What's an Oscar year without Philip Seymour Hoffman being nominated for something? Ever since his 2005 win for Capote, he's been a staple for a 3rd row seat at the Kodak Theater. This year will be no different than any since - he'll nave him name called, they will show an out of context clip that will make fans say, "that was the worst scene to choose for him" and someone less deserving will make an acceptance speech while we check Twitter on our phones. We know this, it's fine. But not all is lost in what looks like another list of winners we could have guessed weeks ago. This is the first nomination for Philip Seymour Hoffman in a Paul Thomas Anderson film.
When following the production of a P.T.Anderson picture, there are a few key items that fans look for. Will the screenplay be original or adapted, who is the directory of photography, who is scoring the film, and most importantly, will Philip Seymour Hoffman be in the cast? 2008's There Will be Blood was the first, and now only, P.T. Anderson film that Hoffman was not in, though to be fair, with a powerhouse like Daniel Day Lincoln, there isn't much room for another big actor. What makes this team work so well is that Phil plays the perfect supporting role that makes the leads in Mr. Anderson's films shine on another level. Scotty J, the gay gaffer on set that makes a move on Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. Phil Parma, the nurse who gets a dying father back in touch with his long lost son, played by Mr. Hollywood himself, Tom Cruise in Magnolia. Dean, the crooked mattress salesman/phone sex pimp that only compliments the best performance of Adam Sander's career in Punch-Drunk Love. Which finally brings me to The Master. Joaquin Phoenix, best performance in the film (and of the year if you ask me), Amy Adams, a fantastic job where it's so easy to get lost in the hype of "the new Paul Thomas Anderson film", and our man Phil, his greatest work under this director.
The magic of of these performances, mainly Phoenix and Hoffman, come right from the screenplay. When Freddie Quell first means Lancaster Dodd, we are told that Dodd is the leader of "The Cause", a new movement to that looks to cure people by having them open themselves up of all their past traumas. And Freddie, well he's got a lot of trauma…fresh out of WW2 and getting drunk on anything under the kitchen sink (literally). The most dramatic and intense scene in ANY film this year is the Processing scene in The Master between Lancaster and Freddie (and if you say something out of Zero Dark Thirty is more intense, then the terrorists have won). As this scene goes on and Freddie starts to finally open up, Joaquin takes it up a notch by yelling, twisting his face in knots, and becoming hysterical, while Hoffman stays at home and exploits the difference in emotion and mental stability, proving that he is more in in control and "healed" in The Causes eyes. A scene that Phoenix may have stolen, but without an opposite reaction to counter from, the moment is forgettable.
A film that pushes two and a half hours and was presented in some cities in 70mm, theres is a lot of room for these characters to grow. Hoffman trying to cure Phoenix? That's great, but too easy and linear for Mr. Anderson. What gets Hoffman the recognition from this film, is that unmistakable moment, that feeling you get when you finally ask yourself, "wait, who's curing who here?" Sure, Freddie's all screwed up, but the more people Lancaster meets, the more parties he goes to and tries to work his magic, it becomes evident that he needs Freddie just as much as Freddie needs him. Dodd needs to cure Freddie (whatever that means) to prove to himself, his family, and his followers that The Cause is real. In a room alone, Dodd has power a charisma, but once The Cause members are out-numbered, Dodd tends to throw verbal fits that rival the "crazy" Freddie Quell. Dodd does not only have to convince new people to join The Cause or defend it to naysayers, but to also please it's existing members. Dodd publishes his second book in the height of his paranoia of losing Freddie and losing control. A member of The Cause pulls Dodd aside at a gathering and confronts him on chapter in the book where he contradicts himself with an opposite idea he had in his first publication. After trying to diffuse the situation and shoo-ing off the woman, he just simply yells, "WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT?" A rare moment to you get to breath a let out a chuckle, because we all know Philip Seymour Hoffman yells like no other on screen (see also: Doubt), but a key scene as the line between doctor and patient becomes completely erased.
A lot of reviews that came in for The Master said, "unlike anything you've ever seen before", and it's true. That doesn't mean it had special effects or had to be in 3D, but a film that studies basic human emotions and forms them into a story, that may not be easy to digest at first, or even after the first viewing. All of this comes from the mind of Mr. Anderson himself, which is why it will not only be shoe-in to win Best Original Screenplay (wait, it's not nominated?!) but a film that will be looked back on and referenced for years.
Ryan Rolandelli is a cinephile and pop culture enthusiast from the suburbs of New Jersey. Kill your TV.