Friday, June 20, 2014

Twice a Best Actor Bloggers Roundtable: Dustin Hoffman


It’s Friday, and that means another edition of Twice a Best Actor.  This is where our esteemed panel of bloggers takes a look at all the actors lucky enough to have won the Lead Actor Oscar twice and judges them ever so harshly (or not harshly).  So far we’ve tackled the double wins of Sean Penn and Gary Cooper, so if you haven’t had a chance to check those out and weigh in, please do so!

This week we are taking a look at Dustin Hoffman’s pair of Oscar wins.

Although they need no explanation, once again here is our panel:

Alex from And So It Begins
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films (duh)
Mario from Two Dollar Cinema
Shane from Film Actually



ALEX:
The Performance
Some of the best work Dustin Hoffman has ever done are the scenes in Kramer vs. Kramer, when Ted Kramer is forced to troll New York City and search for a new job mere days before Christmas. I don’t know what it is about those scenes, but they often strike me as the most honest acting Hoffman has ever done. And those are just a handful of moments in this film that make Hoffman’s work so great.

The Field
Damn tough call. It would’ve been great to see Peter Sellers awarded for his swan song performance in Being There. But I can’t deny Hoffman’s quiet power.
My Grade:  A+

ANDREW:
There's something downright quaint in the way a studio film about an everyday subject like divorce could become such a critical and commercial hit. After all, what happens in Kramer Vs. Kramer was essentially happening in the world at the time with increasing regularity, and even more poignantly, to Dustin Hoffman himself at the time of the filming. He apparently even rewrote the script to include his own experiences, allowing him to share his personal trials and tribulations through the character. But what Hoffman claims as his most intimate performance comes off more self-indulgent, attempting to make himself a martyr. He tries throughout the film to gain our sympathy at the expense of Meryl Streep's character, who is never given equal footing. She's essentially turned into a nothing more than a heartless shrew who abandons her child and then thoughtlessly tries to break apart the newly formed father/son bond that we've spent most of the film cultivating. Hoffman and Justin Henry (still the youngest actor to be Oscar-nominated, thanks to his frequent scene partner) do form a touching relationship that seems to organically develop over the course of the film. All culminating to a wordless scene of the two effortlessly and lovingly making french toast together. It harkens back to a disastrous earlier scene when even the art of breakfast was difficult for the duo and stirringly illustrates the journey they've made in learning to love and live with only each other. I just wish I didn't feel so manipulated by it all. With Hoffman's fourth bid at Best Actor, the Academy was essentially making-up for its previous oversights, as his work from the earlier nominations (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy, and Lenny) far surpass this pedestrian, kitchen sink weepie. Of the other nominees that year, I would have given it to Roy Scheider as the Bob Fosse stand-in from All That Jazz. But I suppose that film's razzle dazzle was just too showy when there were real matters at hand. 
My Grade:  C

DREW:
Some films and some performances just get to me in a way that is hard to fully explain.  I just feel this undeniable connection to them, and despite whatever flaws may be thrown their way or whatever bitching the rest of the world may have towards them, I love them unconditionally and will defend them till the end of time.

This is one of those performances.

There is such a subtle realism that dwells in every facet of Hoffman’s tender performance here.  He understands how to play such a real man, such a natural and relatable human being, to the point where any of the actory dramatics that could so often tamper with our emotions and ultimately destroy a good performance (see Sean Penn for that) are completely stripped from his demeanor and we are left with such honest, raw, human emotion.  Hoffman’s performance here is utter perfection.

What I love so much about this performance (other than the lavish praise I’ve already heaped upon it) is the way that Hoffman is able to create such vivid and distinct facets of this man without highlighting them or underlining them or overselling them, however you want to label it.  Instead, Hoffman simply is.  When he’s lamenting the loss of his marriage, he’s real.  When he’s building such a bond with his son, he’s real.  When he’s fighting for his parental rights, he’s real.  When he’s face to face with the woman he loves, he’s real.  He’s always the same man, shaded so expertly, never coming off as separate entities.  It could have been so easy to accentuate the dramatics, but Hoffman understood this man and the way the HE deals with his life, and he was true to that every step of the way.

And that final scene, the elevator, the look; brilliance.

For me, he is the only answer for Best Actor in 1979.  The playing field was really good, so I don’t want to sound like he had no competition.  I didn’t care much for Lemmon, and I haven’t seen Pacino yet, but both Sellers and Scheider (who have the largest fan bases for this year) were ridiculously good and would have made deserving winners any other year, but for me this is all about Hoffman, and while some will scream “it was the role, not the performance” I say, “it was the right role, perfectly performed”.  The Academy got this 100% right!
My Grade:  A+

JOSH:
Hoffman won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing Ted Kramer, a man who goes through a divorce and struggles to raise his son independently. The film was popular that year, so it's easy to see why Hoffman was nominated. He smoothly navigates the range of emotions and inner turmoil of the single parent, and he doesn't let the role become a reason to overact or go into hysterics. The performance might appear simplistic, yet the character is anything but simple. Hoffman portrays a 'real' person, and his nomination was very deserved.

Did Hoffman deserve to win?

Hoffman was on a role in the 1970's, and I can't say he's undeserving for this lovely performance. While the role is baity, he completely sells it, giving one the year's best dramatic performances. However, Roy Scheider's show-stopping turn in All That Jazz should have been recognized. It's the highlight of his career, whereas Hoffman has been even better in other films.
My Grade:  A

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:
So, in case you haven’t figured it out…I don’t watch good movies. I’ve never seen any of these other performances.
The role:
Hoffman plays Ted Kramer, a too-busy dad forced into raising his young son after his wife abruptly leaves him.
Watch for:  Ted explaining to his son why mom actually left. Ugh, this is tough to watch.
Yay:  Ted not only demanding to be hired, but kissing a blonde on the way out after accepting the job.
Boo: The initial breakfast scene made me uncomfortable.
Summary: Released the same year I was born, I had never caught a single frame of Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer until watching it for this project. Initially, Hoffman seemed to be overdoing it as the clueless (and perhaps careless) Dad, and I couldn’t take him seriously. Honestly, I was finding myself more focused on the costumes and set decorations at that point. But when Mrs. Kramer leaves, Ted instantly becomes this highly relatable, incredibly sympathetic guy, despite being completely and consistently overwhelmed. He transform into some guy in a movie to a person you know from your own life. Hoffman basically creates the blueprint for all other actors who set out to play role of unsuspecting parent thrust into finally caring for a child (basically, all movies where one of the parents leaves or dies). A fantastic performance, to say the least.
My Grade:  A

SHANE:
It’s difficult to properly articulate exactly why I love Dustin Hoffman in 'Kramer vs Kramer'. The best word I can come up with to describe his performance is “alive”. He’s always so “present” in every frame, and not in an emphatic, overzealous way. This characteristic allows him to tackle the film’s big emotional setpieces and make them feel so effortless and fluid (the “ice cream” scene for example).

Another strong quality of his acting is his skill as a scene partner. He just works so well with all the other main actors. He’s caring and attentive with Justin Henry, relaxed with Jane Alexander and perpetually unsettled with Meryl Streep. I completely believed every relationship he had in this film, especially the endearing father-son dynamic which makes ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ so affecting. It’s truly one of the best cinematic portrayals of fatherly love.

Of course, I can’t close without mentioning the most memorable scene for me. It’s the one where Billy (Justin Henry) has his playground accident and then the camera follows Hoffman as he dashes to the hospital with his son. It’s such a classic “Dustin Hoffman moment” (much like his famously improvised “I’m walking here! I’m walking here!” from ‘Midnight Cowboy’).

Do I think he’s a deserving winner? Certainly. However, I haven’t seen three of the other nominees. Therefore out of respect for Jack Lemmon (!), Al Pacino (!) and Roy Scheider (!), I shall decline to pass judgment on the field.
My Grade:  A


ALEX:
The Performance
I’m a huge Barry Levinson fan, and as a result, have tirelessly researched the director’s process while making Rain Man. An interesting thing to note is that Hoffman routinely begged Levinson to fire him off the movie (he consistently offered Richard Dreyfuss as a superior replacement). Hoffman thought he was acting as opposed to being, but Levinson convinced him to stay on, resulting in one of the most iconic screen performances of all time. It isn’t my favorite Hoffman performance, but it remains a performance of great emotional impact.

The Field
I have a soft spot for Tom Hanks’ work in Big, but I think Hoffman is a fair win.
My Grade:  A

ANDREW:

Make no mistake about it, despite Kirk Lazarus' claims to the contrary, Dustin Hoffman does indeed, definitely, definitely go "full retard" in Rain Man. Playing an autistic man with savant syndrome who has been institutionalized most of his life, Hoffman gives a masterclass in the craft of acting in a performance that is nothing but technique and showboating. I can't speak to the accuracy of the portrayal to people who actually have autism, but as a viewer, it's difficult to feel any connection to a character unable to express emotions in a way we are familiar with. Hoffman's full commitment to the role refuses to let us in at all least we think for a moment that his work is anything less than perfectly executed. Poor Tom Cruise (in the film's real best performance) ends up strenuously working overtime to infuse some humanity into the story. And as Hoffman repeats lines ad nauseum or screams at the thought of being touched, I found myself feeling as irritated and annoyed as Tom Cruise does in the film. Everything about this role seems calculated to gain awards attention, which the Academy predictably obliged. The Academy is often criticized for not recognizing great comedic performances, so I'm honestly surprised that Tom Hanks in Big managed to even find himself with a nomination that year at all. A win would've seemed outlandish, but I'll take the boy-as-man charm of Hanks playing songs on a giant keyboard any day over the calibrated tics and histrionics of Hoffman. 
My Grade:  D

DREW:
So, I just got through heaping lavish amounts of praise all over Hoffman’s first Oscar win, but sadly I’m not going to continue that trend right now.  I’m also not going to tear it to pieces either, so don’t get scared.  I don’t hate this performance, even if it really boils down to mere emotional manipulation. 

I guess this is my issue with Hoffman’s performance; the character isn’t a complete one. Raymond Babbitt is a one-dimensional prop for the advancement of Levinson’s movie and really nothing more.  There is no meat here at all.  Technically, it’s a very good performance.  Hoffman emotes where needed and he gets the ticks and quirks and all of the physicality of the performance down right, but where Hoffman’s Kramer was such a layered and beautifully complete character, his Babbitt is a shell.  In fact, Tom Cruise is saddled with the real protagonist with the real character arc and in the process delivers the better performance (yeah, I’m shocked I’m saying this as well) and, in all honesty, he should have been the one to receive the awards attention (even if I wouldn’t have nominated him either).

I just wanted more.

The lineup was a pretty solid one, Hoffman included, but when you have Tom Hanks delivering a very complex comedic performance or von Sydow delivering such a brutally honest and intimate performance or, the rightful Oscar winner (at least of this lineup), Hackman savagely layering a man against the world, it’s a shame that shameless Oscar baiting won out, especially when this bait had no meat.

At least Hoffman was better than Olmos.
My Grade:  C+

JOSH:
Hoffman won his second Best Actor Oscar for playing Raymond Babbitt, a mathematical genius who suffers from autism. This film was also a big hit with Oscar voters, and Hoffman was appropriately swept in with it. He gives a subtle, touching performance with a flare of intensity when it's called for. According to Hoffman, this role scared him, especially the scene where he erupts with raw emotion. It's a risk that paid off, even if I don't love the film as much as most people. Ultimately, Hoffman was an easy consensus pick for a nomination.

Did Hoffman deserve to win?

I'm thrilled that Hoffman won another Oscar, but I would've preferred to see Gene Hackman's great character work in Mississippi Burning or Max von Sydow's fine performance in Pelle the Conqueror awarded. Still, Best Picture winners often win acting awards, and I can't complain too much about this victory for Hoffman.
My Grade:  B+

MARIO:
Who I was rooting for:
Had I cared about the Oscars back then, I know I would have been pulling for Hanks. Otherwise, I was firmly on Team Hoffman.
The role:
Hoffman plays Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant sent away from his family following the death of his mother when he was a boy. Decades later, on a trip across the country, Ray teaches his self-absorbed brother that family, not money, is what life is all about.
Watch for:  The moment Ray leans in and touches his head to his brother’s.
Yay:  Charlie, annoyed, shuts off the lights a little before eleven and Ray calmly takes out his flashlight and continues reading the phone book.
Boo: Do you want to stay with your brother? Yeah. Do you want to go back to Walbrook? Yeah.
Summary: Raymond Babbitt is an extremely difficult character to pull off correctly, but Hoffman nails it. Buried under countless idiosyncrasies, Ray could have been a caricature of autism, but instead is a complicated but undeniably sweet realization of it. Watching this back-to-back with Kramer vs. Kramer makes the performance even better, as any semblance of Ted Kramer is long gone in the mostly vacant eyes of Raymond. [Not that it matters (or is relevant in the least), but as impressive as Hoffman is, I actually think Tom Cruise (as his younger brother Charlie) could have won this award, too, in a bit of a thankless role]
My Grade:  A-

SHANE:
Dustin Hoffman is well-known for his method acting and he definitely shows off that technique in his Oscar-winning performance in ‘Rain Man’. The performance is technically perfect. You can tell he’s in total control of his body. As you’re aware, the character he plays is an autistic savant and therefore runs the risk of feeling gimmicky. Thankfully, Hoffman is able to make the performance feel more or less “naturalistic”.

As expected, the character’s disability doesn't allow him to go very deep emotionally. Still, Hoffman finds ways to do some interesting things with the role. For example, he makes the character an unwitting comedian with expertly deadpan line delivery (acknowledging a fart) and creating awkward situations (walking in on his brother having sex). In addition, I like that he doesn't “soften” the character, i.e. he’s not afraid to make him annoying. He doesn't give the character any unrealistic mental development during the road trip. As a result, he’s essentially “one-note”, but it’s the rare occasion where it actually works in the performance’s favour.

Once again, one of the main highlights for me is Hoffman’s connection with his scene partners, namely Tom Cruise. They make a compelling duo, especially after they truly connect for the first time (following the “Rain Man” reveal). For such a showy role, I was particularly impressed by how much he relinquishes the spotlight to Tom Cruise within a given scene. It allowed me to appreciate both characters, which gave those closing moments their gravitas. Without these strong performances, ‘Rain Man’ would never have made such an impact (4 major Oscars!).

Hoffman is very impressive here and I’m happy that he won. This was quite a strong Best Actor lineup though, especially with Tom Hanks in ‘Big’ and Gene Hackman in ‘Mississippi Burning’. Those are some fine performances, but my vote stays with Hoffman. 
My Grade:  A-


FINAL SCORES:

There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actor).

Dustin Hoffman received a total of 102 points for his performance in Kramer vs. Kramer.
Dustin Hoffman received a total of 80 points for his performance in Rain Man.

This is a collective total of 182 points (24 points in the lead).

As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.

So this closes our discussion of Dustin Hoffman.  There won't be a roundtable next week, since I'll be out of town, but we'll return July 4th to discuss Daniel Day-Lewis!

Again, as always, a special thanks to the five incredible bloggers who agreed to attack this project with me! It wouldn't be the same without any of you!

18 comments:

  1. These posts are awesome. But I can't think of Rain Man without thinking of Tropic Thunder and the "full retard" speech. :)

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    1. LOL, and he was defending Hoffman in that speech! But yes, I know what you mean. Forever tarnished.

      But that's why we have Kramer vs. Kramer!

      I'm glad that you love these posts!

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  2. You want to see a truly great Dustin Hoffman performance. Check out, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium." The advertising made it look like just a simple kids film, but it's so much more. It's got a wonderful screenplay, a wonderful score, and wonderful performances. Also, despite being billed as the lead, Hoffman is supporting.

    More people need to see this movie.

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    1. This is why I hate most film trailers. They make a film look like something it isn't, just to attract a certain crowd. I kind of was convinced that that movie would be awful.

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  3. Once again, love these posts. I haven't seem Kramer vs. Kramer, so I can't really say much on that one. I did see Rain Man and was very impressed by what Hoffman did. He was physically great. On the other hand, Cruise impressed me even more because he was emotionally great.

    For what it's worth, I'm not the biggest fan of Mr. Magorium. Hoffman was fine, I thought it was "meh."

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    1. Cruise really was the star of Rain Man. Hoffman was technically great, but he had no real arc. Cruise, on the other hand, had so much to work with and did it with real integrity and honesty.

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  4. I'm really surprised that you all loved hoffman in KRAMER so much. to me the most fascinating character is meryl's joanna. streep does so much with so little and makes her so compelling. when she blurts out, "i'll go out the window" when he tries to prevent her from leaving, i just wanted to find out more about her situation.

    but my opinion of hoffman may be clouded by the way he treated meryl during filming which already got off to a rocky start during their first meeting when he apparently grabbed her boob and burped in her face. he used to pit justin henry against meryl. and in the restaurant scene hoffman smashed the glass against the wall because he was annoyed that meryl was upstaging him. so i just don't buy his saintly act in the film...

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    1. Well, I didn't really talk about anything BUT Hoffman for this particular project, but I absolutely love Kramer vs. Kramer as a whole. I mean, Streep gets a lot of flack for her win, but I completely agree with that Oscar win as well. Well deserved! I agree with all of the wins, pretty much. Everything about the movie gets to me, and maybe it has to do with being a dad too, so I connect to that connection.

      I also try and detach the personal from the professional when it comes to actors. So many are douchebags, but are still great actors. I didn't know all that about Hoffman and Streep, but I don't think it would have changed how I feel about his performance.

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  5. I haven't seen Kramer vs. Kramer though my pick for Best Actor that year would've gone to Peter Sellers for Being There. I have seen Rain Man which is great as Hoffman rocked ass in that film though I would've gone with Tom Hanks for Big. Hoffman at least didn't go "full-retard" as he was autistic and managed to count cards well. It was a fair win.

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    1. Sellers was so good. It's sad that he had to leave this earth without an Oscar, but he's a legend, and that counts for a lot more.

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  6. Yay! So glad that Hoffman is in the lead, which will change next week I'm sure. ;)

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    1. UGH, I hate that DDL will probably slay next week. I mean, I really like/borderline love both the performances we'll be discussing...but I find him as a whole so incredibly overrated.

      BUT, that isn't what this is about...I must remember.

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  7. I love Kramer vs. Kramer and his performance in direct contrast to how much I dislike Rain Man and his technique filled performance in it. He deserves to be a double Oscar winner but he's been infinitely better elsewhere. I wish he had won for his brilliant work in Tootsie.

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    1. I'm torn on Tootsie, because I always fall back on Newman as my undeniable winner that year...but Hoffman is SO GOOD!

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  8. I saw Kramer vs Kramer at the cinema and thought it was OK and I thought nobody will ever even look at that bland blond who kept crying. That film became such a big thing. Dustin Hoffman's lips were in a permanent pucker up someone's ass to get the Oscar to the point that he was blathering like an idiot about wanting to know what it feels to give birth(I am going by memory which is decades ago). The film's OK but hated the hype which has biased me about this flick and although I think Meryl Streep is probably a very nice person I have no idea why she became so big. I do have to say I like her acting better now than back in the 80's. I would have given the award to anyone else but Hoffman's performance here. He was excellent in Papillon (spelling?? sorry). I enjoyed him in Tootsie but this film-ugh. Roy Scheider gets my vote. I have to admit I have yet to see Rain Man. Why? All the hype again. Tom Cruise was also in this film and at that time I felt he was showcasing a humble guy when he is anything but. One of my fondest memories is when Cruise lost to Day-Lewis. I can't give a good reference on this but I did enjoy your writings so far

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    1. Awww, I love Hoffman so this makes me a tad sad, but I understand. Not everyone loves everyone (I know I don't).

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  9. Hoffman, I think is totally deserving for Kramer vs. Kramer. But as much as I like him as an actor, I am quite perplexed by his win for Rain Man. One reason is that Tom Cruise is the true lead and I think he should've been nominated. Another is that his win was at the expense of Tom Hanks in Big. Plus, I think it's another one of those performances where the actor nails the disability part of the role, then calls it a day (i.e., Geoffrey Rush in Shine). So, I didn't think there was a real performance there.

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    1. Yup, I'm with you there. It's half a performance.

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