22 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2001

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2001. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

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.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Akiko Tomihira, Akio Nakamura, Bob Bergen, Bunta Sugawara, Daveigh Chase, David Ogden Stiers, Hayashikoba, Hiromi Takeuchi, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jack Angel, Jason Marsden, Jim Ward, John Ratzenberger, Kaori Yamagata, Katsutomo Shîbara, Kazutaka Hayashida, Ken Yasuda, Koba Hayashi, Lauren Holly, Mari Natsuki, Masayuki Kizu, Mayumi Saco, Michael Chiklis, Michiko Yamamoto, Mina Meguro, Minako Masuda, Miyu Irino, Naoto Kaji, Noriko Kitou, Orika Ono, Paul Eiding, Rina Yamada, Rodger Bumpass, Rumi Hiiragi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shigeru Wakita, Shigeyuki Totsugi, Shinobu Katabuchi, Shiro Saito, Sonoko Soeda, Susan Egan, Suzanne Pleshette, Takashi Naito, Takehiko Ono, Tara Strong, Tatsuya Gashuin, Tetsurô Ishibashi, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yayoi Kazuki, Yo Oizumi, Yoko Ono, Yoshitaka Sukegawa, Yumi Tamai, 沢口靖子

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, whose art is specific to the natural locations he creates them in and made only from the natural materials he finds in them. This is putting it very technically: Goldsworthy is a solitary wanderer, absorbed in the moment, unworried about what comes after him. Using often only his bare hands, he creates fleeting works of art that often looks like nature itself could have created them. The opening has him calmly forming a spiral out of icicles using the heat of his hands to fuse the pieces together. As painstaking as this process is, his art is not meant to live forever. Once completed, it is handed over to the rivers and tides to do with it as they please. Directed, shot, and edited by Thomas Riedelsheimer, a German filmmaker, Rivers and Tides takes an in-depth look at Goldsworthy's ideas and craft, everywhere from upstate New York to his home village in Scotland. A calming and inspiring journey.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Andy Goldsworthy, Anna Goldsworthy, Holly Goldsworthy

Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer

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.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chun-hao Tuan, Doze Niu Cheng-Tse, Duan Chun-hao, Jack Kao, Pauline Chan, Pauline Chan Bo-Lin, Qi Shu, Rio Peng, Shu Qi

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hsiao-Hsien Hou

Rating: R

Gosford Park inspired screenwriter Julian Fellowes to create Downton Abbey — but don’t let that association fool you, because this is no quaint, sentimental period drama but a scalding satire of 1930s England class relations (even though Maggie Smith does play a withering dowager countess here, too). Robert Altman, master orchestrator of ensembles, assembled a banquet of performers here, including Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Charles Dance as the well-to-do attendees of a hunting party on a grand estate. Working furiously to meet their every whim is the house’s domestic staff, played by such talents as Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen.

The murder comes over an hour into the film, which ought to tell you about its real focus (Altman actually called Gosford Park a “who cares whodunnit”). In place of Agatha Christie-style intrigue is brilliant characterization and storytelling. Even at 137 minutes, 30-plus characters mean time is of the essence, but Altman and his actors miraculously find a way to convey a deep sense of each person — especially those downstairs. This tangle of rich lives never gets overwhelming, though, because Gosford Park is expertly paced. It’s nothing less than a joy to sit back and experience the masterful unraveling of its many threads, each more revelatory than the last.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Scarborough, Alan Bates, Bob Balaban, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Claudie Blakley, Clive Owen, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Emma Buckley, Finty Williams, Frances Low, Frank Thornton, Geraldine Somerville, Gregor Henderson-Begg, Helen Mirren, James Wilby, Jeremy Northam, Jeremy Swift, John Atterbury, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Laura Harling, Laurence Fox, Leo Bill, Lucy Cohu, Maggie Smith, Meg Wynn Owen, Michael Gambon, Natasha Wightman, Richard E. Grant, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Flind, Sophie Thompson, Stephen Fry, Teresa Churcher, Tom Hollander, Trent Ford

Director: Robert Altman

Rating: R

Based on the Austrian novel, The Piano Teacher is as brilliant and as disturbed as its protagonist. The film follows Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), the repressed masochist in question, and the trainwreck of a relationship that she develops with her student Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). Their dynamic is undeniably toxic. Austrian auteur Michael Haneke frames each scene with clinical detachment, but it is absolutely brutal how the two characters try to assert control over each other, engage in sadomasochism, and repeatedly violate each other’s boundaries. Huppert’s heartrending performance fully commits to the merciless treatment Erika receives. But more tragic is the way Erika’s unusual relationship could’ve freed her, could’ve helped her process her abuse, and instead, reinforces her repression. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by admitting your desires, only for them to be used against you.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Anna Sigalevitch, Annie Girardot, Benoit Magimel, Eva Green, Georg Friedrich, Gerti Drassl, Isabelle Huppert, Liliana Nelska, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Vivian Bartsch

Director: Michael Haneke

Rating: R

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

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Billy Zane, Chuck Ardezzone, David Bailey, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Elizabeth Reaser, Garret Dillahunt, Glenn Fitzgerald, Heather Goldenhersh, Henry Bean, Joel Garland, Joel Marsh Garland, Jordan Lage, Joshua Harto, Kris Eivers, Lucille Patton, Michael Port, Peter Meadows, Ronald Guttman, Ryan Gosling, Sascha Knopf, Sig Libowitz, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Tibor Feldman, Tommy Nohilly

Director: Henry Bean

Rating: R

In his debut feature, Jonathan Glazer masterfully subverts our expectations of heist movies to thrilling effect: what should be a perfunctory moment — the classic recruitment scene — is stretched out into nearly an entire film of its own here, and we’re not off the edge of our seat for even a second of it.

All retired Cockney gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) wants to do is lounge around the pool of his Spanish villa with beloved wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But now there’s a spanner in the works: an unhinged old acquaintance, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, never better), has unexpectedly rocked up at Gal's hacienda to enlist him for a big job on behalf of the London underworld’s top brass. Don is the type of man you just don’t say “no” to, but the pull of Gal’s idyllic retirement is so powerful that he does just that, a narrative swerve that spins this film off the well-worn (but still enjoyable) track we expected it to follow. Directed with cool assurance, full of unforgettable set-pieces, overflowing with style, and even further distinguished by some surreal touches that really get under the skin, this is one of the slickest, funniest, and most exhilarating crime movies ever.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Álvaro Monje, Amanda Redman, Andy Lucas, Ben Kingsley, Cavan Kendall, Chris Webb, Desirée Erasmus, Eddie O'Connell, Gérard Barray, Ian McShane, James Fox, Julianne White, Ray Winstone, Rocky Taylor, Terence Plummer

Director: Jonathan Glazer

“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. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: A.D. Miles, Alan Arkin, Alex Burns, Amy Irving, Barbara Andres, Barbara Sukowa, Clea DuVall, Daryl Edwards, Deirdre Lovejoy, Dion Graham, Elizabeth Reaser, Frankie Faison, James Murtaugh, James Yaegashi, Joel Marsh Garland, John Turturro, Joseph Siravo, Malcolm Gets, Matthew McConaughey, Paul Austin, Peggy Gormley, Rob McElhenney, Shawn Elliott, Tia Texada, Victor Truro, Walt MacPherson, William Severs, William Wise

Director: Jill Sprecher

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer, François Wertheimer

Director: Agnès Varda, Agnès Varda

Rating: 0, Not Rated

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.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Fumiko Orikasa, Hisako Kyoda, Koichi Yamadera, Mami Koyama, Masane Tsukayama, Masaya Onosaka, Minagawa Junko, Miyoko Shoji, Showko Tsuda, Shozo Iizuka, Tomie Kataoka

Director: Satoshi Kon

Rating: PG

, 2001

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.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Director: Richard Linklater

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.

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Pang, Amidou, Andrew Grainger, Balázs Tardy, Benedict Wong, Bill Buell, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Charlotte Rampling, Colin Stinton, Dale Dye, David Hemmings, David K.S. Tse, David Tse, Demetri Goritsas, Eddie Yeoh, Freddie Joe Farnsworth, Garrick Hagon, Hon Ping Tang, Ian Porter, Imre Csuja, In-sook Chappell, James Aubrey, Joerg Stadler, Ken Leung, Kimberly Tufo, Larry Bryggman, Logan Wong, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Matthew Marsh, Michael Paul Chan, Mohamed Quatib, Nabil Massad, Omid Djalili, Peter Linka, Robert Redford, Rufus Wright, Shane Rimmer, Stephen Dillane, Stuart Milligan, Ted Maynard, Todd Boyce, Tom Hodgkins, Tony Xu

Director: Tony Scott

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Lamana, Berta Ojea, Eduardo Noriega, Federico Luppi, Fernando Tielve, Francisco Maestre, Inigo Garces, Irene Visedo, Javier Bódalo, Jose Manuel Lorenzo, Juan Carlos Vellido, Junio Valverde, Marisa Paredes, Miguel Ortiz, Víctor Elías

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Rating: R

With the powerful duo of queer aesthetics and rock n roll, Hedwig and the Angry Inch questions the duality between genders, lovers, and everything in between. Like the 1998 stage musical, the film follows the titular Hedwig and her band as they navigate the music scene for fame and love. The adaptation gives justice to their performances, giving the vibe of 70s glam rock music videos. The film is not without its flaws. Hedwig’s relationship with the younger Tommy Gnosis remains controversial. However, while Hedwig may not be a perfect representation of the trans experience– after all, she only chooses gender reassignment purely to leave East Germany– this cult film still remains a landmark for queer representation.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Mandell, Alberta Watson, Andrea Martin, Ermes Blarasin, Gene Pyrz, John Cameron Mitchell, Maurice Dean Wint, Michael Aronov, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Rob Campbell, Rosie O'Donnell

Director: John Cameron Mitchell