Celebrating Robin Williams

The late great Robin Williams sadly took his own life almost two years ago and his death was both a shock and a loss to the world. Beginning his career in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comic, Williams rose to fame as Mork in the tv series Mork and Mindy before successfully transferring his skills to film. Although often remembered for his comedy efforts, particularly his incredible improvisational abilities, Williams was a brilliant actor in his own right with memorable dramatic and even creepy performances peppering his long career. Like many actors his career had its ups and downs- here we recall some of his movie highlights.

The World According to Garp (1982)

Supported by John Lithgow and Glenn Close (who both received Academy Award nominations), Williams plays the title role in this interesting if somewhat muddled movie about sex, relationships and writing. The movie raises a few laughs and just as many shocks, such as a car crash resulting in a snapping of the teeth during fellatio, however the performances are fascinating to watch and elevate the movie above a disjointed script. A faithful adaptation of the book of the same name by John Irving, the movie reveals Williams looking to try something far different to the family friendly comedy Mork and Mindy, which ended its five year run at the same time.

Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

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There aren’t many war movies that manage to portray both the sadness of war while raising multiple smiles and even a few laughs but Good Morning Vietnam manages to balance the line beautifully, using comedy to off-set the often implied horror of the battlefield. Set in Saigon in 1965, during the Vietnam War, the film stars Williams as a radio DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service, who proves hugely popular with the troops, but infuriates his superiors with what they call his “irreverent tendency”. Nearly all of the radio segments feature improvised dialogue from Williams, leaving the viewer wondering if the smiles generated by his co-stars, among them Forest Whitaker, are genuine or not. Williams performance earned him a Golden Globe win and an Academy Award nomination while the film has earned a place on the American Film Institutes list of 100 Funniest American Movies.

Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

A pure drama from Williams which finds him playing the role of John Keating, a slightly unorthodox English teacher who encourages the students at the fictional Welton Academy to ‘make your lives extraordinary’. His style of teaching includes getting his students to stand on their desks in order to provide a different view and ripping out a page from their textbooks which breaks down poetry into a mathematical formula. These actions clash with the strict traditional teaching style of Headmaster Gale Nolan and results in an ideological battle between the two teachers with the drama of the pupils’ lives directly in the crossfire. A critical and commercial success, the movie proved that Williams could hold your attention without cracking wise and performing a multitude of voices.

Aladdin (1992)

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A huge animated hit from Disney with Williams lending his voice to the role of Genie, a magical figure that allowed a variety of voices, impressions and jokes that showcased the talents of the late star. Small moments of sadness and drama are captured between the funny and fantastical and you can hear the joy in Williams’ performance. After recording his role Williams had a falling out with Disney as he had requested his presence in the film was not promoted any more than those of his less famous voice co-stars, which Disney went against. Eventually Disney and Williams reconciled for the second sequel, a direct-to-video film titled Aladdin and the Prince of ThievesThe Simpsons Dan Castellaneta had filled in during the first sequel, The Return of Jafar.

Mrs Doubtfire (1993)

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Williams stars as Daniel Hillard, a divorced voice actor who treasures his three children but, due to a series of events, is deemed unsuitable to act as their father and is prohibited from seeing them. Hillard, with the help of his make-up artist friends, thus creates Mrs Doubtfire, an elderly lady he plays who secures a role as the children’s nanny and subsequently allows Daniel to see his children in disguise. Far-fetched but brilliantly executed, the film is full of laughs and is a genuine family movie, a genre sadly in decline in today’s market. A sequel entered pre-production in 2014 but was halted upon the death of Williams.

Jumanji (1995)

12 year old Alan Parish plays a mystical boardgame which sends him into another world.  Years later two youngsters continue the game, bringing back Alan (now played by Willaims) in order for him to finish the game. Another brilliant family film, the comedy is filled with laughs and special effects which still pass muster today. Not even the typical happy ending can detract from the fun presented here and Williams brings a wonderful mixture of fun, offbeat character moments and even a few moments of fear to the role. A remake is in the works with confirmation from star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson that the film would pay tribute to Robin Williams.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

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The film that launched the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who starred and wrote the movie, also features another brilliant and serious role for Williams. Here he stars as Dr. Sean Maguire, a teacher of psychology, who helps Damon’s Will Hunting reassess his life and encourages him to use his talents and let go of his past. The film received worldwide acclaim and nine Academy Award nominations, two of which it won: Best Original Screenplay for Damon and Affleck and a much deserved Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams.

One Hour Photo (2002)

A turn to the dark side for Williams in this pyschological thriller. Starring as photo developer Sy Parrish, Williams’ character becomes obsessed with the photos of the Yorkin family whose pictures he has developed for years, idealising their happy life while he himself lives a mundane, isolated existence. When Sy discovers that the patriarch of the Yorkin household is having an affair, his obsession becomes a terrifying reality for anyone who stands in his way. The film was positively received and Williams was praised by critics, his role notable for being far different from anything he had accomplished before and garnered the comedian a Saturn Award for Best Actor.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and there of other great performances from Williams which can be found in an array of different movies/genres including the animated comedy Happy Feet, historical drama The Butler (where he played Dwight Eisenhower) and brilliant drama Awakenings alongside Robert De Niro. It’s a loss to the world when somebody who brought so much joy (whether through comedy or his excellent dramatic performances) takes his own life. For movie stars we can relive their highlights for years to come and Williams has such a varied back catalogue that can entertain in so many ways. Remember Robin Williams and enjoy.

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