Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead of an apparent drug overdose Sunday, was unquestionably one of the best actors of his generation.
Hoffman could be character actor or leading man, do serious dramas or summer blockbusters, play nice guy, bad guy and everyone in between.
He left behind dozens of great performances in the last two decades, so picking only a few as his “best” is a challenge. But here are what I believe to be his 10 most essential roles. Rewatching a few of these scenes has reminded me of the great talent we've lost.
“The Big Lebowski” (1998)
In only a few minutes of screen time, Hoffman makes a heck of an impression as Brandt, manservant to the millionaire “Big Lebowski” of the title.
Watch this hilarious scene in which Hoffman does the impossible: steals a scene from Jeff Bridges' “The Dude.”
In light of his death, Rolling Stone ran an unpublished 2008 interview with Hoffman about working on “The Big Lebowski.”
Hoffman was probably best known for his roles as weirdos and jerks, but he could also pull off nice guys. As a caretaker trying to reconnect a dying millionaire with his estranged son, Hoffman is the moral center of the film.
“State and Main” (2000)
In this David Mamet-directed satire of Hollywood, Hoffman plays the first-time screenwriter of a movie being filmed in a small town. Hoffman's writer is forced to make countless artistic compromises and is confronted with a third-act moral dilemma. Watching him try to stay decent in an industry of scumbags gives a cynical movie its beating heart.
“Almost Famous” (2000)
Another unforgettable Hoffman performance in which he only gets a few minutes of screen time. As revered music critic Lester Bangs, Hoffman got to show both ends of his spectrum: the lunatic and the soft-spoken sweetheart. His over-the-phone speech to the protagonist about the perks of being uncool serves as not only the thesis of “Almost Famous” but also Philip Seymour Hoffman's career.
“Owning Mahowny” (2003)
Probably the movie on the list you're most likely to not have seen. Hoffman plays a bank manager who steals money to fuel his quickly spiraling gambling addiction. The whole thing plays like a low-key thriller, with Hoffman going very small and quiet. His gambler/thief is so unassuming, it's entirely believable no one would expect him of doing the things he does.
The role that won him the Oscar for Best Actor. Not much to say about this one.
Here's his touching Oscar acceptance speech (in a year in which another great late actor, Heath Ledger, was nominated).
“Charlie Wilson's War” (2007)
His funniest role. Hoffman plays a frustrated CIA case officer who helps the titular Texas Congressman intervene in the Afghan-Soviet War. The movie is a mixed bag, but a few of Hoffman's scenes are mini masterpieces. Take this one (which has a lot of bad language in it, be warned), in which Hoffman's officer confronts a superior (played by John Slattery). YouTube
“Before the Devil Knows You're Dead” (2007)
If you saw director Sidney Lumet's final film (and got past that opening scene), you know it was a delightfully nasty piece of work, in which two down-on-their-luck brothers (Hoffman and an equally good Ethan Hawke) decide to rob their parents' jewelry store. Everything goes horribly wrong and then gets worse from there.
Hoffman managed to steal scenes from Jeff “The Dude” Bridges, and he did something even more extraordinary 10 years later. He held his own against Meryl Streep.
“The Master” (2012)
“The Master” is a spiky and unlikable film, as maddening as it is brilliant. But I think Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are good. Like all-time-great-performances-in-the-movies-ever good.