The List: 10 best Robin Williams performances

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From the August 14, 2014 edition

One thing I’ve noted from the reaction to the death of Robin Williams is how people have connected to so many of his performances. There’s no consensus, no one iconic role. For a public figure, everyone’s favorite memories seem strangely personal. Here are mine.

10. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)

A drag performance played for this kind of comedy could quickly become a caricature, but Williams’ infusion of fatherly love sold it.

9. Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987)

The fictionalized account of a real-life Vietnam armed forces DJ was probably the most pure representation of the manic energy of Williams’ stand-up performance, but it also hinted at his dramatic range.

8. Rainbow Randolph in “Death to Smoochy” (2002)

This Danny DeVito-directed pitch-black comedy isn’t for everyone, but it was a great bridge for Williams between physical comedy and darker fare.

7. Armand Goldman in “The Birdcage” (1996)

He played the straight man (pun intended) to Nathan Lane’s drag queen, but his character was the heart of a tale about LGBT tolerance that seems (unfortunately) ahead of its time. We’re finally catching up.

6. Walter Finch in “Insomnia” (2002)

Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his breakout “Memento” included the unexpected casting of Williams as the nemesis of Al Pacino’s cop. Williams, it turns out, was the perfect choice.

5. Parry in “The Fisher King” (1991)

Williams played a seemingly deranged homeless man who befriends a radio DJ played by Jeff Bridges in this dark (but redemptive) Terry Gilliam flick.

4. Genie in “Aladdin” (1992)

Of all the films that were part of the revival of great Disney animation in the late ’80s/early ’90s, I think “Aladdin” was the most fun, and that’s 100 percent because of Williams.

3. Sean Maguire in “Good Will Hunting” (1997)

Williams’ patient psychiatrist became a friend and father figure to Matt Damon’s troubled genius in the role that got Williams his only Oscar win.

2. Seymour Parrish in “One Hour Photo” (2002)

People remain divided on director Mark Romanek’s tale of a photo technician’s obsession with one family (I think it’s way underrated). Williams’ performance is terrifying in its restraint, and eventually heartbreaking.

1. John Keating in “Dead Poets Society” (1989)

Williams’ charismatic English teacher didn’t just inspire his onscreen students. He inspired a whole generation to see things from a different perspective. O, Captain! My Captain!