Top 5 Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman was a chameleon. As evidenced by the different roles we all picked, there are performances he gave that are fantastic, and ones that are great because they spoke to something within us. We honor Hoffman on the anniversary of his death with our top 5 Philip Seymour Hoffman performances.


Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies of all time, and a key reason is Hoffman’s performance as Creem magazine founder Lester Bangs. Bangs is the type of guy any aspiring writer wishes they were, yet never wants to be. He’s a drunken, drugged out lout who “stays up late” and acknowledges how “uncool” he is. For him, the party and whimsy of rock writing is done, yet he finds some of that magic in the eyes of William Miller (Patrick Fugit). This is one of many roles I think Hoffman deserved an Oscar for because he plays the character as such a melancholic sad sack, but one you want to be around. He situates Lester as a relic of a time gone by, but one who possesses all the stories of the era. Hoffman always looked like a man who was born too late, and playing Lester Bangs shows he was always right at home in the ’70s.

Boogie Nights (1997)

Where Lester Bangs is a fun character hiding beneath a veneer of melancholia, Hoffman’s role as Scotty J. in the porncentric Boogie Nights is melancholia bathed in a pathetic shell of a human. Scotty J wants so desperately to be accepted, by the directors, by society, and especially by Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. Hoffman’s characters could be slovenly louts, but none of them felt as painfully awkward as Scotty J. When he shows off his car to Dirk – one he’s only bought to be impressive – before going in for an ill-timed kiss, it’s cringy because Dirk has never had an interest.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Hoffman had several modes in his career and I always enjoyed when he played utterly annoying. As Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Hoffman reminds you of the friend you hang out with simply to annoy others. Hoffman never hides the contempt his character feels for Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley. He needles Tom endlessly, particularly by pointing out Ripley’s increasingly growing attraction to their mutual friend Dickie (Jude Law). By the time Freddie meets his demise, you’re saddened that Ripley has removed another obstacle in his path to reinventing himself, but relieved that this douchey character got his comeuppance. The mark of a great villain, I say!

25th Hour (2002)

Spike Lee’s searing tribute to New York City post-9/11, 25th Hour is an actor’s showcase. As English teacher Jacob Ellinsky, Hoffman returns to pathetic mode. In this case, he’s a loveable loser who finds himself blurring boundaries with a student, played by Anna Paquin. I’m a sucker for actors playing teachers, and Hoffman definitely conveys the type of teacher I appreciate: one who understands his student’s potential, and is just young enough to understand their problems. (It probably doesn’t help that Hoffman’s character reminds me a lot of my high school journalism teacher, creepiness excluded.) He’s the chubby weakling in the trio of friends that includes Edward Norton’s brash Monty and Barry Pepper’s flirtatious Francis. Though Hoffman’s character doesn’t get the sendoff that Norton’s does, you remember Hoffman for being the one person trying to make good where his friends have taken easy routes out.

Twister (1996)

This is the role that was, for most of us, our first experience with Philip Seymour Hoffman. As the loud, garish Dusty he made himself known in a movie that boasts several twisters and Bill Paxton saving lives with a J.C. Penney’s necktie. I can’t say there’s anything particularly nuanced or affecting with this role, but it’s a fun movie and he’s certainly fun in it.



Honestly, I have to co-sign on all of Kristen’s five. But because Philip Seymour Hoffman is so amazing and important to my love of film, I decided to pick a completely different five because he’s just that good. It breaks my heart that there will never be another film from PSH. Here are five of my favorites and no, they are not in any particular order.

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

I’m going to admit something here. After M:I 2, I kinda thought the Mission: Impossible franchise was dead which made me sad because of…you know…that particular star. But then J,J. Abrams came along six years later with a whole new film and it was awesome. And, yes, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is part of why. BUT, another huge part of why three worked so well was Philip Seymour Hoffman as the super awesome villain Owen Davian. I mean, is there anything more terrifying than this guy sitting down in front of you and saying, “I put a charge in your head.” No, there’s not. He’s just so calm as he promises death. It’s delicious and he was the most memorable villain of the franchise.

Doubt (2008)

To this day my friend and I still argue over whether or not he was guilty. Even though this is really Meryl Streep’s movie, Hoffman is just so compelling to watch as Father Flynn. Given the historical period in which it takes place and the events depicted, Flynn’s guilt seems pretty obvious. But PSH is just so damned likable that you really want him to be innocent. The scene where he and Sister Aloysius are just talking? It’s gold.

Capote (2005)

And speaking of gold, the film that won him an Oscar the first time he was nominated. Hoffman had already been considered talented. But what he did as Truman Capote was  something completely new. He was so great in this film; I left the theater and drove straight to a book store to buy In Cold Blood. He hit the right beats of humor. He was exactly as dramatic as he needed to be. Capote was someone who could easily have been turned into a caricature, but Hoffman gave him heart and purpose and struggles. He humanized a man whose memory had, in many ways, been forgotten.

Along Came Polly (2004)

I will not apologize for loving PSH in this weird rom-com. Yes, this film dates back to when he was most reliable as the annoying best friend. But you know what? That annoying best friend always got the best lines. And in this case, he taught me a new vocabulary word that also doubles as being a perfect excuse to leave a party.

Magnolia (1999)

It is a COINCIDENCE that two of my favorite PSH performances also happen to be Tom Cruise films. Or is it? Yes, yes it is. But, honestly, when I think about Magnolia, Hoffman really is one of the standout parts of it. Probably because he’s one of the only characters in the film who is likable. It’s a subdued role, especially when this is a film that showcases the talents of Cruise (who was nominated for an Oscar for it), and Jason Robards, and Philip Baker Hall and William H. Macy. It’s a great cast, and I’m glad PSH got to be a part of it. And that he got to be a decent guy that was, really, the heart of the film.



Capote (2005)

Capote came out during the time of the dueling Capotes – Philip Seymour Hoffman took the lead on this one, while Toby Jones made his mark as the author in Infamous. Capote earned Hoffman an Oscar, and a well-deserved one, too. His Truman Capote is a combination of sympathetic and venal, an author using his clout to get the story for In Cold Blood out of the men who perpetrated the crime. The tension between Hoffman and Clifton Collins, Jr., who plays Perry Smith, is an interplay of psychosexual attraction. It’s very easy to like Capote and very easy to hate him, so often the essence of Hoffman’s performances.

Doubt (2008)

As with Capote, it’s hard to make up your mind about Hoffman’s Father Flynn. Is he just a kindly priest, taking a Catholic school’s only black pupil under his wing? Or is he a possible predator, as Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius claims, exploiting a boy he should be protecting? Again, Hoffman’s bonhomie acts in conflict with Streep’s harshness, though it’s never really clear where guilt or innocence lies. It’s one of Hoffman’s best and probably most understated performances, made even better when you realize that he’s sharing the screen with some very formidable actresses.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

I’ve never understood why this film came and went with so little attention. It’s a strong post-9/11 thriller, with Hoffman in the lead as a basically decent spy who, in true John Le Carre fashion, gets wound up further in the ethical quandaries of the game than is strictly good for him. Hoffman is a very solid, reliable presence here, nothing showy, but with an emotional weight that cuts to the core of the film’s complex moralities.

The Master (2012)

The Master is one of those films where I love the performances, even if I don’t particularly like the film itself. Hoffman is excellent as not-L. Ron Hubbard, yet another charming and creepy charlatan who believes more of what he’s selling than one at first imagines. He’s so easy to buy as the leader of a cult – he has an easy-going charm, a con man’s smile, and a zealot’s intensity.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Again, while I don’t particularly like the film as a whole; Hoffman is one of the few actors in The Talented Mr. Ripley who perfectly matches his book counterpart. It’s a small role, but an effective one, even grotesquely comical, and so perfectly in keeping with Highsmith’s wicked sense of humor that I wish the surrounding film managed the same thing.



I’m not a Philip Seymour Hoffman efficianado… to an almost embarrassing level. Do I have anything against him? Not at all! In preparing for this piece, I realized how little I know about the performer’s work.

Capote (2005)

By far and away, my favorite entry to Hoffman’s work. As a character (and a man) Truman Capote is such a challenge, and Hoffman hit it out of the park.

The Ides of March (2011)

A little political drama which didn’t quite meet the hype it should have. Hoffman appears against the always good Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.

Twister (1996)

Sorry, not sorry, this film is part of my childhood. The film also stars the always amazing (and also profoundly missed) Bill Paxton.

Almost Famous (2000)

A film I was late to the party in seeing. The adorable Cameron Crowe gem has quickly became a contemporary classic.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

A beautiful, visually stunning film. This movie proved such a force and jump-started a ton of careers.

1 Comment

  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman was brilliant in every movie he was in. He is the best contemporary actor and one of the best actors of all time–IMHO. It’s difficult to rank his performances, I know. Two of my favorite are not listed here e.g., Before the Devil Knows Your Dead and Hard Eight. In Hard Eight, he has only a bit part, but it is perfect. He stands out, proving the old adage, “there are no small parts, only small actors”, true. Great post. RIP to one of the greats.


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