Family & Companions
During his 20-plus year career as a feature film writer and director, Michael Hoffman helmed both studio and independent films, though it was his lesser-seen work that made the strongest impression on critics. Hoffman was no stranger to the film festival circuit, where he first earned notice in 1988 for "Promised Land" and by 2009 was still getting high marks and nominations for "The Last Station" (2009), based on the life of author Leo Tolstoy. While his subject matter for that film was decidedly aimed at the art house crowd, Hoffman had pleased mainstream audiences with his romantic comedy "One Fine Day" (1996), and even tried to combine mass appeal and literary subject matter to moderate success in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1999). With multiple Independent Spirit Award nominations under his belt, Hoffman was a well-regarded filmmaker unafraid to dig deep into the psyche and explore a wide range of human experiences.
Hoffman was born in Hawaii on Nov. 30, 1956, and raised in Payette, ID. While an undergraduate student at Boise State University, Hoffman was involved in dozens of stage productions, both as an actor and director, and also co-founded the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. When he graduated with a Theater Arts degree in 1979, the student body president with the excellent academic record earned the honor of Rhodes Scholar before attending Oriel College at Oxford the following year. There, he transitioned from stage work to film. In 1982, he wrote and directed "Privileged," a student film about the woes of upper-class youth which included, among its leading players, fellow Oxford student Hugh Grant. He also continued to act occasionally, appearing in the revue "Foley Burgeres," which lampooned a local hamburger bistro.
Along with future producing collaborator Rick Stevenson and a few others, Hoffman co-founded the Oxford Films Company, which oversaw a summer institute for moviemakers as well as organized Britain's first national screenwriting competition. Hoffman was befriended by British director John Schlesinger, who helped finance his next feature, "Restless Natives" (1985), about two Scotsmen who rob American tourists. Hoffman's first American-set film was "Promised Land" (1988), which he scripted and developed at the Sundance Institute. The bleak drama about small town young adults facing the disappointment of blue-collar futures starred Kiefer Sutherland and Meg Ryan, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The same year, Hoffman was also on the film festival circuit with "Some Girls" (1988), but that comedy about a college student (Patrick Dempsey) who visits his girlfriend's eccentric Canadian family over the holidays failed to generate the buzz of "Promised Land."
Hollywood could not help but take notice of Hoffman's indie film accomplishments. He was given a shot at directing his first studio film, "Soapdish" (1991), which centered on the behind-the-scenes comic melodrama of a fictional soap opera. The film did not fare well with critics, but an all-star ensemble including Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Downey, Jr. attracted a sizeable audience. Hoffman opted to return to British material for his next project, directing "Restoration" (1995) from a screenplay adaptation of the Rose Tremain novel which chronicled the rise and fall of a physician (Robert Downey, Jr.) in the court of King Charles II (Sam Neill). A solid period piece which earned acclaim for its lavish look and feel, "Restoration" only appeared briefly in theaters during the holiday season, where it was trounced by costume drama competitor "Sense and Sensibility," directed by Ang Lee.
The following year, Hoffman surprisingly helmed the fluffy and successful romantic comedy "One Fine Day" (1996), which paired Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney as polar opposite single parents who meet, squabble and fall in love during one whirlwind day. In 1999, Hoffman's experience directing comedy and period fare melded with his screenwriting experience, resulting in his adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1999). The Italian-set version of the comedy was rife with great performances from Hoffman favorite Kevin Kline as well as Stanley Tucci and Rupert Everett, but again the film faced stiff competition from a glut of Shakespeare works on movie screens that year. Hoffman tapped Kline a third time to star in his 2002 drama "The Emperor's Club" (2002), in which he played an idealistic but morally ambiguous teacher at a Massachusetts boarding school. The small budget film was a financial success even if critics were divided over it, and Hoffman chose to continue working outside the studio system for his follow-up, "Game 6" (2006), starring Michael Keaton as a floundering New York playwright and Red Sox fan whose play opens the same night as the famed 1986 "Game 6" of the World Series. Based on a screenplay by Don DeLillo, the well-received movie was only screened in a few cities at the Sundance Film Festival before being released on video.
Staying independent, Hoffman wrote and directed "The Last Station" (2009), adapted from Jay Parini's biographical novel, and earned more attention than he had experienced in a decade. Based on the final days of Russian author Leo Tolstoy, "The Last Station" was anchored by outstanding performances from Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Tolstoy and his wife Sofya, with each receiving nominations from the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for overcoming what some critics felt were weaknesses in Hoffman's script. Others, however, praised the filmmaker as much as his onscreen talent, resulting in Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay for the filmmaker.
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One of the founders of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival
Directed and wrote "Privileged," the first student film ever made at Oxford
Formed the Oxford Film Company with Rick Stevenson and others
Directed the film "Promised Land," which he developed at the Sundance Institute and was produced by Stevenson
Played Valmont in a stage production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"
Made first big-budget Hollywood film, "Soapdish," starring Sally Field and Kevin Kline
Directed the period piece, "Restoration"
Directed the uneven romantic comedy, "One Fine Day," which paired Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney
Adapted and directed the all-star remake of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," starring Kline and Pfeiffer
Directed "The Emperor's Club," starring Kevin Kline as an idealistic prep school teacher
Directed Michael Keaton in "Game 6," a sports themed comedy which combines real and fictional events centering around the historic 1986 World Series
Wrote and directed "The Last Station," based on the final years of Leo Tolstoy's life, starring Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy; earned Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay
Nominated for the 2009 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director ("The Last Station")