Born in 1937, actor Dustin Hoffman has, over the past five decades, proved that you don’t have to be conventionally attractive to be a movie star. In a way, he gave rise to some of the more left of centre actors and actresses out there working today.
Originally wanting to pursue a career as a pianist but flunking out of college due to bad grades, Hoffman instead decided on a career in acting and was, as the old saying goes, ‘bitten by the acting bug’.
Over time, he has become celebrated as one of the most versatile of actors. A huge proponent of the Method style of acting, he has illustrated time and again an innate ability to get into the skin of the characters he plays, whether they be aimless twentysomethings, crippled street hustlers, parents trying to be better men and fathers or, in the case of his sterling performance in the 1988 film “Rain Man”, an autistic savant.
Similar to Meryl Street, Hoffman’s style and approach to the art form can divide people wildly. Notorious for being difficult to work with, as a viewer, one either surrenders themselves to his performances or can find them incredibly mannered, almost expecting him to break the fourth wall, look at the camera and scream ‘look at me. I’m acting!’. This is one of the aspects of Hoffman that makes him such a fascinating on-screen presence.
There exists a famous anecdote about Hoffman from the set of the 1976 John Schlesinger film “Marathon Man”. To get into character for a particular scene, Hoffman stayed up all night beforehand. When complaining about this on set, fellow co-star Sir Laurence Olivier, a man not known for his tolerance of the Method style of acting, quipped “For God’s sake, dear boy. Why don’t you just act”. This was a classic example of the old clashing with the new with regards to how different actors approached their craft.
Here are twenty films involving Mr Dustin Hoffman that are very much worth your time.
20. Meet The Fockers (2004) Directed by Jay Roach
In a rather inspired move, Hoffman plays Bernie Focker, father of the main character played by Ben Stiller in this rather decent sequel to the surprise smash hit original.
Part of the joy of Hoffman in this film is watching the way he bounces off fellow co-star Barbara Streisand, who plays his on-screen spouse. In what could, at times, be a sequel that regurgitates wholesale sequences from the previous film, Hoffman really lifted the scenes in which he featured.
19. Quartet (2012) Directed by Dustin Hoffman
Leaving it late in his career, Hoffman made the shift to the other side of the camera with the delightful “Quartet”. Filming a very English take on getting old, his cast features some of the greats such as Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly and Tom Courtney.
A tale of a retirement home for classical musicians, it is a gentle and restrained effort from Hoffman, the director. He elicits some wonderful performances from his cast, no doubt a strong by-product of being in front of the camera all these years.
While a bit slight, “Quartet” is nonetheless an incredibly pleasant and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
18. Death Of A Salesman (1985) Directed by Volker Schlondorff
A TV movie, this saw Hoffman in electrifying form in what is considered one of the greatest American stories ever told. Based on the iconic work by author and playwright Arthur Miller, this is a searing and philosophical look at what it means to be a man. Hoffman, as Wily Loman, puts forward an energy and passion that one doesn’t always see in his work.
This is a classic case of the actor making a strong and unbreakable connection with the material, for all to see on screen. He is matched by an equally powerful John Malkovich (in an early performance) as Wily’s estranged son Biff.
A classic story beautifully told. This is an essential item in the Hoffman back catalogue.
17. Straight Time (1978) Directed by Ulu Grosbard
Based on the writings of former prisoner Eddie Bunker, best known to cinema goers as Mr Blue from Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film “Reservoir Dogs”, this sees Hoffman playing Max Dembo, a recently released criminal attempting to leave his less than stellar past behind him and go straight.
Nowhere near as successful at the box office as it should have been, “Straight Time” is a pertinent story that will exist throughout time: namely, that we might be done with the past, but the past isn’t necessarily done with us.
In a rather complex performance, Hoffman really shines in depicting a character that we initially feel sympathy and empathy for but that, as the narrative runs its course, start to feel the polar opposite towards. This, like “John And Mary”, is a Hoffman curio that is well worth hunting down and your time.
16. Outbreak (1995) Directed by Wolfgang Peterson
Proving that he can lead a big, mainstream action film, Hoffman leads a team of scientists and military personnel in a fight against a killer virus that threatens to wipe out the general populace of the world.
While at times pulpy and trashy, “Outbreak” has the added advantage of its director, German Wolfgang Peterson. Most famous for the remarkable “Das Boot” from 1981, he parlayed his remarkable skills in creating on-screen mayhem into a highly successful Hollywood career.
What sets him apart from the likes of Roland Emerich and Michael Bay is that he gives his characters the time of they; they aren’t there to be mere fodder. To that aid in “Outbreak”, he is aided significantly in this goal by actors such as Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland. Collectively, this give this a sense of personality, something Hoffman, in his on-screen persona, has always had in spades.
15. Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2006) Directed by Zach Helm
A throwback to those wonderful family films that were extremely popular in the mid to late-Eighties, this is a rather charming treat out of left field.
Hoffman plays the titular Mr Magorium, the owner of the most unusual toy shop you will ever find.
This is a gleefully inventive effort from writer/director Zach Helm, with whom Hoffman had worked previously on the film “Stranger Than Fiction”. “Mr Magorium” is utterly infectious in its energy and, at times, almost childlike innocence.
This is a film that will totally catch you off guard. More power to it for doing so.
14. I Heart Huckabees (2004) Directed by David O. Russell
Now here’s one truly out of the box. Hoffman, along with Lily Tomlin, play existential detectives trying to help people, in highly unorthodox and non-traditional ways, figure out who they are and what their place in the world is.
A challenging and deeply philosophical comedy from Russell, this is one of those films that has enough energy and ideas to run about ten more films! Hoffman proves he’s game for a challenge here, as does the rest of the cast.
While at times a bit too clever for its own good, “Huckabees” stands out for the simple fact that, in the cinematic landscape, there really is nothing else out there quite like it.
13. Moonlight Mile (2002) Directed by Brad Silberling
This is a criminally underrated gem. Partially inspired by the horrible murder of director Silberling’s girlfriend, actress Rebecca Shaeffer, this looks at the aftermath of a daughter being murdered and the effect on her parents and fiancée.
Where “Moonlight Mile” really hits its stride is depicting the emotional upheaval of those that are still here after this catastrophic event. Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman make a great on-screen couple, dealing with their sense of grief and loss in their own unique ways.
Soulful and moving, “Moonlight Mile” is one of those great films that, for some reason or another, slipped through the cracks.
12. Little Big Man (1970) Directed by Arthur Penn
Fresh of their mutual successes of, respectively, “Midnight Cowboy” and “Bonnie And Clyde”, actor Hoffman teamed up with director Arthur Penn to make the ambitious and wildly entertaining “Little Big Man”. This film posed a true acting challenge for Hoffman who, through the course of the epic story, ages from his early twenties to the age of one hundred and twenty-one! Via some superior make up work, Hoffman really fills out his character body and soul.
In flashback from an elder Jack Crabb (Hoffman), we hear of an extraordinary period of history that takes in the Civil War and is one with moments of comedy, excitement and tragedy. A film that, while held in strong regard has become somewhat lost over the years, “Little Big Man” is one that’s definitely worth hunting down.
11. Wag The Dog (1997) Directed by Barry Levinson
A sharp satire on politics, “Wag The Dog” proved to be incredibly timely, as American President Bill Clinton was experiencing, how shall we say, similar moments in his life to those depicted in the film.
Teaming with actor Robert De Niro for the first time, Hoffman plays a film producer given the task of creating fake war footage to distract the American public away from a sex scandal involving its president.
At times a bit wayward and trying to bite off more than it can chew, David Mamet’s scrip still hits many of its targets. “Wag The Dog” also features a wildly diverse cast, including Denis Leary, Kirsten Dunst, Woody Harrellson and Willie Nelson.
While not as angry and scabrous as it had the potential to be, “Wag The Dog” is still a great example of a film with a brain and a bone to pick with the world.