11 Best Movies to Watch by Brian Cox

Staff & contributors

Before The Silence of the Lambs and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal, there was Manhunter and Brian Cox’s deeply unnerving Dr. Lecktor. Michael Mann’s neon-lit serial-killer thriller follows Will Graham (William Petersen), a retired FBI agent lured back to work by a psychotic mass murderer whom no one at the Bureau can catch. But Will has something no one else on the force does: he was so committed to tracking down the now-imprisoned Lecktor that he developed an ability to warp his mind into that of a deranged killer, seeing a kind of logic in their madness that allows him to hunt them down. 

While that’s a professional superpower of sorts, it’s also a point of insecurity and a source of deep torture for Will, who struggles with the burden of his extraordinary empathy. Manhunter is thus a different kind of psychological thriller: while its dive into the depraved minds of Lecktor and the Tooth Fairy is certainly disturbing, it’s the obsessive, sanity-smashing effect the investigation has on Will that is most terrifying. Add to that Dante Spinotti’s impossibly vivid cinematography, Tom Noonan’s shudder-inducing performance as the voyeuristic Tooth Fairy, and the film’s surprisingly layered treatment of the murderer, and this is the serial-killer movie to end all others.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Neil, Annie McEnroe, Benjamin Hendrickson, Bill Cwikowski, Bill Smitrovich, Brian Cox, Chris Elliott, Cynthia Chvatal, Dan Butler, David Allen Brooks, David Seaman, Dennis Farina, Elisabeth Ryall, Frankie Faison, Garcelle Beauvais, Gusmano Cesaretti, Jim Zubiena, Joan Allen, Joanne Camp, John Posey, Ken Colquitt, Kim Greist, Kin Shriner, Kristin Holby, LA Winters, Marshall Bell, Michael D. Roberts, Michael Talbott, Michele Shay, Norman Snow, Pat Williams, Patricia Charbonneau, Paul Perri, Peter Maloney, Robin Moseley, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, William Petersen

Director: Michael Mann

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman's clever writing and Spike Jones' unique style of directing, the film unfolds using "mise en abîme" as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage's performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour, Caron Colvett, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Curt Clendenin, Curtis Hanson, David O. Russell, Donald Dowd, Doug Jones, Gary Farmer, Gregory Itzin, Jay Tavare, Jim Beaver, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Judy Greer, Larry Krask, Lisa Love, Litefoot, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Peter Jason, Roger E. Fanter, Roger Willie, Ron Livingston, Sandra Lee Gimpel, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tilda Swinton

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: R

If it weren’t for his knack for writing, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) would never have gotten into a prep school like Rushmore. But his art secures him a scholarship, and what he lacks in smarts and money, he makes up for in school pride. As he flunks more and more of his academics, however, he is eventually kicked out, and it’s outside the halls of his beloved Rushmore, stripped of all titles and insignia, where he learns to be his true self.  

As the film’s comedic and emotional core, Schwartzman is a revelation as the ambitious and sharp-tongued Max. Equally captivating is Bill Murray’s deadpan but lovable turn as Max’s millionaire friend, Herman Blume. It’s a role so fitting, in fact, that the poor-rich-man character will follow Murray well into his career, long after the curtains close on Mr. Blume. Meanwhile, Wes Anderson will go on to do more colorful and stylized pictures than Rushmore, but thanks to its unbeatable wit and down-to-earth charm, the film remains to be one of the auteur’s most delightful and hilarious works to date. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexis Bledel, Andrew Wilson, Antoni Scarano, Bill Murray, Brandon Trost, Brian Cox, Brian Tenenbaum, Connie Nielsen, Dipak Pallana, Ed Geldart, Eric Chase Anderson, George Farish, Jason Schwartzman, Jason Trost, Kim Terry, Kumar Pallana, Lucille Sadikin, Luke Wilson, Marietta Marich, Mason Gamble, Morgan Redmond, Olivia Williams, Paul Schiff, Sara Tanaka, Seymour Cassel, Stephen Dignan, Stephen McCole, Wallace Wolodarsky

Director: Wes Anderson

In Ken Loach’s conspiracy thriller, an American human rights activist (Frances McDormand) and a no-nonsense UK police officer (Brian Cox) work tirelessly to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death — but this is no rousing triumph of good over evil, only a bitter pill about corruption and complicity. Human rights lawyer Paul (Brad Dourif) and girlfriend Ingrid (McDormand) are in Troubles-era Belfast wrapping up their report into the UK government’s shoot-to-kill policy when Paul is shot dead by mysterious assailants while on his way to speak to an informant. Police investigator Kerrigan (Cox) is flown in from England to look into the death; Cox plays him as a stickler for the rules and fierce agent of justice, inspired by a real-life official who was abruptly suspended from the police before he could deliver his findings into the UK government’s alleged death squad in Northern Ireland.

But the network of high-level corruption that Kerrigan and Ingrid uncover poses a direct challenge to those values, ultimately forcing him to choose between revealing the conspiracy — and risk destroying his life — or concealing the truth and betraying his ethics. A fascinating look at the slippery slope to complicity, this is a gripping, unabashedly ideological conspiracy thriller blending Hollywood polish with gritty reality.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bernard Archard, Bernard Bloch, Brad Dourif, Brian Cox, Brian McCann, Des McAleer, Frances McDormand, George Staines, Ian McElhinney, Jim Norton, John Benfield, John Keegan, Llew Gardner, Mai Zetterling, Maurice Roëves, Michelle Fairley, Oliver Maguire, Patrick Kavanagh, Paul Moriarty

Director: Ken Loach

Rating: R

With a great cast, a relevant story, and a stirring romance, The Boxer is all set to be a great film, but the resulting feature feels like a letdown. Irish director Jim Sheridan has teamed up with English actor Daniel Day Lewis for a feature depicting the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and for the most part, it’s decently made, but the film struggles to balance the romance and the politics of its story, with Day Lewis’ boxing lagging behind. There are plenty of interesting threads here– the right to self-determination, on both the individual and national level, the loss of youth, and the way war makes cities turn on themselves– which are all emotionally carried by the performances, but the structure fails to organize these ideas into a daring and cohesive statement. The Boxer isn’t a terrible watch, but it just feels like it could have delved more deeply into the conflict, or better yet, could have been at least two separate movies.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Brian Cox, Brian Milligan, Britta Smith, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Daniel Day-Lewis, David Hayman, Des Braiden, Don Foley, Eleanor Methven, Emily Watson, Frances Tomelty, Gerard McSorley, Ian McElhinney, Jer O'Leary, Joan Sheehy, John Cowley, John Wall, Ken Stott, Kenneth Cranham, Liam Carney, Lorraine Pilkington, Maria McDermottroe, Mark Mulholland, Mick Tohill, Niall Shanahan, Nye Heron, Paul Ronan, Peter Sheridan, Tom Bell, Tom Maguire, Veronica Duffy, Vinny Murphy

Director: Jim Sheridan

Rating: R

Yet another drama designed to be emotional without actually doing the heavy lifting to get us invested, Prisoner's Daughter takes the easy way out at every turn, mistaking its use of capital-I Issues and dramatic plot points for substantial writing. This doesn't mean that the film itself isn't still watchable and competently performed (by a typically strong Brian Cox, but especially by Kate Beckinsale); it just fails to make a statement about any of its disparate parts mashed together. At the end of the day, it feels as if the film doesn't have enough faith in the already complex and difficult relationship at its center, so it attempts to dress it up with prison, cancer, drug addicts, and epilepsy—which only cheapens what's already there.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Brian Cox, Christopher Convery, Chuti Tiu, Cinthia Moura, Ernie Hudson, Jon Huertas, Kate Beckinsale, Mark Kubr, Mark Oliver Everett, Tyson Ritter, Yonel Dorelis

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Rating: R

There is a world where all of Little Wing's ideas make thematic sense, as a story about a young woman reeling from the difficulty of her home life. But as it is now, the film just isn't tightly woven enough, with various characters and subplots making little effect on the whole and major conflicts barely leaving consequences for the characters to deal with afterwards. It's definitely unique; you aren't likely to find many movies about pigeon racing anywhere. But even then, Little Wing doesn't allow us to get an insider look into pigeon racing as a sport, nor how this underground network is even supposed to operate. Without a strong enough setting to support this story, it becomes much harder to suspend one's disbelief and enjoy the strange things it shows us.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brian Cox, Brooklynn Prince, Che Tafari, Hank Cartwright, Ina Chang, Jason Rouse, Jeanine Jackson, Jonathan Togo, Kelly Reilly, Lowell Deo, Melanie Nicholls-King, Parker Hall, Trinity Bliss

Director: Dean Israelite

Rating: PG-13