7 Best Movies to Watch by Chris Cooper

Staff & contributors

Journalist LLoyd Vogel (Matthey Rhys) scoffs at the prospect of a profile commission, or a "puff piece", as he calls it. His self-respect and professional ruthlessness has driven people away and this assignment may well be a test from his editor. But it is serendipity that brings Lloyd to American TV host Mister Roger (Tom Hanks) and his child-oriented show, at a time when he, a new father, is confronted with his own paternal trauma. No heavy psychological lifting here, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might be one of the most profound films about father-son relationships ever made. Notably, the film is directed by a woman, Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). In her film as in his show, Mister Roger doesn't have to do much: he listens, he speaks, he suggests, and while his kindness may seem frustrating at times, it is truly radical. Additionally, Lloyd's character is based loosely on writer Tom Junod, whose encounter with Rogers ended up a profile in Esquire magazine.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alex Pérez, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantoni, Fred Rogers, Gavin Borders, Gregory Bromfield, Gretchen Koerner, Jessica Hecht, Joanne Rogers, Joe Fishel, Kelley Davis, Kevin L. Johnson, Khary Payton, Kitty Crystal, Krizia Bajos, Maddie Corman, Maryann Plunkett, Matthew Rhys, Michael Masini, Noah Harpster, Patrick McDade, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tammy Blanchard, Tom Bonello, Tom Hanks, Wendy Makkena

Director: Marielle Heller

Rating: PG

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

All kinds of lines — those separating good and bad, past and present, and even international borders — are blurred in this neo-Western gem. Though it’s entirely set in a small Texas border town, Lone Star pulls off all the gravity and sweep of an epic thanks to its seemingly-micro-actually-macro focuses and sprawling ensemble. It’s all kickstarted by the discovery of a skull in the scrub near Frontera, Texas; Sheriff Sam Deeds (a quietly captivating Chris Cooper) thinks he knows who it belongs to and who might have buried it there: his deceased father Buddy (Matthew McConaughey), the much-loved former sheriff of the town whose shadow Sam has long been living in.

And so an investigation of this historic crime begins, unearthing along the way many more skeletons — both individual and national — as Sam interviews those who knew his father and the victim. Lone Star’s brilliance is in the way it entwines with Sam’s investigation a broader exploration of America’s sins and their lingering legacies, particularly the many-headed effects of its history of racism. Lone Star weaves its political and personal elements together with seamless flourish, making for a rich tapestry of America’s past and present that never sidesteps the grander questions it provokes.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance

Actor: Beatrice Winde, Chandra Wilson, Chris Cooper, Clifton James, Eleese Lester, Elizabeth Peña, Frances McDormand, Gabriel Casseus, Gordon Tootoosis, Jeff Monahan, Jesse Borrego, Joe Morton, Joe Stevens, John Griesemer, Kris Kristofferson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Leo Burmester, Marco Perella, Matthew McConaughey, Miriam Colon, Oni Faida Lampley, Randy Stripling, Richard Coca, Ron Canada, Sam Vlahos, Stephen J. Lang, Stephen Mendillo, Tony Amendola, Tony Frank, Tony Plana, Vanessa Martinez

Director: John Sayles

Though it paints in overly broad strokes and takes a while to get going, this tale of broken people finding each other eventually reaches an irresistibly feel-good conclusion. Like many good sports movies, Seabiscuit isn't really dependent on the final outcome of a matchup between underdog and high-profile contender. What becomes important, then, is the perseverance of a handful of individuals in doing something just to prove they can beat the odds. And while there aren't actually as many racing sequences in Seabiscuit as you might be led to believe, they're well worth the wait—punctuating the drama with sharp editing and beautiful, period-specific production design.

Genre: Drama, Family, History

Actor: Annie Corley, Cameron Bowen, Camillia Sanes, Carl M. Craig, Chris Cooper, Dan Daily, Danny Strong, David Doty, David McCullough, Dyllan Christopher, Ed Lauter, Eddie Jones, Elizabeth Banks, Finder's Key, Gary L. Stevens, Gary McGurk, Gary Ross, Gary Stevens, Gianni Russo, Hans Howes, James Keane, Jeff Bridges, Jesse Hernandez, John Walcutt, Ken Magee, Kevin Mangold, Kingston DuCoeur, Mariah Bess, Matt Miller, Michael Angarano, Michael B. Silver, Michael Ensign, Michael O'Neill, Michelle Arthur, Noah Luke, Pat Skipper, Paul Vincent O'Connor, Peter Jason, Richard Reeves, Robin Bissell, Royce D. Applegate, Sam Bottoms, Shay Duffin, Tobey Maguire, Valerie Mahaffey, William H. Macy

Director: Gary Ross

Rating: PG-13

Even those who aren't baseball aficionados should find something interesting and human in this straightforward, brainy documentary Fastball looks at the titular type of pitch not just from a place of scientific curiosity but as a symbolic goal that players all over the world chase after. Through many clear-eyed discussions and testimonials, we begin to see how a large part of the sport has been structured around the idea of understanding speed—and how some careers have been made or broken by trying to catch up with the greats. But in the end, Fastball takes a surprisingly subjective position on the matter; instead of definitively stating who's the fastest on earth, it affirms that everyone has their own legends they look up to, pushing them to be greater.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Bryce Harper, Chris Cooper, Denard Span, Derek Jeter, Ernie Banks, George Brett, Hank Aaron, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Justin Verlander, Kevin Costner, Mike Schmidt, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn

Director: Jonathan Hock

Directed by Sam Mendes Jarhead is based on the best-selling 2003 memoir of the same title. In the film, Swofford is a 20-year-old soldier in the US Marine Corps during the 1991 Gulf War who is trained to be a sniper. But as the days go by, he doesn’t fire a single shot, given there is no one left to wage a battle after the US air attacks on the Iraqi army. Unlike most war movies, Jarhead stands out for its singular focus on the personal experience of a lost young soldier.  

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brian Geraghty, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert, Evan Jones, Iván Fenyö, Iván Fenyö, Jacob Vargas, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Laz Alonso, Lucas Black, Peter Sarsgaard, Sam Mendes, Scott MacDonald

Director: Sam Mendes

Rating: R