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Philip Seymour Hoffman's greatest film performances

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays author Truman Capote in

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays author Truman Capote in a scene from the film "Capote," for which Hoffman won the best actor Academy Award in 2006. (Credit: AP)

Philip Seymour Hoffman, dead at 46 of an apparent heroin overdose, was widely considered one of the best actors of the modern era. With a long resume of theatrical productions, films and awards, including a best actor Oscar, this was an actor whose future didn't seem merely promising, it seemed guaranteed. We’ve now lost countless astounding performances that Hoffman surely would have given, but here are a few that he left for all time.

"Happiness" (1998). Todd Solondz's taboo-breaking comedy offered Hoffman one of his most memorable roles, as Allen, a phone-sex fiend who crank calls his victims. Somehow, Hoffman made this pathetic, cowardly pervert rather likable, even when muttering obscenities to random women. When he finds one who likes it, you kind of hope it’ll work out.

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999). In Anthony Minghella’s glossy, creepy drama, fake playboy Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) finds his cover blown by a sneering acquaintance, Freddie Miles (Hoffman). Their cat-and-mouse dialogue, and Hoffman’s deeply contemptuous tone -- “You’re a quick study, aren’t you?” -- make this scene almost unbearably tense.


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"Punch-Drunk Love" (2002). Paul Thomas Anderson's surreal drama, starring an unlikely Adam Sandler, got a brief jolt of menace from Hoffman as Dean Trumbell, the owner of a mattress store who fancies himself some kind of violent kingpin. His shaky standoff with an equally unhinged Sandler shows how adept Hoffman was at navigating even the oddest scenes without missing a beat.

"Capote" (2005). Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote during the writing of “In Cold Blood” in this film by Bennett Miller. It’s a great example of the actor’s ability to mimic (Hoffman even appears to control the cartiledge in his nose) but also find the subtler depths in a role.

"Mission: Impossible III" (2006). Franchise hero Tom Cruise met his match in Hoffman as the arms-dealing villain Owen Davian. If this particular entry in the series has gone down as little-loved, it might be because Hoffman’s nihilistic intensity, his palpable rage, unsettled audiences who just wanted a fun, faux-Bond film.

"The Savages" (2007). Hoffman seemed to find an acting soulmate in Laura Linney when the two starred in this small-scale drama about a brother and sister caring for an aging parent (Philip Bosco). It’s a high-water mark for the two leads, and some of the finest acting you'll ever see.

"Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead" (2007). Body-wise, Hoffman was no Hugh Jackman, yet in this crime drama (directed by Sidney Lumet) he wasn't afraid to let it all hang out. In fact, his nude scene with Marisa Tomei is one of the first visuals in the film. Hoffman looks comfortable, casual, even a tad arrogant – a purely physical performance that tells us all we need to know about his character.

"The Master" (2012). As Lancaster Dodd, a thinly veiled version of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Hoffman turned in his best performance yet. Hoffman effortlessly blends a character of a thousand contradictions – dishonest, well-intentioned, wildly hedonistic, nobly ascetic – into one seamless, convincing whole. He also spends much of his screen time with one of the few actors who might be his equal: Joaquin Phoenix.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013). By now, Hoffman had attained a certain Hoffman-ness, and here he used his persona to good effect. As Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, Hoffman is one of the few grown-ups in this sci-fi franchise without a goofy costume or elaborate makeup; instead, he looks and acts like the shrewd politico he played in “The Ides of March.” His presence gives the movie a jolt of intelligence and real-world urgency. His scenes in the sequel are expected to remain.

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