about the true nature of assisted-living homes for seniors.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007). In his Oscar-nominated performance as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, who aided Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) in his crusade to help the Afghans against the invading Soviets.
Choice Moment: With scripter Aaron Sorkin's acerbic quips flying out of his mouth left and right, take your pick.
The Master (2012). In his Oscar-nominated performance as Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic head of a cult called The Cause.
Choice Moment: His testy argument with a party guest (Christopher Evan Welch) who challenges his views, punctuated by calling the man a "pig fuck."