Total Recall: Robin Williams' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Happy Feet Two star.
He's won five Grammys, four Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Emmys, and an Oscar -- not bad for a stand-up comedian who became a household name as the star of Mork and Mindy, a Happy Days spinoff sitcom about a goofball alien. We're talking, of course, about Robin Williams -- and given that he does double duty in this week's Happy Feet Two, we decided now would be the perfect time to pay tribute to one of Hollywood's busiest and most eclectic working actors by looking back at some of his many critical highlights. We focused on Williams' larger roles, which meant leaving out memorable-but-brief appearances in films like Hamlet, Dead Again, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but what ended up making the cut was still pretty darn impressive. Nanu-Nanu and Shazbot, it's time for Total Recall!
10. One Hour Photo
He rose to fame on the strength of his maddeningly energetic comic persona, but Williams started to settle down a little in the 1990s and early aughts, first with dramedies like Mrs. Doubtfire, then with more serious fare, such as Patch Adams and What Dreams May Come. Some of these projects were more warmly received than others, but each of them gave audiences a glimpse of just how deeply Williams could sublimate the frantic restlessness that defined his public image, and they culminated with 2002's One Hour Photo. Here, Williams plays Sy Parrish, a profoundly lonely photo technician whose desperate, hidden attachment to his customers sends him down a dark path, and it's a testament to his skill as an actor that even though Parrish is an obviously disturbed and frankly disquieting character, Williams makes it hard not to identify, if not outright sympathize, with his sad plight. Photo was a moderate success at the box office, but critics were nearly unanimous in their praise for its star's performance. "Sy is a complete character with a physicality, inner monologue and motivation that we haven't seen from Mr. Williams in a long time," wrote Joe Lozito of Big Picture Big Sound. "And it's a pleasure to watch."
Williams reunited with Terry Gilliam, who'd earlier directed him in a small role for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, for this heartfelt 1991 drama about an abrasive radio deejay (Jeff Bridges) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a homeless man (Williams) who has a poignant connection to his past. A tale with a decidedly smaller scope than the average Gilliam production, The Fisher King traded its director's trademark special effects-assisted whimsy for a tale of redemption and simple human kindness -- and earned Williams his third Best Actor Oscar nomination in the process. "Working within the constraints of a big studio film has brought out Gilliam's best," observed Newsweek's David Ansen. "He's become a true storyteller and a wonderful director of actors. This time he delights not only the eye but the soul."
It's a movie seemingly seen by an entire generation, and one that contains some of the most eminently quotable lines in Williams' entire filmography -- so what's Dead Poets Society doing so far down on this list? Fact is, as much as its cult has grown over the years, this inspirational drama about an embattled English teacher at a private academy was initially dismissed by a number of top critics, including Vincent Canby of the New York Times and Roger Ebert, who called it "shameless in its attempt to pander to an adolescent audience." Most filmgoers disagreed, of course, helping Poets rack up more than $235 million in worldwide grosses as well as four Academy Awards nominations (including Best Actor for Williams). Christopher Null of Filmcritic agreed with the crowds, saying it all added up to "The best stories and performances, one of the greatest films of the 1980s and a rare classic that should be treasured."
Though he'd been helming features since the early 1990s, eyebrows still raised when it was announced that Bobcat Goldthwait would be directing Robin Williams in a comedy about a milquetoast high school teacher who pens a phony suicide note for his son after discovering him dead of auto-erotic asphyxiation. It's every bit the black comedy that its premise would suggest, but World's Greatest Dad also contains plenty of Goldthwait-style absurdity, including a scene where Bruce Hornsby shows up as himself -- and it earned praise from critics like Robbie Collin from News of the World, who wrote, "Beware that poster, with its jolly red writing and Mork from Ork's face thereon. This is not the Robin Williams of Old Dogs and License To Wed."
Released during the peak of the Cold War 1980s, Moscow on the Hudson dramatized the plight of a Soviet circus musician (played by Williams in an early dramatic role) who defects to the United States while he's in New York for a performance. While films that illustrated the basic humanity at the heart of the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union weren't exactly rare in the 1980s -- heck, even Rocky IV explored a similar message -- Hudson rose above the pack thanks to its talented cast, not to mention some typically solid work from writer/director Paul Mazursky. Scott Weinberg of eFilmCritic called it "The first good look we got at Williams trying to broaden his horizons" and pronounced it "Well done."