The 20 Best Philip Seymour Hoffman Movie Performances

14. The Savages (2007) Directed by Tamara Jenkins

The Savages

“The Savages” is a spot on comedy-drama about two siblings (beautiful work from both Hoffman and his co-star Laura Linney) facing the demons of their shared past when they hear that their abusive father, whom they haven’t seen for twenty years, is unwell and that they have to take care of him.

This is an unflinching but never maudlin film that addresses the idea of long-term mental and spiritual dysfunction and how it affects the individuals in the family unit.

Again, the tangible connection that Hoffman and Linney, two actors that work exceptionally well together, really gives “The Savages” its power and emotional core to material that, in lesser hands, would be nothing more than a glorified TV Movie Of The Week.


13. Love Liza (2002) Directed by Todd Louiso

Love Liza

One of those affecting and haunting character pieces that occasionally slip under the radar, “Love Liza” is the directing debut from actor Todd Louiso. Hoffman brilliantly nails the character of Wilson Joel, a man whose wife unexpectedly commits suicide.

Reminiscent of those wonderful character based films of New Hollywood Cinema from the Seventies, Hoffman really shines here in one of the best performances of his career. As a viewer, you feel in your heart and bones Wilson’s plight, his emotions of being ‘lost’ in the world and his succumbing to petrol sniffing as a way of coping with his grief and loss.

Again, this is a compelling display of the way that Hoffman interacts with others onscreen. One of the most powerful elements of “Love Liza” is the inevitable showdown with his mother in law (a brilliant Kathy Bates). While not a film that will change the world, “Love Liza” is a striking drama that addresses issues and feelings that, as world citizens, we all can understand and identify with, but never in an over-sentimental or preachy manner. This in part goes back to the riveting and committed work from Hoffman.


12. Mary And Max (2009) Directed by Adam Elliot


One of the great joys of Hoffman as an artist is that he refused to be predictable. “Mary And Max” is a handmade Claymation film from Australian director Adam Elliot.

Set over a number of decades, the film depicts a long distance relationship (via letters) between the two most unlikely people-Mary, a young girl living in Australia and Max, a lonely pensioner living in New York.

By turns funny, tender hearted, humanist, compassionate and emotionally devastating, this is another example of Hoffman losing himself in the character. Almost vocally unrecognisable, he conveys that sadness of a man whose life has passed by.

While dealing with some heavy and emotionally weighty issues, this is a film that refuses to be maudlin or depressing. No matter how bleak things become for out two main characters, there is always a glimmer of hope.

Definitely left of centre, “Mary And Max” is an eloquent, heartfelt and moving look at what it is to be human and how, as people, we need each other.


11. A Most Wanted Man (2014) Directed by Anton Corbijn

A Most Wanted Man

In photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn’s third film, in one of his final performances, Hoffman plays German counter intelligence agent Gunther Bachman, a decent man dealing with an indecent world around him.

Based on a novel by a master of the spy game genre, John Le Carre, “A Most Wanted Man” has a beautifully paced slow burn to it as a work. Quiet, subtle and never overplaying his part, Hoffman really captures the essence and being of this burnt out man who has nothing to offer the world but his work.

With no real friends or ‘life’ to speak of outside his professional capacities, this is a character that’s not a million miles away from another of Le Carre’s most famous characters, George Smiley, one that was captured perfectly by an exceptional Gary Oldman in Tomas Alfredson’s striking take on “Tinker Tailor Solder Spy” (2011).

This was an accomplished, dignified and wonderfully modulated performance from Hoffman.


10. The Big Lebowski (1998) Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

PSH Big Lebowski

In this totally absurdist and almost Byzantium comedy from The Coen Brothers, made hot off the heels on the film that really introduced them to the world, the 1995 work “Fargo”, Hoffman plays Brandt, the voice of reason in a world gone loopy and possibly the most ‘normal’ character in this rich and truly unique work.

Again, like Steve Buscemi before him, The Coen Brothers have a particular knack for using actors in small roles to help paint a portrait and snapshot of a particular world and milieu. This is no exception, aided by a wonderfully spot on performance from Hoffman.


9. Happiness (1998) Directed by Todd Solondz


In this corrosive, abrasive and highly challenging work from director Todd Solondz, Hoffman plays Allen, sweaty, overweight and struggling to make sense of the world around him and what it all means, much like the other characters he comes into contact with over the course of this charged, confronting and, at times, remarkably disturbing piece of independent cinema, only the second film from this director after his powerful debut in 1995, “Welcome To The Dollhouse”.

This is one of those films that comes along every so often that redefines the expression ‘acquired taste’. Hoffman, like the rest of the cast that includes Lara Flynn Boyle, Jon Lovitz, Ben Gazzara, Louise Lasser, Jane Adams and, in the most challenging of roles, fantastic character actor Dylan Baker, “Happiness”, gleefully revealing in the irony of its title, this is a work you’ll either love or hate.


8. Boogie Nights (1997) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

psh boogie nights

Having had a small scene in Anderson’s debut film “Hard Eight” (AKA “Sydney”), this is where Hoffman really made his presence in cinema felt. A wildly ambitious and accomplished second film for Anderson, Hoffman plays Scotty J, part of the film crew of porn producer/director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds in a gem of a late career performance).

One of those films with a large canvas to it, the genius of both Anderson and Hoffman is that, like “Along Came Polly”, a character that could quite easily be relegated to the sidelines and serve as human furniture in the hands of a lesser director is given a vivid sense of being. A small role in a vast and complex film, this was to lead to an ongoing and incredibly successful collaboration between actor and director.