Arts·Anne-iversaries

10 movies to transport you back to 2001

Take a 2001 escape odyssey with these movies that will make you temporarily forget 2021.

Take a 2001 escape odyssey with these movies that will make you temporarily forget 2021

Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance. (Paramount Pictures)

Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the '90s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).

It's a new dawn, a new day, a new year. And while 2020 taught us that time isn't real and that we're all inevitably careening toward ... something, it doesn't mean that we don't need sources of comfort viewing over the next couple months. So what better way to pass the days than with some of the greatest movies of 2001?

The following films all turn 20 this year. And while thinking about that too hard will inevitably send me into a psychological tailspin, I'll risk it for the warmth of transporting myself back to a simpler time — and, by association, all of you as well. (Unless you're looking to journey to Mordor. I've never seen Lord of the Rings, and by Gandalf's beard I never will.)

Of course, not all of you will agree with the selection I've chosen. And that's okay; 2021 is a time for reflection and for embracing what makes you feel cozy and loved. But of course, as the curator of this column, I must also remind you that if you disagree with me, you are wrong and so are your movie tastes. I mean, hello: just try getting through a long, dark night of lockdown without access to Shrek.

The Wedding Planner

Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez in The Wedding Planner. (Columbia Pictures)

Oh, I get it: you think you're too good for Jennifer Lopez. You can't believe Matthew McConaughey would ever fall for a wedding planner when he's engaged. You don't believe that Alex Karev of Grey's Anatomy can deliver the worst Italian accent since most Godfather impressions. (Seriously, imagine showing up to set one day, tell somebody, "I can do an Italian accent," as a joke, and then having the director say, "Ok, so you're going to perform this role with an Italian accent, then!" Because that's what I'm talking about.)

The thing is, rom-coms hold an essential place in cinematic winter viewings. They combine the ridiculous (Jennifer Lopez getting her shoe stuck in a grate and nearly being hit by a runaway dumpster) with the heart-melting (her dad, oh my lord, her dad) and provide two-ish hours of escape into a world we've never been to, do not live in, and cannot find IRL. Plus, The Wedding Planner is canon. Because if we can't watch two people call off their wedding because they know they don't belong together, how else can we predict the outcome of J-Lo's relationship with A-Rod? (Bless us everyone.)

Save the Last Dance

I love to root against a movie lead. I love to walk into the theatre, believing I am about to relate to the main character, and then wondering why I am being met with ... Sara.

Sara (no last name, played by Julia Stiles) is a transfer student-slash-ballet dancer who moves in with her dad in Chicago after her mom dies in a car crash. And Sara is insufferable. She has far too much confidence for someone who dresses the way she does, and she has no idea how to engage with any person who isn't white. Technically, we're supposed to root for Sara. But the fact that she tries to wear a sweater set to a nightclub and seems to have no access to even a Con-Air hair straightener are simply not enough to make me want her to get into Juilliard, date Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas), or be rescued by Chenille (Kerry Washington), who deserves a Nobel Prize for sticking by Sara in the midst of her many idiotic moments.

But that's why Save the Last Dance is iconic. As soon as you stop cheering for anything Sara does, thinks, or says, you begin to champion the real stars (Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington, and Bianca Lawson) who deserve Oscars for pretending their interactions with Sara are normal and didn't result in them meeting up later to ask, "WHY?" Also, her Juilliard audition dance is the most bananas thing I've ever seen, involves a shocking number of finger points and chair moves, and ends with a man who was born to play "Juilliard judge #2" saying, "Welcome to Juilliard."

Memento

Before Dunkirk, before Inception, and before Tenet, Christopher Nolan directed Memento and actually made his obsession with parallel timelines and warped perspectives somewhat sensical. Here, a man (Guy Pierce) who has no short-term memory covers himself in tattoos to figure out who killed his wife. And so he works backwards, introducing us to key players and allowing us to form our own hypotheses before arriving at the end, where we descend into madness.

Is it good? Sure. Is it great? I don't know. Is it memorable? Yes — to the point where I remember scenes to this day and think to myself, "Just like Memento!" because I know only how to structure my reality around the confines of movies, even those I have only seen once. So cuddle up and dive into Nolan's early history, then tell me if this movie is actually that good or whether I was very desperate to seem smart in film class.

Bridget Jones's Diary

Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary. (Universal Pictures)

Technically it's a Christmas movie because there are two Christmas scenes, but also it is a perfect movie because:

  1. Colin Firth and Renée Zellweger have better chemistry than Allie and Noah (my enemies).
  2. Hugh Grant embodies the role of a complete asshat as if it was written for and about him.
  3. Renée Zellweger's British accent is better than any other British person's real accent.
  4. "I like you very much, just as you are."

And if that doesn't make you want to beam with the joy of potential post-pandemic meet-cutes, I don't know what to tell you. After all, for two glorious hours, we're privy to a world in which jobs in publishing are highly lucrative, where "It's Raining Men" accompanies down-and-out brawls between two adults, and where Colin Firth gives his best Colin Firth impression, acting exactly the way you'd expect a man played by Colin Firth to be. Also, Renée Zellweger is charming and cringingly relatable. (Or maybe that's telling you all too much about myself, since I've also joined far too many conversations simply by laughing at what everyone else is, only to realize too late that I'm trapped.)

A Knight's Tale

For those of us not partial to Lord of the Rings or anything that seems remotely accurate re: fantasy and/or the medieval era, there's A Knight's Tale: the story of a young jouster (Heath Ledger) who fakes his nobility to rise in ranks and defeat the evil Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell).

Unsurprisingly, Heath is charming, funny, warm, and the reason some of us began to seriously wonder if maybe we could win his heart if we learned to joust. (Nope!) Plus, his dynamic with the fair Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) is a far cry from the traditional romances we've all played witness to in period films — particularly since Jocelyn doesn't suffer fools and isn't some damsel waiting to be rescued.

Also, fun fact: in grade 11 we watched this movie in hospitality class as a justification for our teacher to take us to Medieval Times. It wasn't nearly as good as A Knight's Tale, but I channeled my inner Jocelyn and when the Black and White Knight offered me a rose, I didn't take it because he was a stranger to me.

Moulin Rouge!

In which Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor sing love songs to each other, and Nicole eventually dies from tuberculosis. Watch it if you want to cry, or watch it if you'd like to see the moon perform opera alongside the leads. In my humble opinion, you can't have one without the other. (Which is why I refuse to acknowledge the moon or my own human tears until it sings to me.)

Of course, true comfort viewing can't exist without the combination of over-the-top romantic displays and tragedy, set to extravagant musical numbers. Admittedly, the movie ticks all the boxes of being almost ridiculous in its fantastical nature (Nicole Kidman hits high notes and choreography without any real effort and shows no real signs of dying until she's, well, dying), but despite this, it provides a necessary and welcome portal to precious escapism. After all, you start by entering a world built on song and dance, crying as you're led to a beloved character's untimely death. Then, you remember how 20 years ago you thought this movie was unironically perfect, and suddenly you're crying once more for the naivety and earnestness you left back in 2001.

Legally Blonde

Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. (MGM)

On the one hand, it is because of Legally Blonde that for years I believed exercise was the only way to get endorphins. On the other, it is because of Elle Wood's academic and professional journey that I question whether I should abandon writing altogether and pursue a career as a criminal lawyer, defending Ali Larter. (The jury's still out.)

After being dumped by her terrible boyfriend for not being smart enough (see: blonde), Elle (Reese Witherspoon) gets into Harvard Law as a means of winning him back. But honestly? Who cares about him: over the duration of the film, Elle lands a prized internship, proves herself to be an incredible lawyer, and wins the respect of Holland Taylor. She also teaches us all the ins and outs of maintaining a perm courtesy of Linda Cardellini's terrible one, after giving the words "bend and snap" new meaning. Easily the greatest movie ever made, ever.

Ocean's 11

The only heist film. Or, at least the only heist film that involves Brad Pitt eating a shrimp ring, the greatest of all the appetizers. (Which, for the record, must be consumed while viewing this movie.)

The first time my best friend and I saw this, we convinced ourselves (at 16) that we could easily rip off a casino despite having no money, no access to Vegas, and not enough friends who we could trust to play their parts without ruining our plans. So instead I just settled for relating most to Saul or Julian — the old men who lounge poolside in extravagant robes and/or spend afternoons watching the ponies while eating oranges. And 20 years later, I've made Ocean's 11 a guide to nabbing my dream retirement life — or at least what I want my summer to look like if we're all still in quarantine.

Training Day

Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Training Day, so if you haven't acquainted yourself with him as Alonzo, an LAPD narcotics officer who may not be who he seems (!), close your browser immediately and take it in while he brings rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) along for a ride.

And believe me, it's not an easy watch. Under the care of Alonzo, Jake starts to see the grisly side to drug enforcement, as well as the system that props up what he thought he was being groomed to take down. But that's the point, isn't it? The hardest truths to swallow aren't for the faint of heart, and this story will quickly consume you — as will Denzel's acting, which works through almost every type of emotion over the course of the film.

That said, to alleviate the tension of all that Training Day has to offer, simply imagine Ethan Hawke is still playing Troy Dyer from Reality Bites. It won't make some elements any less upsetting, but it can help to imagine Troy just wants to wrap his shift up so he and his band can play another pretty bad show later on.

Wet Hot American Summer

Left to right: Marguerite Moreau, Michael Showalter, Zak Orth, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Ian Blank in Wet Hot American Summer. (Eureka Pictures)

It's hard to describe a movie that stars some of the greatest comedy minds of the last two decades, playing roles meant for actors decades younger. It's harder still to convey the importance of a scene in which Christopher Meloni falls in, um, love with a fridge after being confronted by a talking can of beans. Or of the montages, of the love affair between Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks, of the way this movie changed me — and all who watched it.

But you know what isn't hard? Telling you that if you've made it into 2021, you can and will relate to Amy Poehler's demands of her fellow campers, and can march into the rest of the year, leading your friends and coworkers with these words: "So be prepared, be enthusiastic, and leave your bullshit attitude and baggage at the door, cause we don't need it!"

Shrek

Imagine I didn't include Shrek. Imagine I skipped the greatest love story between an ogre and a princess ever told. Frankly, we would deserve all the heartbreak set to befall us. We would deserve a lifetime of disappointment. And we would deserve to be interrogated as to the whereabouts of the Muffin Man, knowing nothing we can say will save us.

About the Author

Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.

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