ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
Chosen by: Mark Dinning, Editor
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool…” So says Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical Almost Famous.
Crowe’s movie remains a woozy and wonderful love letter to his early days documenting his rock ‘n’ roll heroes, and Hoffman’s glorious, acerbically warm performance as his rock-journalist/Beat poet mentor Bangs remains an indelible piece of casting – both his and Bangs’ surface scruffiness belying the razor sharp lines of wit and wisdom that always lay beneath.
The bankrupt world benefitted greatly from Hoffman’s sharing of his unquestionable talent, fuelled largely by his own insecurity. “If I don’t get an absolute feel for the material then it’s just not worth doing,” he once said of choosing scripts. “If I commit to something I am committing to putting a piece of me out there. If that piece isn’t going to be all it can be then it isn’t worth the risk.”
He was right, of course. There’s a permanence to film performances that has always made them as terrifying as they are tempting. And Hoffman’s record is proud testament to both his taste and his talent. Or, as his Bangs puts it: “Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love…” And amen to that.
Chosen by: Ian Freer, Assistant Editor
Clearly Dustin ‘Dusty' Davis, the manic storm chaser in Twister, is the not the apotheosis of Hoffman’s talent, but it does shine a chink of light on one of his great gifts. It might be difficult to remember now, but for years Hoffman was That Guy From That Thing and the energy and commitment he brought to Dusty — watch him shout “It’s a wonder of nature, baby”, then wig out to Deep Purple — was typical of his ability to add an edge and vitality to potentially bland supporting roles or comic relief. Big studio movies never really figured out what to do with Hoffman’s singular talent in chunkier roles, but his ability to outshine big names and bigger visual effects is to be cherished. A wonder of nature indeed.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
Chosen by: Amar Vijay, Creative Director (Online)
Obviously, The Big Lebowski is an amazing film with indelible characters. But outside the main trio of Bridges, Goodman and Buscemi, it’s Hoffman’s uptight Brandt, encapsulating the perfect yes-man employed by the “other” Lebowski, who stands out for me as one of the greatest in the pantheon of minor Coen characters.
In his few scenes, Hoffman delivers the perfect amount of smarm. He comes across as a most annoyingly loyal employee, displays freakishly OCD tendencies and finally shows a dash of childish embarrassment when dealing with unsavoury conversations. The moment when he first meets The Dude, before allowing the perma-bathrobed one a meeting with his boss, is note-perfect, showing off his immense talent and heightening those vast lifestyle differences between The Dude and Brandt in two perfect minutes.