Following Monday’s difficult news that actor Philip Baker Hall had sadly passed away at the age of 90there’s hardly a better way to pay tribute to the late Seinfeld actor’s life than by recollecting his greatest, and most notable performances.
Hall, an esteemed character actor, began his film and television career in the early 1970s, having served as a German translator for the US Army, as well as a high school teacher beforehand. However, it was not until 1984 that Hall started to rise to prominence within the film industry, when he appeared in Secret Honor, a one-character film about President Richard Nixon from the great director Robert Altman. After receiving rave reviews, Hall’s stock had drastically risen.
Succeeding several supporting appearances in Hollywood blockbusters of the late 80s, including Midnight Run and Ghostbusters II, Hall teamed together with then up-and-coming film director Paul Thomas Anderson, where he delivered arguably his finest work. These are some of Philip Baker Hall’s best performances…
5 Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights movie that launched Mark Wahlberg’s acting career into the stratosphere, in a renowned role as a 1970s pornstar (Eddie Adams) aptly named Dirk Diggler, whose arrival transforms an increasingly seedy industry. PT Anderson’s great early film features Hall as theater magnate Floyd Gondoli, who is characterized (and immortalized) by the line, “I’m not a complicated man. I like cinema. In particular, I like to see people fu * king on film. But I do not want to win an Oscar, and I do not want to re-invent the wheel. ”
4 The Talented Mr. Ripley
As Sir Walter Scott wrote in his poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field“O, what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive,” which has undoubtedly inspired many a novelist, especially Patricia Highsmith when she penned The Talented Mr. Ripley and its primary antagonist, Tom. Directed by Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley traverses the friendship of Dickie Greenleaf (a great Jude Law) and Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), as Tom is sent to Italy to persuade Dickie to return to his native New York.
After Tom develops an infatuation with the lifestyle of his newfound friend, he goes to extreme lengths to impersonate Dickie. While Hall’s appearance is brief, his portrayal of private detective Alvin MacCarron is delivered with supreme conviction, and his manner seems to possess this authoritative and perceptive air, even if MacCarron’s confidence in Tom’s innocence is misplaced.
Two years after wrapping up the production of Boogie Nights, PT Anderson and Baker Hall reunited for 1999’s Magnolia, a mesmeric picture that intertwines the lives of people living seemingly parallel existences, as they search for meaning, romance, and reconciliation with loved ones they’ve become estranged from. Philip Baker Hall stars as children’s television host Jimmy Gator, a substance-abuser who is coming to terms with his terminal cancer diagnosis as he enters the latter stages of his life. With not long left, Jimmy is determined to harmonize the turbulent relationship he shares with his estranged daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters). It’s a powerful, provocative performance in an epic masterpiece.
2 Hard Eight
For large parts of his career, Hall was reduced to supporting roles, yet after earning respect for his bit-part performances in several 1980s flicks and Secret Honorhe struck up a rapport with Paul Thomas Anderson and appeared as the central character in Anderson’s short, Cigarettes and Coffee. After this, his efforts were rightfully rewarded with leading the line in Anderson’s 1996 crime drama Hard Eight, a film that was influenced by the basic premise of Cigarettes and Coffee.
Hall portrays a masterly old-timer gambler, Sydney, who takes a broke young John Finnegan (John C. Reilly) under his wing; however, their relationship suffers when John becomes involved with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow). Hall plays a pensive, calculated, and respectful man, the kind of characteristics you’d like to think the late actor oozed naturally. This was Anderson’s first feature film, and it launched him to stardom, and Anderson would take Reilly, Hall, and other actors in the film with him throughout his career.
1 Secret Honor
Political dramas, especially movies about former presidents, are a hot property in Hollywood. It is a subgenre that attracts the biggest names in the industry, from Daniel Day-Lewis to Kevin Costner. However, you’d be forgiven if you’d neither seen nor even heard of the 1984 film Secret Honor. Directed by Robert Altman, and starring solely Philip Baker Hall as President Richard Nixon in this one-character screenplay, the movie serves as a forensic self-examination of Nixon’s tenure as the 37th President of the United States. Hall’s 90-minute long monologue is a truly extraordinary, highly skilled piece of acting that really instigated his career as a prominent actor and perfectly captured the paranoia, narcissism, and grandeur of Nixon. Altman does a great job, but wisely gives Baker Hall space to completely dominate this fascinating film.