December 21, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Whether bringing to life a grandiose spiritual leader in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master or a beaten-down Everyman in Mike Nichols’ Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, 45, once again showed off how brilliantly he disappears into his roles. In Anderson’s thoughtful film, Hoffman expertly teases out the nuances of Lancaster Dodd’s pride and vulnerability as he hurtles across salt flats on a motorcycle or warbles ”On a Slow Boat to China” to Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). ”I was really drawn to the relationship between these two men, this idea that one can help the other but that they both need help,” Hoffman told EW earlier this year. ”There are some aspects of that relationship that I found incredibly truthful and full of dramatic life — very imaginative and lyrical.”

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