10. Kramer Vs Kramer (1979) Directed by Robert Benton
Sensitively directed by Benton, this was a powerful drama that looked at one of the key issues of late-Seventies America: Divorce. Hoffman plays a driven advertising executive whose unhappy wife (Meryl Streep) walks out him unexpectedly, leaving him to father a son he hardly knows (Justin Henry).
A man forced by circumstances to change his ways, Hoffman creates a haunting portrait of this character. The evolution of the relationship between father and son is never forced, realistic and quite moving, especially given the final revelations of the story.
At times, this can be somewhat like a TV movie about a ‘hot topic’. However, the superlative acting from the cast, especially from Hoffman (his first Oscar winning performance for Best Actor), really raise the material to a strong height. “Kramer Vs Kramer” remains a benchmark example on how to tackle a topic that has resonance in the real world.
9. All The President’s Men (1976) Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Ripped from recent headlines, those pertaining to the 1972 Watergate scandal that lead to the impeachment of then-U.S. President Richard Nixon, “All The President’s Men” takes what could have been somewhat dry subject matter, the work by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to expose the truth to the world of what happened, and infuses it with a vitality and urgency.
An angry and focussed comment on what was happening in America in the Seventies, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman created a strong chemistry between the two of them as two men outraged by what was going on around them and, like the rest of the world, determined to work their way through the double speak and red tape that hid the reality.
An excellent film, this is a great place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Dustin Hoffman.
8. Tootsie (1982) Directed by Sydney Pollock
Mercilessly taking the mickey out of his somewhat ‘difficult’ reputation as an actor, Hoffman creates one of the yardstick roles of his career in the extremely funny “Tootsie”. He plays Michael Dorsey, a struggling and desperate out of work actor who ends up going to an absolute extreme to secure a role: dressing up as a woman and becoming Dorothy Michaels.
Michaels becomes a superstar in a soap opera and a feminist icon for women everywhere. The irony and loaded situation is nothing short of delicious, particularly with the brilliant writing the film possesses. Hoffman again totally throws himself into the role. The scene where, on live television, he reveals his true self is one for the ages. “Tootsie” is Hollywood comedy at its finest.
7. Marathon Man (1976) Directed by John Schlesinger
Once again teaming up with his “Midnight Cowboy” director, Hoffman plays a history graduate who increasingly finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A story involving stolen diamonds, crooked FBI agents and an unflinching, sadistic Nazi war criminal, “Marathon Man” does and excellent job at depicting the uncertainty and paranoia that ran through middle America in the Seventies, particularly in the aftermath of president Richard Nixon’s impeachment and the somewhat gutless government that immediately followed.
This film also represented a complete clash of acting styles between Hoffman and Sir Laurance Olivier. However, this is a rare case where that clash created brilliance rather than chaos and disorder onscreen. One particular scene nails this attitude and train of thought to a spectacular degree. It’s the singular reason why there’s a whole generation of movie goers out there that are scared of the dentist!
6. Papillon (1973) Directed by Franklin J. Schnaffer
Depicting the plight of prisoners on the infamous Devil’s Island, “Papillon” is a vivid, strongly handled portrayal of men in isolation from the world around them. Steve Mc Queen plays the title role, a prisoner determined to escape his physical surrounds and the fate that has been handed him. Hoffman plays Luis Dega, a famous forgerer imprisoned on the same island.
Where the film excels is at depicting the friendship that forms between Papillon and Dega. Effective and, at times, touching, it shows how, as people, we need each other, no matter what the circumstances may be. Epic yet intimate at the same time, this was a quality in cinema that Schnaffer (“Patton”/”Planet Of The Apes”) excelled in. He also had an uncanny ability to elicit fantastic performances from his actors. This 1973 film is no exception.
5. The Graduate (1967) Directed by Mike Nichols
A film that spoke to an entire generation, “The Graduate”, directed by then second time director Mike Nichols, was the film that catapulted Hoffman to stardom. It proved to be quite radical upon release for a number of reasons. With his short stature and physical presence, Hoffman was the antithesis of the ‘pretty boy’ look personified by the likes of Robert Redford that the producers were after.
Watching Hoffman as Ben Braddock, one really identifies and sympathises with this lost and lonely soul, unsure of what to do with his life. Aided by Buck Henry’s brilliant script, Hoffman really nailed the everyman quality that millions of people in the world, particularly the young, feel when trying to determine where their lives are going. Earning Hoffman and Best Actor nomination at the Oscars, this proved to be an auspicious start to his career.
4. Lenny (1974) Directed by Bob Fosse
Shot in stark black and white, “Lenny” is one of only five films made by director Bob Fosse. This is a striking, brutally honest biography on comedian Lenny Bruce, a man who was at the absolute forefront of freedom of expression issues in Fifties America.
Hoffman, sporting a full beard, is nothing short of electrifying as Bruce. Driven, manic and fiercely intelligent, Bruce was a larger than life character that, in many respects, is one of the people responsible for shaping the world as we know it today. Hoffman truly throws himself into this role body, mind and soul. I honestly think it would have been only half the film it is without him.
3. Midnight Cowboy (1969) Directed by John Schlesinger
Sick of being cast as a nice young adult, this is where Hoffman really stated to shine in regards to his versatility as an actor. Almost unrecognisable as crippled street hustler Enrico “Ratso” Rizzo, Hoffman put forward one of the most forceful and iconic performances in the history of cinema.
Directed by British native Schlesinger, “Midnight Cowboy” is a remarkable example of an outsider looking in at America. This is film that takes an unblinking and highly critical look at the lower depths of life in this country, taking in those that are barely surviving from day to day.
A brave, ballsy and lacerating look at urban alienation and loneliness, this benefits to a spectacular degree from its two lead performances from Hoffman and Jon Voight.
The one and only ‘X’ rated film (later downgraded to an ‘R’) to win a Best Picture Oscar, “Midnight Cowboy” is a searing, powerful compelling and unforgettable work.
2. Rain Man (1988) Directed by Barry Levinson
Two years in the making, Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man” is a finely turned character drama. Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbit, a wheeler-dealer only looking after himself and his own interests. Dustin Hoffman plays his long-lost autistic savant brother Raymond, who Charlie discovers via his father’s will.
The magic of this film lies in watching these two characters form a relationship and how the bond that forms will change them as people. Hoffman is at the absolute, Oscar winning top of his game here. Apparently, he spent a vast amount of time with handicapped people, absorbing their traits and characteristics.
This is no mere ‘performance’. Hoffman really gets you into the skin and being of Raymond and creates a truly unforgettable character in “Rain Man”.
1. Straw Dogs (1971) Directed by Sam Peckenpah
Sam Peckenpah’s “Straw Dogs” would prove to be one of the most challenging and controversial films of early Seventies cinema. Not normally the film that Hoffman would do (in his words, he only took the role for the money), he stars as mild mannered American mathematician David Sumner. Convinced by his British wife Amy (Susan George) to relocate to her small home town in England, his different perspective and point of view towards life clashes immediately with the men of this town.
A man pushed to his limits by the elements around him, Hoffman really nails the anguish and the idea of the ‘dark side of the man’ that lurks within all of us. “Straw Dogs” is a film that will leave scars and incision marks on your soul. With a then wildly uneven quality to his films and a strong dependence on drugs and alcohol, Peckenpah would, in the form of this film, aided by a pitch perfect performance from Hoffman, create a shocking, intensely confronting piece of cinema for the ages.