Tag Archives: What Dreams May Come

In memorial: Nate’s Top Ten Max Von Sydow Performances

Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again

Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.

9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things

Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.

8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune

A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.

7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd

Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.

6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.

5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.

4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.

3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.

2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic

This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.

1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.

-Nate Hill

Remembering Robin Williams: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Robin Williams left us five years ago this week, and out of all the celebrities, actors and entertainers who have passed on, his absence is still the one I feel most. So what made him so special? For me it was the way he could cut so deep in both serious and comic performances. When he showed up in the room the energy turned light and carefree as the zany, untethered forces of his improvisation and imagination took over like a gentle breeze. Then when it was time to rein it in for a more serious, introspective scene he would be less effervescent but the light in his eyes wouldn’t dim, the focus wouldn’t falter and he’d demonstrate his equally brilliant talent for heartbreaking drama as well. He could carry an entire film on his own, light up a supporting role and even make a cameo glimmer through to become memorable. In looking back I’d like to highlight the ten performances that are most personal, most memorable and mean the most to me as someone who grew up watching him on the TV all the time, idolized and loved him dearly. Enjoy!

10. Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Viet Nam

No other scenario requires a much needed sense of humour like the fog of war, but Williams’s rebellious spirit isn’t received well by the brass in Nam, yet he makes it clear that a good dose of verbal comedy is exactly what the airwaves need in this case. It’s a no holds barred performance with some touching emotional notes and plenty of slotted time to let loose behind a radio DJ’s mic.

9. Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia

Cast against type as the freaky villain of Nolan’s chilly murder mystery, he channels a Stephen King style energy in playing a slippery antagonist set against Alaska’s grey skies and at odds with Al Pacino’s sharp but distraught homicide cop. Williams is somehow constantly likeable yet creepy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on until the third act rolls around and he really lets it rip.

8. Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Mental illness gets a ballistic but tender portrayal in Gilliam’s urban fantasy that sees Robin as a former professor of medieval history who loses his mind following a tragedy. Surreal production design helps his work flow but the raw potency is all his in a performance that brings down the house, brings out the best in both Gilliam and Jeff Bridges and shows how a mind broken isn’t necessarily one lost forever.

7. The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

I’m pretty sure all of the Genie’s dialogue wasn’t even scripted off the bat, I think they just sat Williams down in front of a voiceover mic each morning, gave him a general outline and then slowly backed away out of the room to observe the magic happen. The result is a nostalgic blast of a vocal performance that so many hold dear and one of the most quotable Disney characters of all time.

6. Alan Parrish in Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Infusing childlike wonder is something he was always good at, and it served well here in playing a guy who has been trapped inside a deadly jungle themed board game since he was a kid. His chemistry with Bonnie Hunt is funny and touching, his feral mania upon being finally released from the game into 90’s suburbia is hilarious and the interaction with young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce makes for a dynamic character that I always love to revisit.

5. Philip Brainard in Disney’s Flubber

Williams plays an incarnation of the absent minded professor archetype in Disney’s unfairly dismissed comedy. In a film whose star is a rambunctious pile of ever morphing charismatic green goo, trust Williams to defy that description and upstage the Flubber itself with his own wild, inspired performance. But he also gets surprisingly deep when lamenting: “I’ve spent my whole life out there trying to figure how the world works when I should have been trying to figure out *why* it works..” it’s a disarming line to hear him intone in a heartfelt manner from a Disney film, but that’s why I love this one so much.

4. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting

Mentor, friend and advisor to Matt Damon’s prodigal kid, Williams imparts wisdom in clear eyed fashion here as an extremely down to earth fellow faced with an extraordinary situation. His mid film monologue to Damon won him a best supporting Oscar, but the moment that captures this character’s spirit most beautifully is when he wistfully remembers his wife who passed away, and injects some humour into the conversation that was purely Robin’s improvisation and as a result hits the scene home.

3. Rainbow Randolph in Danny Devito’s Death To Smoochy

Devito’s venomous farce of children’s media is a criminally undervalued and quite terrific film, and Williams goes into full on nut-bar mode as a disgraced kiddie show host who never should have been let on the air to begin with. Trying to kill Edward Norton’s beloved rhino Smoochy in between bouts of rage, flagrant insecurity and maniacal mood swings, it’s an incredibly ballsy, thoroughly R rated and absolutely hysterical piece of black comedy performance art not to be missed.

2. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire

The lengths that loving father Williams goes to in order to see the children he lost custody of here would be horror movie material in any other actor’s hands, but because Robin was so adept at both wacky innovation, disguises and genuine heartfelt explanations for such behaviour, the result is both magical and realistic. The restaurant scene alone is time capsule worthy, in which Hillard has to multitask and hop in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire suit rapid fire to both have a family dinner and entertain a scotch swilling TV exec (Robert Prosky).

1. Chris Nielsen in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

A gorgeous fantasy film showcases Robin in his most deeply felt and affecting performance as a man who has lost everything including his own life. He ventures out across the afterlife through heaven, hell and beyond to find his wife and soulmate (Annabella Sciorra) and save her. Williams portrays celestial determination like no other and a fierce, passionate love for her that shines like a beacon through realms of the astral plane and lights up the film in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy and hold Robin’s work as dear as I do, and have enjoyed my thoughts here.

-Nate Hill