Jack Garner: Hoffman leaves his indelible art behind

08:15 AM, Feb 08, 2014

Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in Doubt. (File photo)/


Written By Jack Garner

In the midst of our grief over the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, we recognize the welcome gift of lasting art. Claude Monet may be long gone, but we can enjoy those amazing water lilies. Duke Ellington is in the grave, but “Mood Indigo” plays on. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are no longer with us, but “we’ll always have Paris.”

Art lives on.

So, when Fred Astaire died, I wrote that he’d still be dancing in my living room. Now it’s also true that Phil Hoffman will bring his fascinating array of film characters to life on my flat screen. Ah, but what films are my favorites? With Phil, that was never an easy question; no matter the film, he was always good. Always.

Still, we all have favorites, and these are mine:

Capote. This was his Oscar winner; an astonishing performance of great daring, creating a character that could have been laughable or unbelievable. Instead, Hoffman made him utterly real and fascinating. And he even managed to make us believe the large Hoffman as the tiny Capote.

Charlie Wilson’s War. With Hoffman’s funny, electrifying portrayal of a CIA operative who doesn’t feel he’s getting his due respect from his superiors.

Doubt. His portrait of a priest under suspicion achieves the fine balance that allows the story’s did-he-or-didn’t-he thread to work.

The Master. A dark and strange film with Hoffman as a brilliant, charismatic leader who struggles with the one man (Joaquin Phoenix) he can’t seem to win over.

Boogie Nights. An early Paul Thomas Anderson gem, with Hoffman as a sad loser on a porn film crew who can’t control his passion for the leading man.

Almost Famous. A film about the world of rock ‘n’ roll in which his portrait of an experienced critic anchors the film, with honesty and pointed integrity.

Owning Mahoney. A lesser-known Canadian gem with Hoffman giving us the downward spiral of a doomed gambling addict.

Flawless. A wonderful two-character drama with Robert De Niro as a homophobic cop who has suffered a stroke, and must seek help with speech through singing lessons from a drag queen (Hoffman). Hoffman is a most unlikely, and yet absolutely perfect, drag queen.

Magnolia. Another quirky Paul Thomas Anderson drama (famous for the raining down of frogs). Hoffman plays a bedside aide — a virtual guardian angel —— to a dying Jason Robards.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The last film in the illustrious career of the great Sidney Lumet, Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play hustling brothers who plan the robbery of their own father’s jewelry store, leading to shattering results.

The Big Lebowski. In this legendary Coen brothers comedy Hoffman plays a rather sedate character, an assistant to a millionaire. He’s an oasis of calm amid a parade of eccentricities.

The Talented Mr. Ripley. In this opulent Anthony Minghella adaptation of the European mystery, Hoffman is a colorful participant/observer.

Cold Mountain. The Civil War drama in which Hoffman’s defrocked, corrupt preacher electrifies every scene he’s in.

Mission: Impossible III. One of Hoffman’s few “popcorn” movies, he plays a superbly evil and steely arms dealer, opposite Tom Cruise.