An Idiosyncratic Aesthete’s Best-of-2011 Picks

My taste in films tends more towards Pink Flamingos than Pretty in Pink (though I got love for John Hughes, no doubt), so a year that brought new films from Catherine Breillat and Pedro Almodóvar was a very good year indeed. A brief look back at 2011 before I plunge into 2012– looking ecstatically forward to the new Joachim Trier film, Oslo, August 31, as well as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (a Rooftop grantee).

Best Use of a Jacket– That scorpion number on Ryan Gosling’s back in Drive. Pretty much anything would look great on Ryan Gosling’s back, but this memorable piece managed to say it all, without saying a word… kinda like Gosling’s character himself.

Best Child Actor (Non-Cloying Category)- Carla Besnaïnou as Princess Anastasia in Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty. As the tomboyish princess in this very Breillat-ish take on the classic fairytale, Besnaïnou is appropriately adorable without being cloyingly cute. A rare feat for any actor, let alone a child, she manages to be open, relaxed, and likeable—an anchor of relatability amidst the fantastical imagery of Breillat’s world.

Best Use of Trees– Oh Terrence Mallick, I’m not sure I got all of Tree of Life, but I am sure I loved being in the lush, sun-dappled world you created. The dinosaur scene didn’t hurt, either.

Best Heartbreak– Nim Chimpsky, the hero of Project Nim. Following this amazing animal’s journey from mistreatment to mistreatment at the hands of some well-intentioned (and some not-so-well-intentioned) humans, it may be impossible not to cry. The tenuous line between humans and other primates shifts and bends in this absolutely essential doc.

Best Everything– No lies, The Skin I Live In was by far my favorite movie of 2011. Haunting, disturbing, moving, romantic, and even funny at times, the film is everything Almodóvar does best. The acting, the set design, the music—I don’t have enough superlatives for this film, I can only say I spent the entire two hours breathless, on the edge of my seat, wishing I could be absorbed into the screen. Rather than gawk at the differences of others, Almodóvar invites us to empathize deeply, relate fully, and get a real sense of living in their skin. What more could a movie do for you?