It's official: 2016 can go die in a fire. Far too many of our greats have left us this year. The latest to say goodbye is the wonderful Gene Wilder. With a film career that started with one of the greatest comedies ever made, it was a near certainty that Wilder would be one of the best ever. We're sad that he's gone, but we'll be celebrating the fact that he was once here. Not only did he make us all laugh, but he made us all laugh in so many different ways.
Choosing five roles to call Gene Wilder's best wasn't that hard. Every one of us could name four of them with our eyes closed. However, deciding the order of those roles was a near impossibility. This is the order that we've decided on today. Tomorrow, we might feel differently.
5. Skip Donahue - Stir Crazy
There are three great collaborations that make up Gene Wilder's career. The first makes up the bulk of this list, the second was with his wife, the utterly hilarious Gilda Radner, and the third was with the great Richard Pryor. The two comedians shared the screen four times in their careers. We're going to give the second one, 1980's Stir Crazy, the nod for Wilder's number five role. Directed by Sidney Poitier, Stir Crazy follows the two great comedians in their prime as their characters are framed for bank robbery and then compete in a rodeo. It makes sense, a little anyway. Wilder's greatest comedic skill was the way he could act utterly unassuming while being subtly insane. That's what sets Stir Crazy apart.
4. The Waco Kid - Blazing Saddles
That other collaboration that I mentioned a moment ago was, of course, the one with the great Mel Brooks. It feels odd putting anything involving the great Blazing Saddles this low on any list. It just shows how stellar Gene Wilder's filmography truly was. As the perpetually intoxicated, but still dangerous, Waco Kid, Wilder gets to play a somewhat classic western character, though a much funnier one. Blazing Saddles is one of the greatest comedies ever made, and Gene Wilder is one of the reasons. Comedy roles don't usually get nominated for Oscars. This one should have been. While not a "serious" role, it has incredibly wide range and isn't without its subtleties.
3. Victor Frankenstein - Young Frankenstein
Most of the time, Gene Wilder was best working alongside other great actors and comedians. In Young Frankenstein, Wilder showed that he was perfectly capable of carrying a movie himself. His comic timing here is absolutely without equal. Every Gene Wilder movie has its great moments, but it's very possible that every minute of Frankenstein is a memorable moment. Even if there's somehow a way that you've never seen the film, you still know the scene where Wilder and Peter Boyle dance to "Puttin' on the Ritz." It's become one of the most well-known scenes in movie history.
The Producers - Leo Bloom
While Gene Wilder had a brief role in Bonnie and Clyde, most everybody was introduced to the actor when he starred alongside Zero Mostel in The Producers. It still ranks as one of his greatest roles. He actually was nominated for an Oscar for this one, and rightfully so. Wilder was great playing the man who was in over his head, and nobody was in over his head more than Leo Bloom. Bloom is one of the great screen cowards, but he's lovable all the same. Wilder's scenes of complete panic are some of the funniest in the film. There are reasons this one has gone on to even more success on stage, and Wilder's performance is one of those reasons.
1. Willy Wonka - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
For those of us who were kids of a certain generation, we grew up with Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka. The movie was bright and colorful and silly with funny Oompa Loompa's and goofy songs. However, if you go back and watch the movie again as an adult, you realize something else. Willy Wonka is a lunatic. An absolute unapologetic psychopath. What comes across at first as an eclectic personality, is actually a truly dark and twisted character. Is Willy Wonka a goofy old man, or a homicidal maniac? The truth is he completely works as both. This duality is what makes Willy Wonka a unique character, and Wilder's greatest role.