A decade ago, only the hippest movie aficionados could have told you who Philip Seymour Hoffman was. Today, he's one of the most admired and recognized character actors in Hollywood. He earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his tour-de-force performance as the title character in Capote, and was nominated for the blustery government agent he played in Charlie Wilson's War. He has about three dozen feature films under his belt. How could anyone possibly choose his three best and three worst performances? You're about to find out.
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Top 3
1) Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Hoffman's gift is for playing sniveling, whiny characters -- even despicable ones -- that we can secretly relate to. This performance, as a greedy, drug-addicted man who plots with his brother to rob their parents' jewelry store, is a prime example. Hoffman makes us relate to him and even sympathize a little -- but we'd never want to admit how much of ourselves we see in him.
2) Capote. Part of what made this performance special was that the character was so different from the people Hoffman usually plays. Truman Capote was refined and well put-together, not an effete slob like so many of Hoffman's other roles. Furthermore, Capote was a real person, and Hoffman managed to impersonate him with uncanny accuracy in addition to making him three-dimensional and genuine.
3) Boogie Nights. Could there be a sadder job than production assistant on a porn film? And could there be a sadder situation than being gay and having a crush on the straight male lead of the porn film? And could anyone be better at conveying the awkwardness, desperation and self-loathing of such a character than Hoffman?
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Bottom 3
1) Along Came Polly. This forgettable Ben Stiller comedy (clearly an attempt to duplicate the magic of There's Something About Mary and Meet the Parents) co-starred a terribly miscast Hoffman as Stiller's slacker best friend. Hoffman managed to wring some laughs out of it, but I could never shake the feeling that he was impersonating Jack Black, who should have played the role in the first place.
2) Patch Adams. This is a terrible film anyway (as I've noted elsewhere), and Hoffman is reduced to playing Robin Williams' stereotypical buttoned-down roommate who must eventually come to love Patch's insufferable clowning. Ugh.
3) Twister. Like Patch Adams, this role came fairly early in Hoffman's career, during the phase when you'll take pretty much any job you can get. He plays a smart-aleck tornado chaser and gives the generic, useless character no more attention than it deserves. His talents would be much better used in later years.