Dan’s Top 10 Movies

As an introduction to the site and our tastes in movies, we decided we would each share our current top ten favorite movies along with brief explanations about why we love them. This list is subject to change, of course, but here’s how my top ten currently stands.


1. Rudy

People scoff when I say that Rudy is my favorite movie of all time. The terms “Notre Dame fanboy” and “sentimental hogwash” are thrown around a lot. But what can I say to this? Am I expected to use logic to convince my soul not to love what it so earnestly does? Rudy, like many of the unexpected picks in my top 10, is no masterpiece in the traditional sense of technical craft or stylistic form.

The way Rudy is a masterpiece is in how strongly it strikes a personal chord. That’s something that varies from person to person, so I do not expect each one of you to call Rudy a masterpiece the way I do. Art is subjective, after all. But Rudy’s rags to riches story echoes tremendous inspiration in me. The sets are beautiful, the acting is spot-on, and the movie has a deep-seated humanity. Achieving dreams against expectations is a theme that will always be relevant.


2. The Shawshank Redemption

Like Rudy, my second favorite movie of all time is a parable about hope. Aside from a warden who at times is nagging and silly, every part of this movie is perfection in my eyes. It brings us just low enough to feel how strongly the odds are against Andy Dufresne, and then all of the harrowing set-up pays off in one of the most soaring finales in film history. Morgan Freeman is first-rate as the voice of the film, Tim Robbins is appropriately difficult to read as Andy Dufresne, and the film-making gels into a hugely satisfying experience.

I could go through this film scene by scene and point out details I love. This movie has moment after moment of pure power. Even the ending, which turned off critics because of how little ambiguity it leaves, is earned by this excellent film.

3. Back to the Future
Number three on my list doubles as one of the greatest comedies of all time and one of the most exciting sci-films of all time. If there is a more enjoyable two hours in film, I do not know of it. The most important element in this film — like many comedies — is the chemistry of the leads, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The two are hilarious and play off each other so well.

The movie’s tongue-in-cheek reverence to the 1980s also helps make Back to the Future a great movie. Instead of trying to modernize the movie and focus on making a timeless and visually advanced film — something that, ironically, would have dated the movie much more quickly — the movie sticks to depicting the flamboyance of the 1980s: skateboards, tacky vests, hair metal, and all. Even more than the edge-of-your-seat thrill and the gut-busting script, it’s this focused style that I revere in this film.

4. The Dark Knight
Too soon? Maybe. But I swore to myself that I would be honest in this list and share the movies I love the most. Though it’s barely a year old, The Dark Knight is a movie I love more than nearly any other. It’s a sprawling, exciting movie that’s part comic book, part crime saga, part character study, part smash-bang blockbuster, and all adventure.

What I love most about The Dark Knight is how it takes the struggles that comic books internalize — not just good vs. evil, but order vs. chaos — and turns them into a beautiful script; one that brims with wit and energy, but also cuts deep into some of the powerful themes that the Burton-Schumacher Batman movies could only allude to.

5. That Thing You Do!

Sometimes it’s nice when a movie sets itself a low bar, as pejorative as that sounds. Then the movie can leap over that bar with ease and style. That Thing You Do! would be an example of such a movie; it doesn’t entrench itself into complicated drama, and it keeps the comedy light and whip-smart. It’s a rags-to-riches story, but both the rags and the riches are subdued. The polished final cut is flawless, unless you consider it a flaw to lack ambition.

If it sounds like I’m selling short a movie that’s one of my favorites ever, let me clarify: I absolutely adore That Thing You Do! The characters are very human, the script has an inviting warmth, and the actors all play the type of people you feel like you actually could have met in the early 1960’s. It never feels like the movie is “trying” to do anything: it just does it, and sucks you in completely.

The soul of the movie — and what sets it apart from “endearing” to “pure, classic entertainment” — is the music. The original soundtrack is marvelous pop music and it accurately emulates the sound of the time. It makes That Thing You Do! a joyous film experience every time.


6. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

I believe that Raiders of the Lost Ark not only reinvented the action-adventure movie but perfected it. The tone is never too gritty to suck the energy and joy out of the movie, but the action delivers the goods. It is creative, unadulterated excellence that sets up a few iconic characters and a plethora of classic moments. I can’t watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and walk away feeling anything besides complete satisfaction. Indy’s first adventure is funny, exciting, enthralling, a incredible delight that would never be topped in the series, and rarely out of the series.

7. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The two greatest trilogy movies, which happen to be from the two greatest trilogies (though we’ll see if Toy Story joins their company in 2010) are back-to-back in my top ten. The Empire Strikes Back feels a bit like a transition movie, as it ends with a cliff-hanger and lacks an over-arching conflict and resolution.  Still, it’s easily the best Star Wars movie. It’s not as hokey as A New Hope nor as silly as Return of the Jedi.

The reason The Empire Strikes Back shines is because it puts the characters, not the plot, front and center. Each important relationship of the movie is brought in new, surprising directions. It’s fascinating seeing the characters knocked down again and again, and watching how they get back up each time. The movie avoids black and white this time around, as characters face complicated decisions and challenging revelations. Of course, the sensational set pieces and best-ever casting don’t hurt.

8. Jurassic Park

JP, as my friends and I call it, has incredible suspense and visuals that still look good a decade and a half later. In fact, I think they’ll always look good: The dinosaurs are designed not just to look lifelike but to be towering and awe-inspiring.

The characters’ struggles provide a relevant warning against breaching too far with technology, but I never find myself too wrapped up in the themes of Jurassic Park. I just like going along for the ride. The heart of the movie is in its dynamic visual sequences.

Who can forget the first time the glass of water started vibrating and the T-rex stormed the Jeeps? How many things can you think of more terrifying and exhilerating than velociraptors… that can open a door! Watching this movie with the lights off and the sound turned up is one of the best movie-watching experiences I know of.

9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Man oh man, do I get a lot of crap for loving this movie. I know I have a slight tendency to overrate movies I’ve seen recently (see #4), but as far as I’m concerned, this movie could have been released in 1947 instead of 2007. Its release date does not prevent it from being, straight up, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen it nearly ten times, more than any other movie released in the past decade, so it’s not just infatuation.

Not only is the movie absolutely hilarious — maybe two or three gags fall flat, which is still a hall of fame batting average considering just how many jokes are here — but it’s pretty good as a movie, too. It’s heartfelt. It knows what breakups feel like.

Perhaps the reason it feels genuine is because it is. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is semi-autobiographical for writer and star Jason Segel who was dumped while he was nude, who dated a big time star in a cheesy TV show for several years, who loves Muppets, and who dreamed of writing a Dracula puppet musical for the longest time.

10. The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects was at one point several spots higher on this list, but I can’t shy away from the fact that this mystery is one that leads nowhere. It’s a little bit frustrating that so much is left ambiguous; and yet, that’s also one reason I love it. The first time you watch it, you’re left stammering “Wait… what?”

But if you want to talk about an exquisitely crafted whodunit (rather, who-is-it), this is your winner. Its dizzying twists and turns can distract you from the sheer beauty of this movie. The score is first-rate and the neo-noir cinematography is haunting. The last five minutes of this movie are perhaps my five favorite minutes in the history of cinema. They say so much and so little.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

2 thoughts on “Dan’s Top 10 Movies

  1. respectable list.
    i am impressed with how high back to the future goes, because some of your lower picks have more raving reviews.

    and i have not seen the usual suspects!

    • Thanks for the props 🙂

      However, I’m not sure I agree that the lower picks have more raving reviews. According to Rottentomatoes.com, the only movie on my list that had a higher percentage of positive reviews than Back to the Future was The Empire Strikes Back. A lot of the movies have higher placement on the fan-chosen IMDb rankings, though.

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