Like countless others across the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Robin Williams. To me, this man was an utter lightning bolt in human form. An insanely gifted comedian and actor, his light shone twice as bright as most of his contemporaries.
Born in 1951, Williams was a star pupil at the Juliard School in New York. He shot to instant fame as the alien Mork in “Mork And Mindy”, one of the spinoff shows from “Happy Days”. His manic energy and prodigious gift for improvisation made the word sit up and take notice.
He further parlayed his remarkable skills into both stand-up comedy and a long and successful cinema career. It was remarkable to see him develop as an actor, taking on challenging serious roles in films like Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia”.
Overall, he will be most remembered as the man that could make you laugh until you cried. It’s been remarkable over the past twenty-four hours to witness the outpouring of love and grief, particularly on social media, for a man that many of us never met. He was like that long lost uncle that brightened up a room with his mere presence.
Here is a list of some of his best performances in film.
15. Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991)
While Williams is interesting as an older Peter Pan, the film as a whole is somewhat puffy bloated and over-sentimental. Apparently, due to the logistics of working on water, the film was something of a nightmare to shoot, blowing out its budget significantly. You thought Spielberg would have learnt about all this after the legendarily tough film shoot that was “Jaws”, right?!?
14. Patch Adams (Tom Shadyac, 1998)
The polar opposite of “What Dreams May Come”. While also dealing with death, this film looks for compassion and humour in that moment. Williams plays the titular character, a clown doctor who comforts and amuses terminally ill children in hospital.
Treacly sentimental, this is a film that divides people somewhat. Some find it incredibly manipulative on an emotional level. Others, on the other hand, are very taken by its heart and humanity. Williams excels in the role, bringing a certain pathos to what his character does.
13. Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990)
Directed with admirable restraint by former actor Penny Marshall, Williams plays a fictionalised version of doctor Oscar Sacks. The film delves into his efforts to bring comatose patients back to waking life via the use of drugs. In serious mode (whenever Williams has a full beard in a film usually denotes this), Williams is wonderful as a doctor trying to push the boundaries of what we know in regards to science and medicine.
12. Jumanji (Joe Johntston, 1995)
Playing a man trapped in a board game, Williams excels in director Joe Johnston’s hugely entertaining work. This is one of the more enjoyable family films that Williams has acted it. With a boundless energy and sense of fun to it, this an absolute whale of a time for film lovers of all ages and sizes.
Along with “The Rocketeer” and “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, Johntson is one of those directors that has continually done great work and one of those rare directors that achieves a great balance between special effects and the more organic and human elements of his films. “Jumanji” is probably the best display of this balance.
11. Mrs Doubtfire (Chris Columbus, 1993)
Along with “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Morning, Vietnam”, this is another film that really struck a chord with mainstream audiences. It continues to be one of the most loved films that Williams did.
Unable to get visitation rights to see his kids, divorced dad dresses up in drag and becomes English nanny Mrs Doubtfire in order to see his kids. Watching Williams struggle with the ways of his opposite gender is highly charming and amusing. Best line? “Whoever invented high heels was a misogynistic bastard!”
While very down the line as far as entertainment is concerned, it is a pleasure to watch Williams stretch himself in a way that audiences at that point hadn’t seen before. It really taps into his physicality as an actor.
10. Death To Smoochy (Danny De Vito, 2002)
Criminally underrated, this one. Williams plays a disgraced former host of a kids television show who gets into to a war of wits and words with his replacement, Smoochy, played by Edward Norton.
This is basically one big bitchfight extended to feature length. However, it’s a brilliantly written and acted one. There is a great chemistry between Williams and Norton as they try to tear each other apart.
After a decade or so of middling family films and left of centre performances that didn’t quite work, it was wonderful to see Williams back on form here. This was the start of something of a roll for the actor.
9. What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)
Intense, depressing and crazily brilliant, this really is one out of the box. Williams plays a man who dies in a car crash searching for his wife in the afterlife.
What makes this film soar are two things. One feels the pain of Williams’ character on a visceral, highly emotional level. The actor really taps into something that is universal and that many across the world understand.
“What Dreams May Come” also features an utterly ravishing visual style and palette provided by New Zealand director Ward, a true visionary.
This is tough viewing on an emotional level, but an intensely rewarding one.