Frequently considered one of the greatest animated movies of all times, and certainly the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli at their very best. It was also the first non-English animation movie to win an Oscar. On the surface, it's a film about a Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. In a creepy spiritual world full of Shinto folklore spirits, she sees all kinds of magic and fantastic creatures, while having to find a way to save her parents and escape. In addition to the adventure, the coming-of-age theme, and the motifs of ancient Japanese lore, the film can also be understood as a critique of the Western influence on Japanese culture and the struggle for identity in the wake of the 1990s economic crisis. A deep, fast-paced, and hypnotizing journey.
17 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2001
Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2001. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.
The atmosphere in Millennium Mambo is magical. The opening scene alone will leave you enchanted, with long walks through a tunnel-like space and dreamy techno music playing in the background. We are misled into thinking that this will be a movie full of colors and dance, and to some degree, this is true, as it portrays Taipei and its neon colors of green, pink, and blue, featuring dance sequences in a bar that serves flashy drinks. But as the movie develops, a chilling shadow is cast as we become entangled in a brutal relationship that is as full of cruelty as it is of love and lust. Narrated from the future, the story shows how the present-day protagonist, Vicky, grapples with her identity as she looks back upon her past self from ten years ago.
Chaotic, messy, but also peppered with moments of serenity and shot with flawless camerawork and cinematography, Millennium Mambo makes time feel fluid, and serves as a reminder that no matter how rough the journey may be, everything is always okay in the end.
Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance
If you mention "coming-of-age show" and "Judd Apatow" in one breath, chances are people will think you're talking about Freaks and Geeks, the highly revered series about a group of friends trying and failing to fit into high school. Despite being a commercial bust, it cemented Apatow as a tragicomic giant and launched the careers of Seth Rogen and James Franco (among many others) as the figures to watch out for a slapstick good time. But there is another series that falls into this category: the little-known but brilliant Undeclared, which also follows a group of young people (Rogen included!) trying their best to figure things out.
Undeclared is set in college, however, and its main protagonist is Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel), a freshman who has a year to decide what he's majoring in; until then, his status is undeclared. He's joined by his roommates and the girls next door, and together they experiment—with class, ideologies, fraternities, and each other. The sky's the limit for these newly independent adults, and as such, Apatow doesn't hold back in his humor and subject matter. Undeclared captures that weird mix of apathy and ambition and awkwardness that college makes you feel, making it perfectly relatable for many of us.
It's also worth mentioning that a great deal of comedians, both established and up-and-coming at the time, make cameos here, including Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and pre-dental-surgery Amy Poehler.
“What is happiness?” is one of those philosophical questions that seem destined to go unanswered, one that, when asked, starts a debate that splinters into smaller debates, all of which lead to nowhere. This film is sort of an embodiment of that question, but instead of being vague and pointless, it revels in mystery and multitudes. What is happiness? We follow five different people who attempt to answer that in their own ways.
It might seem gimmicky to try to link strangers’ lives with the concept of happiness, but in the hands of a brilliant director and ensemble, it becomes a treat. With its deeply human characters, smartly structured plot, and eloquent dialogue, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a rare gem of a film, as perceptive as it is poignant.
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.
Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.
Millennium Actress, from famed animation director Satoshi Kon, is about lives lived and unlived. It follows Chiyoko Fujiwara, an actress from Japan’s golden age of cinema, as she recounts her life to two documentarians making a film about the history of the now-defunct Ginei Studios. Kon employs a metafilm narrative approach, framing Chiyoko’s lifelong search for her great love through the movie roles she has played, all interweaved through Kon’s stunning genre switches and signature match cuts. Millennium Actress poignantly explores the bittersweet irony of “larger-than-life” cinema, how it can contain a multitude of lifetimes and still be lacking, and how films serve as extensions of memories and yearning.
Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this brilliant small-scale drama by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before trilogy). Hawke plays Vince, a volatile drug dealer who rekindles with his high school friend, Jon (Robert Sean Leonard).
And that’s it: there are only three characters in this movie, and it’s all set within a Michigan motel room.
But boy is it tense in that room, and man is this film so brilliantly written and well-acted. Vince, Jon, and Amy (Thurman’s character) discuss an event 10 years prior involving rape.
Robert Redford and Brad Pitt make quite the ensemble in this edgy game of espionage. With performances as strong as their jawlines, this action-packed rescue mission will keep you in suspense! Be sure to keep up with all the witty banter and interesting plot twists shifting between flashbacks and present-day scenarios. Keep in mind that this isn't your average spy movie, with a more realistic approach and a character-driven storyline, most of the flash happens cinematically.
Pan’s Labyrinth is often considered director Guillermo Del Toro’s best film, and rightfully so. But if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this is the film that gets the job done. Everything about this film is sad and beautiful and unnerving, from the setting (an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War) to the atmospheric visuals.
In my own wished-for parallel universe, French actors Vincent Cassell and Emanuelle Devos are voted the sexiest actors alive. I find them both transfixing and appealing in every role they’ve performed, and they are quite the pair here. Devos plays Carla, a put-upon assistant at a property management company. While good at her job, there is little room for her to advance her career, as she is one of the only women at her company and also has a hearing deficiency. Into her humdrum life walks ex-convict Paul (Cassell), who Carla hires as a personal assistant. It turns out that what Paul lacks in secretarial skills he makes up for in other ways. The first half of the film plays almost like a dark workplace comedy, before taking a dangerous turn towards psychological crime thriller. Overall, it’s a dark and sexy character study of two mismatched outsiders who turn out to complement each other perfectly.
Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a dark comedy that follows the exploits of teenage outcasts Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate the many complexities of burgeoning adulthood. Central to the story is the unlikely friendship that Enid strikes up with a lonesome older man (played by Steve Buscemi), a curious relationship that drifts through various humorous and melancholy situations. It’s an original and often poignant look at alienation and identity, with Birch delivering a wonderfully deadpan and often hilarious performance, despite her entirely pessimistic attitude. It’s the type of film that’s just right when you’re in the mood for something just a little bit different.