ROGUE 10: IAR's Ten Favorite Robin Williams Movies

Wednesday, 13 August 2014 11:12 Written by  iamrogue
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ROGUE 10: IAR's Ten Favorite Robin Williams Movies

There's no way around it: With the tragic and shocking death of Robin Williams, the world in general and cinema specifically have lost something irreplaceable.

Williams was something truly rare, something truly special.  He was a performer in the very best sense of the word, a joyous and exuberant comedian with an unstoppable drive to entertain, as well as an actor whose fearlessness could make a moviegoer's soul grow with his earnest vulnerability and hard-won wisdom.

He wasn't just a star.  Robin Williams was a force, a charismatic whirlwind and a singular embodiment of exuberant childishness.  He was capable not only of making us laugh uproariously, but of tapping into deep wellsprings of humanity within himself, sharing it with us, and reminding us that it's in us too.

Like so many of you out there, we here at IAR grew up on Williams.  He was a fixture.  He was simply always there, livening up otherwise dour movies and elevating good ones to greatness.  Now he's gone.  And he went in a fashion that will impact the feeling and meaning of every nuance of every performance he ever gave on film.

One of the wonderful things about movies, though, is that their power isn't diminished by the passage of time or the tumult of the now.  We lost Robin Williams, but his films remain.  We can still access and learn from his greatness and vitality.  We can still appreciate Williams through the legacy of his work.

So, for our latest ROGUE 10, we put together a list of ten movies that we feel stand as testaments to his unique power as a performer, movies we'll revisit for years.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)


Whether expressing the devastation of a newly-divorced father as Daniel Hillard or playing through extensive prosthetics as Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams never missed a beat in this mega-successful comedy.  The dual identity hijinks call upon his finely honed skills from the Mork & Mindy days, but his soulful portrayal of a father coming to terms with change has helped a whole lot of kids struggling to come to terms with their own parents' divorces.

Popeye (1980)


It takes brass balls to play an iconic figure that more or less everyone has been familiar with for their entire lives.  It takes something like genuine audacity to play the live action version of a beloved animated character like Popeye.  Williams is more than up for the challenge in Robert Altman's 1980 musical, which finds the gifted mimic giving a simply cartoon something entirely more soulful.

One Hour Photo (2000)


One of the most fascinating things about Williams was his daring, his willingness to tackle roles that demanded the unexpected of him.  In 2002, he played a sociopathic killer in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, but it was his work in Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo that same year outshone even that perfectly-calibrated performance.  As Sy Parrish, a paralyzing lonely and increasingly predatory photo guy, Williams took audiences to the very edge of their empathy then kept going, showing us the human inside a monster and vice versa.

World's Greatest Dad (2009)


Something of a play on another of his famous teacher roles, World's Greatest Dad replaces soulful inspiration with sad resignation. As Scott Tobias of The Dissolve writes, writer-director Bobcat Goldthwaithe (a close friend of the actor) accesses Williams himsef, "not as a clown, not as a tears-of-a-clown type, but as a lonely man seeking to connect with a son and a world that eludes him. "

Awakenings (1990)


In which Robin Williams carries a two-hander with Robert De Niro, whom damn-near everybody agrees is one of the greatest thespians of the last hundred years.  One of Williams's great gifts as a dramatic actor was his warmth, his ability to sincerely convey emotions that from anyone else would seem sentimental.  Awakenings is a tremendous showcase of that skill, as well as a fundamental but bittersweet hopefulness that characterizes so much of his work.

The Fisher King (1991)


As Parry, a homeless, unstable former professor on a quixotic quest for the Holy Grail, Williams combined the gleefully manic need-to-entertain of his comedic persona and an unvarnished earnestness behind his eyes.  Parry's a tragic and romantic figure, one who through whom Williams was able to hint at the both profound joy and melancholy behind his eyes.  His third Oscar nomination, by the way.

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)


His first Oscar-nominated turn finds Williams doing the impossible: making a Vietnam drama really, really funny.  He stars as Adrian Cronauer, a DJ for Armed Services Radio in Saigon whose willingness to face the realities of the war put him at odds with the army brass.  Without Williams, Barry Levinson's nimble film would be unable to find its tonal footing, let alone its heart.

Good Will Hunting (1997)


You know what we were saying about Awakenings, about Williams's sincerity?  In the role for which he finally won an Academy Award, Williams is able to do that to an even fuller extent.  Watch the excerpt above for just one example of how his soulfulness gives weight to what, on paper, could easily veer into cliche. Will even says it himself, calling it a "Taster's Choice moment." 

Aladdin (1992)


Only in animation, freed from the bounds of physics, could Robin Williams express the full range of his comedic exuberance.  Only as an endlessly powerful magical being, freed from any practical constraints, could he keep up his natural comic pace, a pedal-to-the-metal burn that often felt preternatural even in live action. 

Dead Poets Society (1989)

"And the human race is filled with passion." Indeed, Mr. Keating.

Nanoo Nanoo, Mr. Williams. The movies are a less magical place without you.

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