Darren Aronofsky’s divisive nightmare boasted a number of very striking posters this year, including one that blatantly yet beautifully pastiched the iconic Gips/Frankfurt design for Rosemary’s Baby and another in which Jennifer Lawrence’s face is minutely cracked like a porcelain doll. But it is this first teaser poster for the film, by the extraordinary artist James Jean, that stands out for me not only as a surreally appropriate representation of Aronofsky’s uncompromising vision, but as the best movie poster of the year. Grotesque and gorgeous, and dotted with hidden clues, Jean’s looks more like a piece of devotional iconography than a poster for a horror movie. (There is also an accompanying poster by Jean which features Javier Bardem’s character.) Known for his covers for the DC comic book series Fables, Jean has been in high demand this year, creating the charcoal illustration teaser for Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (which got its own feature write-up in The New York Times) and one of many alternate posters for Blade Runner 2049. Just scroll through the images on the homepage of his website to appreciate the scope and grandeur of his work.
I’ve often said that one of the corniest items you can put in a movie poster is a film strip, though this year there were two posters that bucked that trend. One was Gary Irwin’s exuberantly colorful branding for DOC NYC and the other was Brandon Schaefer’s elegantly wacky design for Michael Almereyda’s doc, Escapes, about actor-screenwriter-raconteur Hampton Fancher. Paying subtle homage, I’d like to believe, to Olga Poláčková-Vyleťalová’s Czech poster for Une femme douce or to Franciszek Starowieyski’s Polish Thérèse Desqueyroux, Schaefer gives us a doc subject whose head is a whole mess o’ movies. I love the rich blacks of that swirl of celluloid against the grayed out background. And to cap it all the image is coupled with a pitch-perfect title treatment that evokes Fancher’s 70s heyday.
3. A Ghost Story
Simplicity itself. Like David Lowery’s film, the poster for A Ghost Story shouldn’t really work. It’s a man with a sheet on his head, after all. But like the film itself, the image is poignant, surprising and genuinely haunting. And, designed by P+A studio, the type placement, from the quote to the tagline, is absolutely on point.
4. After the Storm
Akiko Stehrenberger brought her great illustrative talents to bear on a number of striking posters this year: for Ingrid Goes West, for Donald Cried, for Thelma, for Blade of the Immortal, and for the Dennis Hopper doc Along for the Ride—but her poster for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm, is my favorite of all. Hushed and bitter-sweet, it views the film’s somewhat estranged father and son from behind a rain-streaked window (shades of this great poster) framed with cherry blossoms.
5. On the Beach at Night Alone
Hong Sang-soo’s recent films (of which there have been many) have been graced in recent years with a series of posters which pair a still with lovely script handwriting, and On the Beach at Night Alone already had such a perfectly fine poster which I featured in my Cannes round-up. But first-time poster designer Brian Hung hit a home run with his adaptation of that design for Cinema Guild’s US release, which improves on it in so many ways, not least in its dreamy rich blue and purple color scheme (reminiscent of last years’s Moonlight campaign), in its repositioning of the horizon just below star Kim Min-hee’s eyes, and its much stronger hand-written title that, once you’ve seen the film, reminds you of Min-hee drawing in the sand. For good measure, Hung also hand-painted a charming alternative version.
Alexander Payne’s Downsizing seems to have a different poster every week, and to be honest I’m not even sure if this was ever an official teaser design, but it should have been because it as inspired a movie poster riff as ever I’ve seen. Hiding its shrunken Matt Damon within the towers of the poster’s zoomed in billing block is a great gag, but what is also impressive is how much salient information that fraction of the credits packs in, prioritizing the visual effects guy above all, naturally, but also the two stars, the co-writer and the director (everyone can probably guess that Kristen is Wiig and Alexander is Payne). For every designer who has ever struggled with a billing block (the movie poster world’s necessary evil) this was like a secret handshake.
Update: I’ve since discovered that the poster was created as a personal project by David Graham whose website can be seen here.
For one of the year’s most anticipated films—Lucrecia Martel’s first in nine years—Spanish-born, Argentina-based designer Diego Berakha produced a fabulous selection of comp designs all of which he shared on his website, almost any of which could have made a fine poster. Adapted from Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel, Zama is set in an 18th century South American backwater where the titular colonial officer is stagnating, waiting for a transfer that may never come. Berakha’s beautiful poster captures both his longing and stasis in a beautiful image that looks like a hand-tinted daguerrotype and in which the photos of palm trees inset in the title look like 18th century engravings. The point of the M bearing down on Zama’s head is a nice touch. However, I’m just throwing out this idea to Strand Releasing that the American poster for Martel’s Zama should be designed by Marcel Dzama (say it out loud).
The triumph of this year’s Cannes, at least according to the cinephiles I follow on Twitter, was not Palme d’Or winner The Square but Bruno Dumont’s musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc that played in the Directors' Fortnight. As simple as they are, I just love this pair of posters with their devil-angel dichotomy and that bright yellow swash of a title treatment. Update: design by Benjamin Seznec for Troïka.
Perhaps the most high concept film of the year—albeit with a concept that might be near impossible to encapsulate in a single image—Colossal is another film that had a whole slew of posters (including one by Akiko Stehrenberger). But this one, with terrific art by Tim Biskup and design by Michael Boland, probably does the best job of conveying that an unemployed young American writer on the east coast of America is unwittingly causing a giant monster to wreak havoc in South Korea with her every movement. And on top of that, it’s a beautiful design with another top-notch title treatment.
10. Promised Land and Free Fire
Finally, I couldn’t decide between these two and so I picked them both, not least because they go so beautifully together with their posterized high-contrast images, surreal juxtapositions and flat planes of color. And, let it be noted, perfect typography. Promised Land was designed by Midnight Marauder and Free Fire by Jay Shaw.
15 Runners-up (in no particular order)
Posters above designed or illustrated by Heike Jörss (Porto), Gravillis (Human Flow) Brandon Schaefer (Spettacolo), Sam Spratt (The Lure), Manuele Fior (The Other Side of Hope), Guillermo Lorca (Los Perros), Proof (Ferdinand), Jeremy Saunders (Hare Krishna!), Desi Moore (Dispatches from Cleveland), Marcel Weisheit (Machines), Tamas Horvath (Stalker), The Refinery (Carrie Pilby), Eduardo Williams (The Human Surge), Ali Bagheri (Starless Dreams) and Greenlight Creative (Chavela).
You can see my previous Best of the Year posts here: 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009.