14 essential performances by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman

This morning began early for me with a soccer practice for Toshi, and when I walked into the house around noon, I had no idea anything had happened. Twenty seconds of looking at Twitter, though, immediately had me rushing to the e-mail to check, and sure enough, there was a long e-mail thread already being sent back and forth by the rest of the editorial staff of HitFix about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Even now, a few hours later, it seems surreal to me that he’s genuinely gone. I suspect it will take a while for it to seem real to me, especially since he’s still got a number of performances set to be released. As we discussed his passing this morning, we all had different performances and moments that we brought up, moments that meant so much to us.

While it’s impossible to articulate the loss that has occurred today, what we can do is offer up some thoughts on what his work meant to us. Even this feels like we’re just glancing over his remarkable filmography, just barely articulating the depth of what he expressed through his work over the years.

This is a guy who was intimately acquainted with pain and sorrow, and he was able to paint with a dense emotional palette. He could play a role like the lead in “Love Liza,” a guy burying his grief in substance abuse, just as easily as he could etch a memorable bad guy role in “Mission: Impossible III.” I’ve always loved his character in that film just because it was such an interesting riff on a cliche. In so many “Mission: Impossible” episodes, they’d have some poor schmuck get knocked out by the IMF team, and then one of them would make a mask of his ace and impersonate him to pull off some part of their plan. Hoffman played one of those guys who decided that he wasn’t going to let that sleight go unanswered. He finally gave voice to every poor extra who the heroes treated badly, and he played it like someone who refused to be anyone’s background player.

This gallery isn’t meant to be a definitive break-down of every single highlight in his career. That would, frankly, be impossible. Even in lesser films, he’s capable of delivering a scene or a moment or a line that stands out because of the truth behind it. Hoffman was, above all else, brutally honest in his work, and that just makes this morning feel even more painful.

I have no doubt that as long as we are still watching and sharing film as a medium, the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman will be part of that conversation.