2015 Movies You Might Not Have Seen (But Should!)

2015 was my last year of film school. It was a very busy year – we posted one set of films, and then developed, shot, and posted an entirely new set of films – but in spite of all that, I managed to see twenty eight new release films. I’ve always felt that, while working in the film industry would be (and will be!) an absolute dream, it would all be for nothing if I didn’t still get to go see movies in a theater on a regular basis. Getting to see a movie at least every other week was an important part of keeping me sane during this very intense year.

Unlike in years past, however, the twenty eight films I saw were almost entirely major wide release films, the bulk of them larger budget blockbusters. I don’t mind this – my tastes, particularly post-film school, have always trended more populist than anything else – but it also means that my top ten are pretty much films you’ve all seen already. For those curious, I ranked all twenty eight films I saw over on my Letterboxd page.

Instead of doing a big ol’ “TOP TEN OF 2015” post like I might have done in years past, I wanted to bring your attention to some films I really liked this year that didn’t do so well at the box office, and probably flew mostly under your radar. They’re films I think are super interesting at their worst, and very effective and surprising at their best. If you missed any of them, I hope you’ll give them a shot –they’re all worth your time.

So let’s get started!

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The Only Eulogy I Need


I’m not good at endings.

In my defense: endings are hard. When you’re writing a story in any medium, your ending needs to say everything that you want to say in the most concise way possible; which, given that you’ve spent 90-plus minutes / 300-plus pages / five-plus hours of gameplay saying what you want to say in a decidedly not-concise way, is going to be very difficult for you to do. How do you drill down the core of your story and lay out its thesis statement in an emotionally resolving way?

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I Didn’t Like Jurassic World


There’s been a Word document open on my computer for two weeks now. It’s a 4,000-plus word behemoth of a document that grows every time I tab over to it and read what I was last writing. It’s the sum total of two weeks of thinking about Jurassic World, and trying to parse through everything I didn’t like about the film, everything that I think is hopelessly broken about the film, and everything that I think worked but failed to salvage the film.

4,000 words is excessive. I’ve written 8,000-word reviews before, but those often have some grand point to be made, like “Frozen is structured like a Shakespearean tragedy with musical numbers placed at act breaks which is dramatically efficient and brilliant.” With Jurassic World, I really don’t have a grand point to be made other than “I didn’t like this movie, at all.”

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This Batman vs Superman Trailer Doesn’t Understand Either Of Its Title Characters

It’s been a weird week for geeks. Disney and J.J. Abrams blew our minds with that new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer that leaned heavily on original trilogy nostalgia – narration from Luke, a downed Star Destroyer, Darth Vader’s mangled mask, allusions to Leia (holding a lightsaber?), and the reappearance of Han Solo – while also promising a great deal of new stuff and new characters who appear to be very interesting.

I say it blew our minds because the internet has been having a collective fit over that trailer since it first hit the net. It hits all the right notes. It’s a perfect piece of marketing and hype, assuring people that they have not forgotten the characters everybody loves, but nor are they resting on their laurels and relying on them. Normally I hate Abrams’ marketing tacks, and while the Celebration panel overall was underwhelming and filled with traditional Abrams’ obscurity in the name of the mystery box, the trailer I cannot deny is wonderful.

Then Warner Brothers messed up colossally with their bizarre plans to debut a trailer as a stand-alone IMAX experience, and leaked a Batman vs. Superman trailer three days early. After a feeble attempt to cover up the trailer, they eventually caved and released the whole thing.

The better thing to do would have been to scuttle the trailer entirely: this is one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen.

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Cinematography in 2014

The Oscars are tonight. Let’s talk about my favorite category:

Best Cinematography.

To most people who hear me talk about a film I love for more than a few minutes, this isn’t surprising. Cinematography is one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking: it’s the field I want to enter into upon graduating film school, and it’s always the thing I am most conscious of while watching a film. And when it’s good, you can feel it, even if you can’t articulate it.

This year’s Oscar crop of cinematographers is an interesting one, in that it contains three of my favorite cinematographers, one I immensely admire, and two (collaborating on the same film) whose work I have never seen. It’s a good set of films, and one of the few categories where I don’t feel there were any egregious snubs. But 2014 was a tremendous year for film (and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise), and there are a lot of cinematographers with work in 2014 that deserves commendation. Let’s talk about the nominated gentlemen (they are, regrettably, all men, and I am hard pressed to think of a woman cinematographer other than Amy Vincent), and then about who else had amazing work in 2014. Continue reading

30 Things I Hate About Interstellar


I hate that Interstellar is the first Christopher Nolan film I’ve walked out of without feeling like I had just seen a great film.

I hate that, from the opening moments, it telegraphs its ending ones, rendering so many of the proceedings dramatically inert.

I hate that it has a victimization complex, trying really hard to make scientific process the underdog in the opening stretch of the film.

I hate that it sets up this hopeless world fairly effectively, and then dares to suggest that we were foolish for not having hope.

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LetterboxdHello Constant Readers!

In keeping with the shift in philosophy, standard film reviews aren’t going to be around Cox in a Box in the future. But I still like to recommend films to people and some people are still interested in my general thoughts on movies (and I love you for that). So I figured I’d share my Letterboxd account here.

Letterboxd is a super cool site that lets me keep track of what films I’ve seen and rate them, sort them into lists… all sorts of neat things. It’s perfect for the kind of gut-reaction, “did I like this or did I hate this” thoughts that used to go into the film reviews. So if for whatever reason you guys are still interested in what movies I’m into, you can check out my Letterboxd account to see what I’ve been watching.

Over there right now is my list of the 15 best films of 2013 – a list that I’ve been keeping and updating since December – in lieu of the traditional collaboration with Ryan, a post that fell through the cracks of film school’s insane demands on our time (not that I’m complaining; I love it!).

Happy movie watching, you crazy people.

A Shift in Philosophy

There has been a shift in my philosophy on film criticism of late. While everything I said in my longer post about film criticism a few months back remains accurate, I have shied away from the film reviews I used to post here. There haven’t been the standard “Review: [Film]” posts lately, as I’m sure Constant Readers (if they exist) have noticed. That’s not because I haven’t been seeing movies – quite the contrary – but because I began to feel as if those posts were not particularly worthwhile. They were ultimately surface thoughts and first impressions rather than longer, reasoned thoughts and critiques of films. And that’s not the kind of criticism I want to foster. If I want to give first impressions and gut feelings, I’ll post that on Facebook or Twitter. If I think people should go see The Lego Movie (note: you should go see The Lego Movie), then I’ll tell them, quite plainly. No need for 1,000 words talking about why they should go see The Lego Movie when those words ultimately amount to “it’s a whole lot of fun with a lot of heart.”

Instead, you’ll notice that film reviews have been tagged with “Longread” – at least the two most recent ones. The Frozen “review” wasn’t even tagged as a film review, but rather as film theory. And that’s the kind of change I’ve been making: I’m no longer talking about immediate reactions and thoughts about movies, because frankly I think most people are going to already have realized what I would say in those pieces. Instead, I’m allowing movies to sit in my mind for a lot longer, to take root, and fester. To let their ideas percolate down and affect my basic thought processes on a profound level. Then I’ll talk about them. But I won’t talk about “this is why it was good,” but rather “this is what this movie has to say, and this is why that’s awesome.”

I think this approach has been fulfilling. I got a whole lot of positive feedback about my Frozen post, and for that I thank everybody who read it. I had a blast writing it, and your good vibes meant a lot to me. I never got feedback that strong about my simple reviews, and I think this change in philosophy is in large part responsible. A lot of people saw and loved Frozen. My article about it dug into some deeper ideas within Frozen and, in trying to intimate why I loved it, I believe I helped a lot of people come to a deeper understanding of why they themselves loved Frozen. That may be a bit presumptuous, but a lot of you told me something to that effect, and it warms my heart so much to know that I am succeeding (at least in part) at that goal I stated back in the criticism post in July: to help people love movies as much as I do, and understand on a deep and profound level exactly why they love them.

The Wind Rises post got a lot less response, but I think that’s because so very, very few people have seen it. And while it was written very shortly after I saw the film, I do believe that it was as thought out and reasoned as the Frozen article. This isn’t just a trend of posts. Film school has made my time evaporate, and I’ve been devoting what free time I do have to writing other things. I assure you, though, that when a film manages to capture my heart and mind as Frozen and The Wind Rises did, you will hear about it. I want to assure you all that this is the new normal for Cox in a Box. I hope you will continue reading and continue following me on this journey, as I pursue this singular dream of filmmaking and film criticism. Your continued support has meant more to me than you can ever know.

The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s best film


The Wind Rises is a haunted film. It is a beautiful film, easily possessing the greatest animation of Miyazaki’s considerable body of work. But all of that beauty comes at a price: the haunted horrors of war, illness, and the torment of an artist’s soul.

Telling the mostly-true-but-fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aviation engineer who developed a number of planes for the Japanese war machine during World War II, The Wind Rises is a significant departure from the typically-fantastic style Miyazaki is known for. To be sure, the film does not always present a realistic reality: in many cases, even outside the film’s spectacular dream sequences, the reality presented is idealized and fantastic in nature. The billowing smoke clouds over the devastated city of Tokyo. The decidedly human voice of an earthquake. The otherworldly, paradisiacal scenes set at Satomi’s inn. These things mask a profoundly unsettling and uncomfortable reality that lies in the dark fringes of this haunted film. The spectre of war looms intimidatingly over all, and colors everything that happens in the film’s epic plot.

This is Miyazaki’s best film. Let’s talk about it.

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Frozen is Disney’s best film in over 15 years


It shouldn’t be a revelation to any of you that I love Walt Disney Animation Studios, because I’ve never really made efforts to conceal that. I’ve always worn that love on my sleeves, happily belting out lyrics, buying tickets to every new release and rerelease that the studio pushes into theaters, memorizing the release order of the whole canon, and encouraging anybody who will listen to me to not overlook them simply on account of their being animated. I’ve stuck with the company even through the dark times, when films like Brother Bear and Chicken Little and – I shudder as I even think about this one – Home on the Range were populating the theaters. They are one of the most enduring influencers on my life and outlook. And they tell stories about princesses.

Today, I’m going to talk about canon film number 53: Frozen. It’s a film I saw a few months back and enjoyed greatly. It’s a film I didn’t talk much about at first, but has been in the back of my mind the whole time. It’s a film I am now ready, after several repeat screenings, to talk about in full. This is going to be a long article, so I hope you’re ready to get your think on.

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