Total Recall

Jeff Daniels' 10 Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Dumb and Dumber To star.

by | November 12, 2014 | Comments

Always an actor first and celebrity second, Jeff Daniels has appeared in scores of films over the last three decades and change without ever commanding a superstar level of attention — but as even a cursory glance at his filmography makes clear, he has a marvelous knack for choosing projects, one that extends to his work on the stage (where he’s earned a Tony nomination) and the small screen (where he won an Emmy for his work on The Newsroom). This weekend, Daniels reunites with his old pal Jim Carrey for the Dumb and Dumber sequel Dumb and Dumber To, and to celebrate, we’ve decided to turn our attention to his most critically beloved efforts. It’s time for Total Recall!


10. Fly Away Home 87%


Little kids and animals often trigger Cuteness Overload warnings for filmgoers over the PG-13 age barrier, and that can be especially true for sun-dappled dramas starring grizzled Hollywood veterans playing emotionally broken parents fumbling to reconnect with their children while also racing against time to solve some critical little kid/animal dilemma. Pretty much all of those boxes are ticked in 1996’s Fly Away Home, but the end result is affecting enough to tug a few strings in all but the hardest of hearts — due in large part to a pair of top-shelf performances from Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin, starring here as a father-daughter duo who move beyond their painful past in order to save a flock of geese. Saying that the movie’s “tender beauty… goes well beyond what might be expected from a movie about things that hatch,” Janet Maslin of the New York Times applauded director Carroll Ballard for turning “a potentially treacly children’s film into an exhilarating ’90s fable” and added, “See it and you will never look at a down comforter in quite the same way.”

9. The Lookout 87%


Out of Sight and Get Shorty screenwriter Scott Frank made his directorial debut with The Lookout, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt — then just beginning to demonstrate the knack for picking scripts that had helped him earn raves for Brick two years before — as a callow high school athlete whose foolishness leads to a catastrophic accident that turns his entire life upside down…and puts him in the path of a group of bad people who want to use him for their own nefarious ends. Co-starring Daniels as Gordon-Levitt’s blind roommate and Isla Fisher as the seductive, memorably named Luvlee Lemons, The Lookout didn’t have much of an impact at the box office, but it earned plenty of praise from critics like the AV Club’s Scott Tobias, who wrote that its “thriller elements could stand to be more surprising, but they’re ultimately in service of a better understanding of the characters. Usually, it’s the other way around.”

8. Something Wild 91%


It’s refreshing whenever an actor plays against type, but there’s also something to be said for a script that lets a star sit directly in his or her wheelhouse; for example, here’s Something Wild, in which Daniels plays a buttoned-down stockbroker who makes the fateful decision to accept a ride home from a vivacious stranger (Melanie Griffith), thus setting off a chain of events that finds him an unwilling participant in all manner of ill-advised hijinks — including fending off her enraged husband (Ray Liotta). Subversive, willfully quirky, and thoroughly well-acted, Wild earned applause for its stars as well as for director Jonathan Demme; as James Kendrick wrote for Q Network Film Desk, “The tones shift rampantly, which for some viewers can be disorienting and off-putting. But, if you’re in tune with Demme’s aesthetic, which usually runs counter to our cinematic intuition, it is a wild ride indeed.”

7. Terms of Endearment 78%


Daniels made his cinematic debut in Milos Forman’s 1981 epic Ragtime, but he got his first big break two years later in Terms of Endearment. Writer-director James L. Brooks, working from Larry McMurtry’s novel about the complicated lives and relationships of a mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger), fashioned a critical and commercial sensation that grossed more than $100 million and picked up 11 Oscar nominations (winning five). While none of those trophies went to Daniels, he did earn positive notice for his supporting role as Winger’s rather scummy (and ridiculously named) husband, Flap Horton, and he was hardly alone among an almost uniformly praised cast; as John Ferguson so succinctly put it for Radio Times, “This is American mainstream movie-making at its best.”

6. The Purple Rose of Cairo 92%


After catching Hollywood’s eye in Terms of Endearment, Daniels wasted no time racking up further accolades, picking up a starring (and Golden Globe-nominated) role in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. Starring Mia Farrow as a mousy waitress toiling her way through a fairly dismal marriage to a rough-tempered drunk (Danny Aiello), the movie offers its heroine an unexpected boost in the form of a movie character (Daniels) who steps out of the screen and into her life. (As she tells her sister, “I just met a wonderful man. He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.”) Critics were similarly smitten. “To be blunt about it, The Purple Rose of Cairo is pure enchantment,” gushed Vincent Canby of the New York Times. “It’s a sweet, lyrically funny, multi- layered work that again demonstrates that Woody Allen is our premier film maker who, standing something over 5 feet tall in his sneakers, towers above all others.”

5. Arachnophobia 93%


Frank Marshall (backed here by his longtime production partner Steven Spielberg) made his directorial debut with this affectionate, cheerfully creepy tribute to classic Hollywood creature features, in which a deadly breed of spider terrorizes a small town whose residents include a lunatic exterminator (John Goodman) and, of course, a doctor with the titular phobia (Jeff Daniels). “That sound you hear in the background is the ‘ugh!’ heard round the world,” chuckled Janet Maslin of the New York Times, adding, “luckily, Arachnophobia will also be generating its share of boisterous, nervous laughter.”

4. Speed 94%


After Die Hard blew up at the box office, action movies where the setting served as a sort of co-star became a wildly popular trend — to the point where, when Keanu Reeves starred in 1994’s Speed as an LAPD officer trapped on a moving bus that a maniac (Dennis Hopper) has loaded with explosives, it seemed safe to assume that it was just one more of the “Die Hard on a _____” movies that had clogged the cineplex for the past several years. Happily, this one proved a sleekly thrilling exception to the rule, both at the box office — where it racked up more than $350 million worldwide — and among critics, who applauded director Jan de Bont’s lean production, the movie’s uncommonly intelligent screenplay (given an instrumental polish by Joss Whedon), and a terrific cast that also included Sandra Bullock, Alan Ruck, and as Keanu’s steadfast partner, Jeff Daniels. Calling it “clean, delirious, and, yes, speedy,” the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane deemed it “the best big-vehicle-in-peril movie since Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear.”

3. The Squid and the Whale 92%


Round up all the characters in every Noah Baumbach movie, and you’d have yourself a room full of some fairly messed up individuals. Case in point: 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, starring Daniels and Laura Linney as a husband and wife whose messily splintering marriage throws shards that wound their two sons (played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) — not that either of the parents seem willing or able to put a stop to their selfish behavior. Like many of Baumbach’s films, Squid puts the viewer in the company of narcissists and misanthropes, but it’s also a piercingly honest look at the ways in which we deal with disappointment when our lives — and our loved ones — let us down. As Roger Ebert put it, “The Squid and the Whale is essentially about how we grow up by absorbing what is useful in our parents and forgiving what is not.”

2. Good Night, and Good Luck 93%


For his directorial follow-up to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney decided to dramatize Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt — specifically from the viewpoint of CBS News, where legendary anchor Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) engaged in a public war of wills against McCarthy while trying to temper the mass hysteria wrought by his adversary’s rabid insistence that all levels of American life had been infiltrated by the Red Menace. Rounded out by a stellar supporting cast (including Daniels as CBS News director Sig Mickelson), Good Night, and Good Luck. earned an impressive six Academy Award nominations — as well as our own Golden Tomato for Best Reviewed Film of 2005 in Limited Release. “By its end,” enthused Movie Mezzanine’s Sam Fragoso, “Good Night, and Good Luck evolves into a prophetic vision of how television and film can be used to illuminate or insulate, educate or entertain.”

1. Looper 93%


A large part of Jeff Daniels’ considerable screen appeal has always been his ability to project an unassuming everyman aura, but acting opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to bring out the oddball in him: After stealing every scene he was in as Gordon-Levitt’s roommate in The Lookout, Daniels proceeded to do the same in Looper, injecting writer-director Rian Johnson’s thought-provoking sci-fi thriller with a madcap blast of energy as the sociopathic (and perversely likable) mob boss who orders Levitt’s hit man character to kill…well, we don’t want to spoil the fun if you haven’t already seen the movie. Point is, Looper is a lot of fun, not least because of Daniels’ performance, as well as what Deadspin’s Will Leitch called “A wildly entertaining film that isn’t content with science and cinematic tricks. It desires, and achieves, much more.”


Finally, here’s Daniels putting in a plug for his home state:


Tag Cloud

HBO Go book toy story DirecTV vampires kaiju Sci-Fi Pride Month screen actors guild marvel cinematic universe Watching Series BET comedies Shondaland black rotten movies we love Western quibi toronto Pirates Awards Action GoT ID 45 theme song 2021 crossover sequel Christmas 71st Emmy Awards superhero basketball Year in Review Emmys Marvel Studios Spike canceled Mary Poppins Returns comic screenings period drama Musicals all-time know your critic Freeform true crime Showtime RT21 dreamworks Lifetime telelvision psychological thriller The Walking Dead blaxploitation Fantasy reviews Masterpiece space Broadway dark Syfy supernatural biopic Musical The CW classics blockbusters spain Trivia 007 black comedy Pop TV adaptation Winter TV marvel comics Pixar Comic-Con@Home 2021 Music Fox Searchlight VICE GIFs boxoffice YouTube SDCC king kong crime IFC Britbox Television Critics Association Netflix Christmas movies talk show Marathons nbcuniversal Cartoon Network Captain marvel Lucasfilm criterion zombie video Turner Academy Awards dc The Academy Adult Swim asian-american movie festival documentaries Interview Superheroe hidden camera Heroines Calendar Bravo prank debate anthology Winners revenge what to watch australia 2015 rt labs critics edition Funimation versus 21st Century Fox Disney Peacock finale SXSW wonder woman spider-man 24 frames critic resources Apple Image Comics target 72 Emmy Awards new star wars movies travel 73rd Emmy Awards Vudu foreign sequels slasher royal family Marvel Television action-comedy Character Guide rom-coms cancelled TV series japan Amazon Prime Disney Channel robots TLC comic book movies ABC Family TV One Disney+ Disney Plus TV Comic Book Reality Competition Mudbound renewed TV shows facebook DGA Rock Baby Yoda Black History Month TV Land hispanic Paramount The Witch GLAAD Amazon Studios natural history young adult nfl Horror DC streaming service dramedy posters streaming harry potter binge discovery kids italian joker aliens diversity zero dark thirty American Society of Cinematographers Red Carpet remakes razzies Super Bowl godzilla crime thriller fresh crime drama Lionsgate romantic comedy breaking bad TIFF legend stop motion Disney Plus romance 20th Century Fox canceled TV shows critics archives SundanceTV game of thrones halloween tv Holidays green book Epix comic book movie Holiday children's TV Teen halloween series Hulu elevated horror Grammys Summer TCA The Purge comics adventure Opinion Martial Arts A24 CNN lord of the rings Lifetime Christmas movies Alien mutant trophy Pacific Islander teaser Kids & Family Universal Pictures dragons justice league BBC America movies Black Mirror video on demand 2017 cats nature technology Crunchyroll OneApp cancelled Amazon Quiz Netflix richard e. Grant Valentine's Day Infographic tv talk strong female leads south america VH1 spanish spinoff ESPN History docuseries medical drama scary ghosts Turner Classic Movies cars Superheroes Women's History Month Hallmark Christmas movies YouTube Premium TCA Winter 2020 MTV stand-up comedy Writers Guild of America Paramount Plus chucky monster movies 1990s french superman Ellie Kemper award winner streaming movies boxing Apple TV+ HFPA new york Mary Tyler Moore political drama Star Wars comiccon women Photos adenture NBA parents cooking Film Festival Rom-Com Nickelodeon Tubi Wes Anderson HBO Max Tumblr Tarantino NYCC television ITV cops animated Spring TV new zealand Nominations Thanksgiving twilight Instagram Live OWN gangster Mary poppins 79th Golden Globes Awards BBC One Neflix best X-Men Awards Tour a nightmare on elm street IMDb TV Comedy Central TNT Shudder cancelled TV shows rt labs scene in color Hollywood Foreign Press Association Discovery Channel social media hollywood mission: impossible San Diego Comic-Con mcc cancelled television Trophy Talk casting Animation Countdown james bond USA Network Reality biography ratings Brie Larson Video Games international spider-verse popular werewolf Mystery Warner Bros. slashers 99% zombies Oscars worst movies TBS feel good venice Sneak Peek transformers sports 90s TCM aapi Television Academy hispanic heritage month Spectrum Originals AMC Legendary Podcast mockumentary olympics vs. Creative Arts Emmys directors latino Cannes FXX scary movies Country BBC concert trailers Pet Sematary politics thriller jamie lee curtis Box Office Starz die hard dogs Pop Sony Pictures PBS laika TV movies fast and furious live action YouTube Red The Walt Disney Company Tags: Comedy Extras New York Comic Con USA 2018 Avengers cartoon unscripted independent FX psycho Comedy YA Trailer DC Universe E! mob free movies Disney streaming service VOD PaleyFest National Geographic comic books japanese DC Comics Mindy Kaling miniseries President Food Network Film saw Anna Paquin genre Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Marvel art house Drama Exclusive Video Biopics 2016 Fall TV Schedule Comics on TV disaster based on movie name the review Chernobyl Fargo Hear Us Out Cosplay worst APB historical drama Song of Ice and Fire Polls and Games Toys Nat Geo Apple TV Plus ABC Rocketman TruTV satire obituary Esquire football sag awards docudrama Fox News serial killer golden globe awards PlayStation ABC Signature Arrowverse war 2020 deadpool spy thriller Premiere Dates LGBTQ IFC Films CMT TV renewals NBC Star Trek cults Family RT History heist movie festivals WarnerMedia child's play ViacomCBS Paramount Network Walt Disney Pictures rotten jurassic park blockbuster Certified Fresh emmy awards suspense The Arrangement First Look doctor who king arthur dceu Chilling Adventures of Sabrina composers Best and Worst BAFTA Elton John live event batman BET Awards hist cinemax LGBT 4/20 Tomatazos FOX FX on Hulu MSNBC high school First Reviews Sundance TV Binge Guide E3 franchise Stephen King indie indiana jones stoner films Tokyo Olympics Universal 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards sitcom Endgame dexter Amazon Prime Video Ghostbusters CBS All Access spanish language christmas movies golden globes 2019 Ovation See It Skip It documentary TCA Awards Set visit Travel Channel leaderboard CW Seed sopranos pirates of the caribbean Hallmark game show Dark Horse Comics Acorn TV WGN Classic Film Emmy Nominations singing competition AMC Plus Prime Video anime Sundance news rt archives El Rey Rocky MCU reboot CBS A&E Logo 93rd Oscars police drama TCA 2017 science fiction HBO witnail Columbia Pictures Sundance Now Crackle kong book adaptation scorecard Election universal monsters