The one sure-fire Oscar this year is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, playing the title role in "Capote." The film works because of how fully Hoffman reincarnates one of the most peculiar celebrities ever to contort the proportions of fame.
Truman Capote wrote "In Cold Blood," perhaps his only literary work that resonates more memorably than his aura of personal genius. The movie, "Capote," constrains itself to the six years Capote spent researching and writing a new kind of book, dubbed "nonfiction novel" writing. He committed himself to journalistic truth in his storytelling. Yet he became intimately wrapped in knowing the story of two heartless murderers.
Capote is an obnoxious, grating man. And yet he compels a kind of crawling, gawking attention in the way a highway accident compels attention.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is so good portraying this larger than life twerp that he makes you care about his committed ways while you dislike him for his self-involved core. Hoffman avoided the pitfalls of making Capote seem like a caricature. Hoffman's disarming way makes him the kind of actor that actors respect. Without fitting any movie star mold, his acting star is rising.
Hoffman's Oscar competition includes David Strathairn, whose excellence in the taut focus of "Good Night, and Good Luck" will be seen as less complex. It includes Heath Ledger, whose excellence will get unfairly slotted as hunkish, notwithstanding the theme of "Brokeback Mountain." Joaquin Phoenix, no matter how well he channels Johnny Cash, is merely pop entertainment by comparison. Terrence Howard's pimp with a dream of something better does not stand out above a great cast in "Hustle & Flow."
When you go to Sutton Cinemas to see "Capote" - or the Magic Theatre where it starts on Feb. 22 - you'll see it's not all Hoffman. Besides resurrecting the deep chill of "In Cold Bold," the movie's most interesting underpinning is that Harper Lee, who wrote the beloved classic, "To Kill a Mockingbird," was his dear friend and associate. Go figure that story.