One of the great pleasures of the past Sundance film festival was screening A Most Wanted Man at the Eccles, on January 19. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Anton Corbijn’s taut adaptation of the Le Carré thriller is nothing short of exceptional, as we noted at the time, the sort of intense interpretation which was his hallmark, and now sadly his legacy: He is in almost every scene of that film and yet you want to see more of him!
Hoffman, 46, who was found dead in his New York apartment, was a five-time Golden Globe nominee and had won the Award for best actor in 2006 for his role in Capote. He was indisputably one of the greatest actors of his generation capable of channeling an emotional intensity unseen since the method greats of a generation prior. And yet this unassuming actor was versatile enough to be equally at home in leads and supporting roles; romantic comedies and action blockbusters, as well as indie films and absolute milestones of auteur cinema.
In the 90s he had roles in commercial films like The Getaway, When a Man Loves a Woman and Twister, sharing the screen with such actors as Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger. His collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson in Hard Eight and again in Boogie Nights afforded him the opportunity to employ his talent to the fullest and it quickly became apparent that we were witnessing the emergence of an uncommon actor. An appearance in the Coen Brother’s Big Lebowski was followed by a groundbreaking performance in Todd Solondz’s Happiness. His roles in PT Anderson’s Magnolia, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley and David Mamet’s State and Main established him definitively as perhaps the major talent of his generation.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association recognized his work with nominations in the Supporting Actor category for his work in Charlie Wilson’s War (2008), Doubt (2009) and The Master (2013). He was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy Or Musical for The Savages (2008). His win as Best Actor - Drama had come in 2006 for playing Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s Capote, a role that also earned him an Academy Award.
Beyond the accolades and all the deserved recognition we remember him gratefully today as an artist who possessed the ineffable power of transporting us with his craft, someone who gave us the gift of cinema and who sadly has left us much too soon.
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Philip Seymour Hoffman speaks to the audience at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2014. One of his last public appearances.