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Philip Seymour Hoffman was a bravura actor who made his pain a timeless expression of us all

I’ll never forget the moment I first sat up and took notice of Philip Seymour Hoffman — the moment that I knew I loved him as an actor and knew, as well, that he was a different kind of great actor from anyone I’d ever seen. It was the moment in Boogie Nights (1997) when Hoffman’s Scotty J., the boom-mike operator who has spent most of the film hanging around the sidelines of the porn set, a sweetly insecure dude in long red hair, his gut poking out of his ’70s tank tops, confesses to Dirk Diggler that he’s got a crush on him. This comes as news to Dirk — and news to the audience as well, since we didn’t know that Scotty was gay, because it’s clearly something that he was hiding from the world. Drunk, and a little less shy because of it, Scotty shows Dirk his new sports car, which he thinks will impress him (it doesn’t), and he then tries to lay a smooch on him, which Dirk, in this paleo-days-of-gay-liberation era, thinks is beyond weird. But that’s the rejection that Scotty’s been living in terror of, and now that it’s happened, he breaks down. READ FULL STORY

Where have all the biopics gone?

A few years ago, the Hollywood biopic finally seemed to be coming of age. It was the fall of 2004 — a season that gave us not one but two of the most thrilling biographical dramas ever made, the jumpin’ and impassioned Ray and the bold and brilliant Kinsey. (No, that’s not Kinsey at left — it’s Woody Harrelson as Larry Flynt — though it’s probably a ménage he would have approved of.) The fact that these two movies came out within one month of each other was a coincidence, yet I marveled, at the time, at what they had in common: They were warts-and-all portraits that understood, in different ways, that they didn’t need to tidy up their heroes, didn’t need to soft-pedal their quirks and peccadilloes and, yes, their complex human failings. The flaws — like, say, Ray Charles’ promiscuity, his compulsion to juggle relationships as if they were simultaneous marriages — weren’t just part of what made these men fascinating; the flaws were part of what made them great. (Without Ray Charles’ outsize appetites, he would never have had the fearlessness to alchemize the godliness of gospel into the earthy fervor of rock & roll.)

One year later, Walk the Line, a solid if not quite as inspired movie, gave Johnny Cash the same open-eyed, scarred-soul, addiction-is-the-fuel-of-creativity treatment, and Capote created high drama out of the merciless, nearly spooky manipulation of his subjects that Truman Capote was willing to stoop to to create the world’s first nonfiction novel. And once again, audiences responded. The door to a freshly candid and exciting age of biopics had been swung, and propped, wide open. And then? Then, just about as quickly as it had arrived, the trend began to fizzle. Yes, in 2007, there was La Vie en Rose, and there are other examples here and there, but really: Where have all the biopics gone? By which I mean, the great ones. READ FULL STORY

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