The world is in shock at the announcement of the death of Robin Williams. The comedy/actor managed to do something that others only dream of doing, bridging that generation gap where everyone knew who he was and everyone had at least one film which they loved of his.
I was fortunate to see the man performing live and he was a hurricane, a tour de force. Like a machine gun, he went from one gag to another, one voice to another, in the blink of an eye and he actually got too much, you wanted him to stop so you could catch up.
Grabbing our attention in the 70’s as a guest character in Happy Days, he was given his own show, Mork And Mindy, which catapulted him to superstardom. Although sometimes morkish, it was Williams’s energy and improvisational skills that made the show such a hit. His film career started off slow, taking the lead in Robert Altman’s Popeye, which was a disappointing flop, while making other smaller films in the 80’s until his star rose again in the smash hit Good Morning, Vietnam.
Robin Williams can be called a star. A man who could turn his hand at anything. A light has gone out in Hollywood this day and I, for one, am heartbroken. Here, in tribute, is my top ten. I am sure there are films that I have omitted but that’s what happens when you have a man who everybody loved. R.I.P. Mr. Williams.
10. World’s Greatest Dad (2009)
A return to form for Williams as a writer and English teacher, having to cope with a son who is slightly imbalanced until tragedy strikes and Williams must cover it up to protect the family name, inadvertently becoming a minor success in the process. This very dark black comedy from Bobcat Goldthwait was mainly ignored on release but well worth tracking down for a nicely underplayed performance from Williams.
9. One Hour Photo (2002)
Williams is on creepy top form as a lonely man who works in a photo processing booth at a store, who becomes fixated on a suburban family, only to lead him to start stalking them. A tense thriller somewhat let down by the finale, it’s the true power of Williams’s performance that you feel a mix of sympathy and horror for the man.
8. The Birdcage (1996)
The American version of the French comedy La Cage Aux Folles, has Williams as the owner of a nightclub where his partner, Nathan Lane, is the star. Williams’s son announces his intention to marry a girl whose the daughter of a Senator who is far from liberal. Most Hollywood remakes fail but this works, thanks to a fine cast and Williams’s restrained comic performance, allowing Nathan Lane to shine.
7. Insomnia (2002)
A complex and intriguing thriller from Christopher Nolan with Al Pacino as a cop sent to a Northern town where the sun never sets, to investigate the murder of a teenager. Not being able to sleep causes Pacino to shoot his own partner and the only alibi is the from the man he is chasing. Again another creepy performance from Williams who manages to keep up with his famous co-star in the acting states.
6. Dead Poet Society (1989)
Although only a small role in this drama set in a boarding school, Williams’s performance as English teacher John Keating, who inspires his class to “seize the day” still managed to grab all the attention, in Peter Weir’s gentle tale of boys finding a voice in a society where they shouldn’t have one.
5. The Fisher King (1991)
Terry Gilliam’s most accessible film has Jeff Bridges as a shock DJ who inadvertently causes a massacre. Despondent with his life, he meets Perry, a homeless man who he decides to befriend and help track down, what Perry believes, is the Holy Grail while getting him to win the heart of a girl he loves. Williams is on full manic mode as Perry in this sweet-natured comedy drama with great performances and an unforgettable scene in Grand Central Station.
4. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Williams won an Oscar for his role as psychologist Sean Maguire, who helps Matt Damon’s Will Hunting with finding a direction in his life after discovering he is a maths genius. This emotional drama from Gus Van Sant and written by Damon and Ben Affleck won the hearts of many but it is Williams’s “art” speech that stays long in the memory.
3. Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
To many, this is Williams’s finest hour, as a man with no direction who loses the chance of seeing his kids but will stop at nothing, so pretends to be a Scottish nanny. Williams accounts the accent from working with Bill Forsyth on Being Human but it gives him the opportunity to do what he does best, be funny. With a strong supporting cast of Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan and an ending that is a little too schmaltzy, it’s one of William’s best creations. A shame we will never see the planned sequel.
2. Aladdin (1992)
Possibly one of the best animated creations of all time, as The Genie who grants Aladdin those magical wishes. It gives Williams the chance to show his skills of voices, his masterful improvisations (most of his scenes were not scripted) and what a song and dance man he was too. While the rest of the film is moderate Disney fare, it is Williams who lifts this with a character that both kids and adults can love.
1. Good Morning, Vietnam (1988)
Director Barry Levinson could see the potential in Williams that no one, up to this point, had. Don’t hold the man back with a script. Put him in front of a microphone, plug his headphones in so he can hear reactions and let him do his thing. Based on the true story of outrageous DJ Adrian Cronauer, Williams manages to mix pathos with comedy but the scenes in the studio are the ones we will never forget. Let’s face it, without this film, we wouldn’t have had all of the above.