Robin Williams' best 10 performances

IT'S sad that it takes someone's passing to remind us of how great they were, but the death of Robin Williams overnight has had everyone casting their mind back to his impressive back catalogue of films. 

We remember his Oscar win (from his fourth nomination). We recall his remarkable versatility - his ability to be both a manic comedian and the empathetic centre-point in a drama, or even the bad guy in a darker film.

And for many of us today, we are remembering how he shaped our childhoods and our comedic sensibilities.

In memory of Robin Williams, here are his 10 greatest performances to remember him by, and to help you get your movie marathon sorted for the weekend.

1. Good Morning Vietnam

Williams' first Oscar nomination came in Barry Levinson's 1987 dramedy set during the Vietnam War. As real-life armed forces radio DJ Adrian Cronauer, Williams gave the definitive performance of his career - the perfect blend of his motormouth comedic stylings and his then-unrecognised knack for drama. In a film that balanced the horrors of war with out-and-out hilarity, it took someone of Williams' immense talents to bring that mix to the boil.

2. One Hour Photo 

The final film of his "dark trilogy" (along with Insomnia and Death To Smoochy) features Williams' darkest turn. As the unsettingly creepy photo lab worker Sy Parrish, Williams' previous life as a funnyman is completely absent and he gives a stunning turn that helps make this such a disturbing film. Great performances make you forget who the actor is - this does just that because it is so un-Williams-like in every way. 

3. Aladdin

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Williams recorded his bits for this Disney animation, which came during the House Of Mouse's resurgence in the late '80s and '90s. His comedic riffing gives Aladdin a laugh-out-loud edge that no other Disney movie has had before or since, and while some of his anachronistic impersonations (Rodney Dangerfield?) haven't aged well, Williams' voice work definitely elevated this classic cartoon film.

4. Hook

Under appreciated, probably because it was seen as a lesser Steven Spielberg film by comparison to his previous efforts (Jaws, Close Encounters, the Indiana Jones trilogy), but Williams' turn as a Peter Pan who grew up is the perfect encapsulation of his own man-child like qualities. It's a nicely nuanced performance - his ability to capture the rediscovered boyish charm of Pan is equal to his display of the sadness, regret and hollowness of the real-world Peter Banning. His work in this is much like the film - under-rated.

5. Dead Poets Society 

His second Oscar nom came in Peter Weir's influential college drama. Williams' unconventional teacher John Keating feels a bit like a cliché now, but it showed a hitherto unseen depth in his acting skills. With his manic comedic tendencies almost completely absence, Williams was able to bring a beautiful warmth and believable earnestness to Keating, while inadvertently kicking off a trend of comedians going straight in search of award glory.

6. Death To Smoochy

Williams received his third Razzie nomination for worst supporting actor (the other two were for Bicentennial Man and Jakob The Liar) for his turn as corrupt kids show host "Rainbow" Randolph Smiley. The film was also unfairly lambasted by critics, who didn't take to its very dark comedic charms. Williams was particularly despicable, displaying previously unknown levels of villainy in a surprising and hilarious performance. 

7. The Fisher King

A third Oscar nomination, this time as the deluded homeless man Parry who believes he must find the Holy Grail. It's a wonderful character for Williams, who again captures the beauty and sweetness necessary for the role, while managing to get laughs out of his craziness. His pairing with Jeff Bridges - who plays as a down-on-his-luck talkback host - is outstanding. 

8. Insomnia

It's hard to explain now just how surprising and unnerving it was to see Williams as crime novelist Walter Finch in Insomnia, Christopher Nolan's eerie remake of a Norwegian psychological thriller. The film gave us a truly new and disturbing turn from someone who we associated with such happy-go-lucky characters as Patch Adams, Mrs Doubtfire, the genie, and the inventor of Flubber, which helped make Finch such a disturbing proposition.

9. Good Will Hunting 

His Oscar win for this film almost seemed like a consolation prize after three previous nominations. It's still a great performance - although arguably not as great as the previously nominated roles - and is similar in many ways to his work in Dead Poets Society, but with a more subtle comedic edge. There's a lot of heart in Good Will Hunting and most of it comes from Williams' turn as the therapist who helps Will Hunting (Matt Damon) turn his life around.

10. Man Of The Year

A sad fact of Williams' career is that his best work came more than a decade ago, with much of the past 10 years given over to voicework (he was the best thing in Robots) or dud films. His last truly good movies was Man Of The Year (2006), where his special blend of integrity and comedy came to the fore as a Jon Stewart-style political comedian who inadvertently finds himself as a presidential hopeful.

Honourable mentions: Mrs Doubtfire, Jumanji, Happy Feet 2, Robots, Awakenings, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.


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