It’s a year since the demise of one of Hollywood’s most beloved movie actors, Robin Williams, and I’m sure many people who are reading this blog are still devastated. If you do, I feel your pain, because although I don’t often play favourites with actors as much as I do with film directors, I consider Robin to be one of the best who has ever existed.
To pay my respects, I am listing my personal top-ten performances Robin took on during his career in show-business.
For this list, I am judging the performances and not the films themselves. I am also only including movies I have watched. So I regret to say, there’s no Jack or Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses on this list. But I still need to watch them, over wise I can’t judge them roles.
10. Henry ‘Parry’ Sagan – Fisher King
We begin this list with a wacky and rather unusual role Robin took in one of Terry Gilliam’s projects. He portrays a homeless former-college professor who is on a mission to seek the ‘Holy Grail’ and is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife due to murder. We first see him when he rescues a selfish jock named Jack Lucas (played by Jeff Bridges) from a gang of violent thugs.
This is a man who has lost his job at the college following his wife’s murder, which could be something to do with the thugs who attack Jack. And since then, he has slipped into a mental state. Sure now and then, he’s cheerful and wacky and does annoy Jack, but it doesn’t mean he has got rid of his grievance. One of the signifying moments that demonstrates these theme is when he and Jack lie naked under a starry sky, which looks both peculiar and ha-ha funny, oh and artistic. It ain’t something I would do, but I’m sure some people do this sort of thing.
9. Walter Finch – Insomnia
As most of you know, insomnia is a disorder which relates to the inability to sleep. Insomnia is a film I personally prefer to Christopher Nolan’s other films such as his adaptations to the Batman films, but we’re not talking about the whole film itself. We’re talking about Robin Williams’ portrayal in this film.
I’m sure there are a few other performances I’ve missed out on, but this is probably the only time I’ve ever seen him play a villain. Normally he plays the good guys, but in this one, he’s kind of a sadistic psycho.
Walter Finch is a crime writer who is suspected to have killed a teenager and torments LAPD detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino), who is attempting to solve the mystery. But we don’t see Finch until at least an hour later in the film. Again, another rare part of Robin Williams’ performances. Though when we do see him for the first time, one moment, Dormer’s searching the novelist’s house, next, Finch attacks him. And so we get a psychotic and heart-pounding experience. These are the reasons why this is one of the coolest roles Robin took on. Very different from the rest.
8. Andrew Martin – Bicentennial Man
Personally, I can’t understand the hatred towards the film, nor do I understand how Robin could’ve been nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actor. This is such a dramatic role he played. Okay, maybe a little peculiar considering he plays a robot.
In this film, Andrew, the robot that is, is purchased by the Martin family. Throughout his experiences with the family, he learns new skills, the themes of humanity, maturity, birth, life and death, and even vandalism and rejection. He is of course programmed to obey orders, even during the start of the film when Grace tells him to jump out of the window. That’s harsh! And remember when Amanda’s son chucked sand on him? Amanda’s like; “Apologise to him” and the son’s like “I will not apologise to it!” Charming!
But that’s not all. Andrew also makes suggestions and is curious about humanity and it is not long till he wishes he could be human and live like a human. Probably people hate this movie, because many of the main characters get killed off through the film and there’s one of him, but this is part of the drama Andrew experiences.
And speaking of drama, the ending brought a huge tear to my eye. I won’t give it away, but this film definitely deserves one viewing.
7. Sean Maguire – Good Will Hunting
It took a family guy like Robin to take on the role of a psychiatrist who has a troubled past and yet supports a college-janitor whose past is also troubled.
Will Hunting, an incredibly smart janitor, gets into a fight with a guy who bullied him as a kid and a police cop who attempts to break up the fight. This leads to him taking a mathematics course and psychotherapy sessions where he meets Sean Maguire and the two begin to bond.
Occasionally Sean finds Will Hunting a pain in the ass, but also comes to term with his patient’s genius. Will is inspired by Sean’s marriage story how Sean sacrificed a chance to go to a baseball game for the sake of his then-future wife for which he has no regrets and how he stayed married to her until her death of cancer. He picks up on that and gives his relationship to his girlfriend Skylar. Though Sean is still occasionally haunted by the loss of his wife, he encourages Will to observe his own life.
I admire how much in common Sean and Will have; their histories of abuse, their over-comings of bad events. I remember feeling emotional when Sean quoted to Will that although he is a victim of the inner demons, “It’s not your fault”, leading Will to hug Sean and sob. This is an extremely powerful scene. It highlights how, which we would think, Robin would’ve learned from previous performances; inspiration, dignity, the inner child, etc.
People have said a lot about this film and Robin’s role, so I won’t say too much. Many people know the film now, but those who don’t, see and judge for yourself.
6. Genie – Aladdin
Some of you probably betted I was going to include this role. Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist Robin’s performance in one of Disney’s animated features. But this is more than just Disney. The iconic genie does what Robin has done among the best. Voice changing, fast talking, clear voice, campaigning – believe it or not, he does fight for freedom and independence, to spend plenty of time in the fresh air rather than stay all his life in his lamp, which to me looks like a teapot, lol.
Another thing awesome about this performance his how brilliantly he can sing. Don’t believe me? Listen to Friend Like Me, which I think should’ve won the Oscar rather than A Whole New World. Plus did you know that all of his dialogue is improvised? That’s so rare for a cartoon voice artist!
Fun fact: he was hired by Steven Spielberg to cheer up the cast and crew of Schindler’s List, considering how emotional their experiences were, during production.
5. Daniel ‘Euphegenia Doubtfire’ Hillard – Mrs Doubtfire
Yes folks, the famous cross-dressing role. But for those who are fans of comedy only, please keep in mind that the comedy is not the only reason why I ranked this role at number 5. It’s so much more than that.
Daniel Hillard loves his children and his children love him which is just how a family should be. To show how much he cares, he arranges a birthday party for his son Chris, but this annoys Miranda, having observed Chris’ bad report card, and she demands a divorce. Because Daniel has quit his job over a dispute with a script for a cartoon and has limited residence, Miranda is given custody over the children and Daniel can only spend limited time with them. The next thing, Miranda advertises for a housekeeper, so Daniel finds only one logical way to see the children more often; disguise himself as an old British woman named Euphegenia Doubtfire.
We’ll start with the comedy. Mrs Doubtfire is one such American film which contains elements of British humour. Seriously, this film could appeal to those who adore pantomimes; the majority of them star male actors who portray ‘dames’. I of course come from a British background and I was a member of a local amateur dramatics group in Leicestershire. The pantomimic elements were probably among the inspirations for UK TV shows i.e. The League Of Gentlemen and Little Britain. Robin Williams, despite being American, pulls off the role of Mrs Doubtfire extremely well. Though Daniel finds wearing the dress and make-up “a pain in the padded ass”, he is able to perform such traditional feminine activities. And there’s plenty of room for the various mishaps, such as trying to hide his face with cream after his mask is destroyed and setting his breasts on fire during a heavy cooking session.
But some of us can easily relate to this guy. He is a stereotypical father and we do feel for this guy and the kids. All they want to do is spend time with each other. Though the quote “You’re my god-damn kids too” sparks some laughter, it also demonstrates that as the children’s father, he has the right for his share and fights against the unnecessary strict scheduling his wife makes. Speaking of casual swearing, I also admire the scene where Lydia and Chris find Mrs Doubtfire standing up to urinate and discovering that it’s Daniel. It’s like; “I’m not who you think I am”, “No s**t”, “Watch your mouth young man!”. It’s common for a parent to tell their kids off for swearing. They try not to swear themselves, but end up doing it; “Some of it’s comfortable, No! It’s a pain in the padded ass” (after Chris asks if Daniel likes wearing the women’s gear). I know some dads who casually swear sometimes and we can relate to that. Mrs Doubtfire is a bit like Kramer Vs. Kramer, except obviously much more comedic. But there’s still the divorce and the parents fighting over the custody of their children.
Too much to say.
4. Alan Parrish – Jumanji
Jumanji is probably the film out of all the ones on this list I’ve seen the most. In fact, I’ve also seen the cartoon version, though I prefer the film. I have fond memories. I remember when we spent a vacation in Scotland and Jumanji was one of the films we watched whilst we were there.
Alan Parrish, whose dad owns a shoe family, finds an ancient board game which turns out to have magical powers. As he plays the game with his friend Sarah, he literally gets sucked into the game, stranded in there until 26 years later when two other kids have a go at the game and release him. Alan learns that he and all who’ve participated must finish the game, while struggling to come to terms over the various changes to the world he was absent from.
Some of you are probably wondering why I would rank this underrated role of Robin’s over Mrs Doubtfire and Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Although the film is mainly about the game, hence the opening set in 1869 when two boys bury the game. But we get to observe Alan’s back-story and family background, the father running the factory and his advice to Alan, “it’s okay to be afraid” and to stand up to his demons like a man. Alan of course stands up to his bullies who pick on him for hanging out with Sarah (one of the bullies’ girlfriend). Later he and Sam (the dad that is) get into an incredibly nasty argument about a boarding school, speaking of standing up; “I guess I’m not ready for Cliffside then!”, “We’re taking you there next Sunday! And I don’t want to hear another word about it!”, “You won’t! I’m never talking to you again!”. Geez. But this is the kid Alan. When we see the grown up Alan, he becomes very excited to be back home. But then finds his parents have died. Before then, they had sacrificed their businesses to find Alan and as a result, the town is facing an economic crisis. Imagine having a huge row with your family on the last time you see them and then coming back looking forward to seeing them again only to find they’re dead. I probably would be heartbroken as a result. And this is exactly how Alan feels. Yet, his disappearance has an affect on almost every resident, including Sarah.
Later in the film, we learn that Alan has picked up from what he learnt from his father. At one time, after Peter cheats in the game, Alan encourages to face his fear like a man, the same advice he got when he was a boy. And in between, he’s trying to adapt to the modern world, not in the Victor Meldrew way if you know what I mean, plus did I mention that he’s also attempting to dodge Van Pelt who he knows from the game? What we learn through this guy are the following messages; it’s okay to be afraid, but be prepared to be strong when your demons confront you, which I was also getting at when I mentioned Good Will Hunting, and always be honest, which I forgot to mention, hence the bullies scene and when Alan finally covers for Carl Bentley.
3. Adrian Cronauer – Good Morning Vietnam
Gooooooooood Morning Vietnam! Adrian famously stated as he began each of his early morning radio broadcasts. The film is based on Adrian Cronauer, a real life jockey, who was hired to host an early morning radio show in Vietnam, during the famous yet pointless war which took place there.
Robin Williams, along with Bob Newhart, Rosie O’Donnell, Jim Carrey and David Spade, is without a doubt among the best American stand-up comedians ever! So it’s no surprise that he was deservedly nominated an Academy Award. And rightly so, not only do his presentations bring a lot of giggles, but the dialogue sounds so improvised. Think about it, he speaks so quickly and hardly ers or ums throughout. He ain’t so Ian Malcolm. I believe his stand-up performances he made really paid off. If Robin was still alive right now, I’d say he’d made a great host for radio. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I ranked this role higher than the Genie in Aladdin. Because this role kind of came up with the idea of improvised dialogue in the first place. Added to that, I’d say he’d make a great commentator for a soccer match.
Yet, what also stands out about Robin’s depiction of Adrian Cronauer are certain political points. He faces the intolerance of the political humour and the way he presents his shows and gets into conflicts with Lieutenant Hauk and Sergeant Dickerson who disapprove of his efforts. They even try taking over his shows, but are unaware that the listeners love Adrian. All Adrian wants to do is entertain and inspire his listeners. One high point to this film is when he witnesses an explosion and attempts to cover this in one of his shows and that is rejected. As a result, he begins to struggle.
Good Morning Vietnam is an anarchic comedy, just like the Young Ones and Bottom, yet questions the politics of media production and represents dignity and the right to connect with the different nation you’re asked to work in.
2. Peter Banning/Pan – Hook
Kick me if you want, but this is one of Robin Williams’ extremely underrated performances from one of Steven Spielberg’s extremely underrated films, even though I’m not fond of Julia Roberts’ acting, but that has nothing to do with it.
Hook is basically a sequel to the original story of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and depicts a mature Peter Pan, or Peter Banning as he is known in the ordinary world. During a Christmas vacation in London, Peter’s children are kidnapped by his old nemesis, Captain Hook, and it’s up to him, with accompaniment from his old friend Tinker-Bell, to rescue them. But first, he must regain his inner-child.
So some of you are wondering why I would place such a performance from what is often regarded as an ill-fated film. Well, part of the ranking is due to the nostalgia; Hook was one of the films my family taped off the television, others including ET and Jurassic Park. We also had the Disney cartoon on VHS. But the main reason for the ranking is how distinctive Robin’s character portrayal is. Some readers may have read one of my previous blogs, The Worst-To-Best Movies Directed By Steven Spielberg, when I briefly commented on Robin Williams being an awesome choice for Peter Banning/Pan (I don’t know which surname to use, lol). To amplify further, the Peter Pan in this movie is married with two children and works as a lawyer. In fact, he’s so married to his work, he rarely spends much time with the kids. Sounds clichéd I know, but the original story also briefly explored the relationships between parents and children, plus it can happen in reality. Robin was a family guy and I declare this one of his best chosen parts, because his family life contrasted with the message this film makes; Take some responsibility for your children, but don’t neglect them.
Let’s dig further. Peter does care for his children. In fact, he’s also damn strict with them. He tells Jack off for messing around with his ball in the plane “Don’t act like a child”, “I am a child”, “Grow up”. Great lines. The next thing, he’s on an ‘important’ call to one of his colleagues and yells at his kids for being noisy. Yet his wife scolds him by throwing his phone out of the window and reasons with him why he and the kids need each other, which I think is a very inspirational scene. And get this, he can be a killjoy sometimes. “Tootles made it for me. It smells nice”, “It’s paper honey”. That’s like telling your daughter there’s no Santa Claus as the Nostalgia Critic once and hilariously pointed out. Then there’s the protectiveness; “Jack, what have I told you about playing near an open window? Keep these windows closed”. When his kids get kidnapped, Peter realises he must get to Neverland and change his ways. Through the help from Tinker-Bell and The Lost Boys, Peter catches up with Jack and Maggie and realises that he is in fact Peter Pan. It’s a slow process to start off with, but he eventually regains his literal inner child.
And of course, there’s plenty of action Peter is involved in, i.e. the cool sword-fights he has with Hook and the other pirates. Action-packed and funny. There’s no doubt the kids will enjoy ’em! And there’s the message, dare I repeat it, which we learn through Moira. And as Robin Williams demonstrates, the themes involve the inner child, parental/child relationships, how to act like a great role-model and the right for fun. With that said, there’s one more message I forgot to mention; that is, one needs to know one’s past to know oneself, hence why Peter discovers his true origin.
1. John Keating – Dead Poet’s Society
And we have ignition. Robin’s role as an English teacher at a boy’s school is the one I think really defined his career. Some may vote for Sean Maguire or Adrian Cronauer, but I think John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society is easily his best one.
John Keating is recruited by a highly conservative boarding high school for boys to teach English and inspires his students through the topic of poetry.
And here’s why I admire this performance so much. The character of John Keating has made me feel how grateful I am that I went to a liberal comprehensive school, i.e. Longslade Community College (that’s a high school in Leicestershire in the middle of England) and not some fascist boarding school which provides too limited education and corrupts students’ minds. Thankfully, Longslade doesn’t do that.
Some of us know that Robin Williams was a lefty. He hated the Iraq war and once made fun of George W. Bush during a stand-up show (up yours Bush!). His character is no different. He cleverly dismisses the corruptive introduction in the poetry based text book as ‘excrement’ and instructs the students to get rid of them pages. One of the most significant things about this character is when Keating whispers the important two words to the students, “Carpe Diem”, which I will leave you guys to work out what it is Latin for. In other words, Keating encourages the students and the viewers to question not just the unnecessary authority held in the film’s school, but unnecessary authority in general. Speaking as a lefty myself, the reason why I say unnecessary each time I describe authority, I don’t mind certain types of authority. But if it’s used to limit my thinking and control my whole life, I would be against it. And this is why Keating is to thank for the inspirations.
Of course, standing in Keating’s way is the principal Gale Norton, who is dedicated to the ‘traditional’ teaching policy. Ugly things do happen, such as the suicide of one of the lads following an argument with his dad over some dispute on future careers. The ending is especially one of the best scenes, but also one of the best closing scenes to a movie in general. I won’t give away too much detail, but this is the part where Keating’s class literally stand up for him and to Norton. When I saw this, I was in tears and smiling simultaneously.
So these are what I personally consider the ten best performances Robin Williams provided in his movies. Some of your lists may be different and I’m sure Robin himself picked favourites of his during his career. I still have yet to find out what his all-time favourite role was. But feel free to let us know what you think.
In the meantime, goooooooooooooooood night readers!