Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands. We normally look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today. Today, In Memorium of Robin Williams, we’re simply going to focus on his greatest movies. I had another person ready to go, but I think it will be more cathartic to simply look back on Williams’ triumphs and I think that will be the policy for any future profile of a person who has left us.
As details start to emerge as to how Robin Williams last hours were tragically spent, I still can’t comprehend the simple fact that he’s gone. I grew up with Mork. I started watching films around the same time his career began to explode. He was just a joy, whether he was playing a demented DJ in Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire or just sitting on a couch talking to Letterman. There were darker roles in guest spots on Homicide, Law & Order and in one of his best performances, One Hour Photo. Maybe for the extreme light to shine, an equal darkness was required. It seems to be that way for many comics.
I want to celebrate his best films, though, and just for a moment, step back from this awful reality and give us the perspective that time will eventually grant. This was a funny, flawed, stunningly talented, compassionate man. I always used to think to myself that it would be so weird to see that explosive energy eroded by age. I could never picture him as old. Maybe he couldn’t either.It all began with Mork. The zany alien character who weirdly spun-off of Happy Days, was a perfect showcase for Williams’ otherworldly energy and his innate sincerity allowed for insights into the human condition during his closing episode reports to his home planet. It was silly, yes, but it gave Williams a platform and for four years he built a following with his hurricane of humor
Williams stand-up comedy was amazing. He was just this volcano of free associating insight into himself (sparing his flaws not at all), the human condition and whatever random bit of ephemera drifted into his mental vortex. If you’ve ever seen him give an interview, it was almost impossible to keep him in the chair. He was a hyperactive man-child.
With his fellow comics, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, he organized Comic Relief, a series of stand-up specials to benefit the homeless. Williams would also take his stand-up to the troops, entertaining servicemen and women around the world.
Entertaining the troops is exactly what he did as Adrian Kronauer in Good Morning Vietnam, a rebel DJ, lifting the morale of the soldiers during the Vietnam War. The role provided plenty of comedy for Williams, but also allowed him to show his range as a dramatic actor (honed in earlier films like Moscow on the Hudson and The World According to Garp). The role earned him the first of four Oscar nominations and cemented him as a leading man.
Williams was again Oscar-nominated for playing an unorthodox English teacher in Dead Poets Society, what I feel is his best film. Though his character, John Keating, definitely had a sense of humor, Williams continued to show his talent and range in drama. Director Peter Weir performed the herculean task of coaxing a muted and nuanced performance out of Williams (something he was also able to do with Jim Carrey in The Truman Show). DPS has stood the test of time and remains an inspiring, yet heartbreaking modern classic.
After a fantastic turn with Robert DeNiro in Awakenings, Williams was let loose by Terry Gilliam in The Fisher King. Again mixing humor with incredible sincerity and authenticity in his acting, he earned his third Oscar nomination.
It baffles me why Hook is considered such a failure. I thought it was spectacular when I was a kid (it was my favorite film for years) and I still think it’s a great movie and only Williams could convincingly play a grown Peter Pan. Clashing with an equally fantastic Dustin Hoffman as an aging Captain Hook, the film is by no means perfect, but certainly not a failure. It’s the best showcase Williams was given (outside of Mork) to exhibit his ever external inner child.It took animation to really encapsulate what Williams was capable of doing. His comedy moved so fast and went in so many directions that it was trying to harness lighting to get your mind around it. I think Aladdin’s Genie may well have been his perfect role because it totally freed him from the physical constraints and let his imagination go wild (albeit in a G-Rating context) with abandon.
In a gender-bending turn, Robin Williams created Mrs. Doubtfire. The character, a father who cross dresses as a nanny in order to be near his estranged family, is one of the most beloved Williams created. There were talks of a sequel that obviously now won’t happen (probably for the best).Massively underrated is Kenneth Brannagh’s stunning adaptation of Hamlet. It brings the Bard’s play to life in a way I’ve never seen the equal of and Williams was part of an enormous ensemble of stars that made it possible. Mork could even do Shakespeare.Robin finally got his Oscar on nomination #4 for playing therapist to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. The part, perhaps more than any other, was the closest to Williams’ when not “on”. He had a very serious and volatile nature that shone through in the few movies where he played a villain. Here’s it’s exhibited more in the form of deep pain; a damaged soul.In 2002, Williams starred in three very dark pictures: Death to Smoochy, Chris Nolan’s Insomnia and One Hour Photo. In the film he plays a photo developer at a Wal-Martesque store that becomes obsessed with a family whose photos he develops over the years. Exceedingly creepy, Williams tapped into a vein we’d not seen from him before and I think he was overlooked for another Oscar nomination that year.
It’s no secret that the last decade was not full of many successes for Williams, who either wasn’t getting good scripts or was choosing ones way beneath his talent level. From the mid 1980’s through the early 2000’s, was definitely the peak of his career. Last year he tried a return to television in the CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones. It was canceled after one season.That brings us to tally up Robin’s top 10 movies. Williams had 35 years in show business and there are certainly other movies that could be put here: What Dreams May Come, Baron Muchausen, The Birdcage, Moscow on the Hudson and Popeye were all jostling for position, but these are – in my opinion – his best ten.
WILLIAMS’ GREATEST TEN
1. Dead Poets Society (1989)………..10.00
2. Aladdin (1992)……………………………..10.00
3. Good Morning Vietnam (1986)….9.75
4. Good Will Hunting (1997)…………..9.50
5. Hamlet (1996)……………………………….9.50
6. Awakenings (1990)………………………9.00
7. Hook (1991)…………………………………..9.00
8. One Hour Photo (2002)……………….9.00
9. The Fisher King (1991)…………………8.50
10. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)………………..8.50
WILLIAMS’ FINAL GREATEST SCORE: 9.275
Williams had four projects completed at his death. This Christmas he has two films coming out in Merry Frigging Christmas and Night at the Museum 3. He’ll be revisiting voice work as Dennis the Dog in next year’s Absolutely Anything. His final movie, Boulevard, is already generating buzz for Williams’ performance and its dark tone.
He’s gone. He’s gone much too soon, but he left us with more than enough moments, though, to keep us smiling long after this initial shock and sadness over his death has passed.
Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)