Movie posters are not what they used to be. This is not an aesthetic “everything was better in the past” complaint but a fact; they aren’t as present an advertising force as they were when one tall rectangular image and tagline would do the bulk of the advertising work to define a film. Now that work is dispersed in multiple shapes and images and visual modes, the old school poster included. Posters aren’t quite a lost art but they are in Big Hollywood which prefers to make every poster a hideous inhuman collage of movie stars, think Frankenstein’s Monster if Dr Frankenstein, had eschewed body parts and just used hundreds of faces in mismatched sizes to build his undead “man”.
But enough complaints. Let’s celebrate the posters that did right by their movies this year…
Before we get to the top 12 (obviously your “best” might vary so do speak out in responses) please to consider a whole mess of posters above which you can call the runners up. The teaser poster for Women Talking went with a simple visual shorthand for female solidarity with hands clasped, an infinitely better choice than the “look at the famous actors!” approach of the final poster; teasers are often better in this way thanks to risk and confidence, after which the marketing team then default to something safer and infinitely duller for the final poster. The main poster for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio was fine but the true hand-made beauty of the film is better conveyed in poster form by handing it to another artist, in this case James Jean. We love the curiousity-piqueing minimalism of the nightmare totem poster for The Cursed — it’s just carved silver fangs. The prison drama Great Freedom , the psychological horror film Resurrection, and the supernatural thriller The Innocents all chose optic puzzles to convey their highly specific atmospheres, confrontational questions, and existential quandaries. And finally, Turning Red offered up a moodswing ready character series featuring the protagonist Mei-Linn in her red panda form making many different faces. Funny, endearing, and on topic since the movie is about the chaos and hormones of everyone’s teenage years.
But in the end the choice to begin our top dozen is…
A literally golden bacchanalia… to celebrate Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Damien Chazelle epic chose its chaotic opening party sequence for the poster which was the right decision. Centered is a dazzling sacrifical starlet/lamb for public consumption… which is just how starlet Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) would have it. At least at first. But to borrow a title from one of the industry’s earliest attempts at self-reflection… “What Price, Hollywood?” [Currently in theatrical release]
11 PETER VON KANT
As Jared Morabak basically suggests at The Film Stage If François Ozon is going to steal from / pay cheeky homage to the Rainer Werner Fassbinder masterpiece The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, why shouldn’t the poster steal from / pay exuberant homage to another artist? In this case the designers are riffing on Andy Warhol doing a movie poster for another Rainer Werner Fassbinder classic, Querelle. The circular referencing becomes a queer oroborus… with non-forked tongue. [Available to rent on most services]
10 NELLY & NADINE
This acclaimed lesbian documentary about two women who met in a concentration camp won the Teddy Award at Berlinale. Though it sadly didn’t make the Oscar finals, it wins our unofficial Best Documentary Poster award for this simple barely-visible design, clasped hands emerging from the bars. [Currently in theatrical release]
08 [tie] ELVIS & CORSAGE
These two posters make a wonderful imaginary duet. Elvis Presley (always looked at) is lost in one of his own chaotic wiggles the way he is sometimes lost in his own story. It’s fun that the dazzle and baubles are all pointing right back to him, to keep him perpetually locked in view. Meanwhile Empress Sissi (always looked at) is staring right back at us with contempt, complete with flipped bird. She’s a prickly royal and her peevishness is a great tonic for the laudatory words surrounding her. This is no stuffy period piece. [Elvis is available to stream on HBO Max and rentable from most services. Corsage is currently in theatrical release]
07 TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Is this crass? You bet! Still, there is a rude visual thrill in reducing this satire of economic hiearchies (among other societal constructs) to an absurdly wealthy woman vomiting at us. It’s the heightened color and crispness of the image that really sells it, even the vomit is pure gold. [Currently in theatrical release]
While main characters with their backs turned to the audience is all too familiar a look for movie posters, Aftersun earns the choice. It conjures the movies melancholy, the father/daughter intimacy, and places it squarely in the past via the visual distortion and tracking errors of an old VHS tape. It’s other main posters do much the same thing but replace VHS noise with the fading and wear of old photos. [Currently in theatrical release]