1. Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day
I don’t know for sure how much my love of this poster is tied up with my love of this film (a seven-hour 1972 German miniseries directed by R.W. Fassbinder that had never before been shown in the U.S.), except that I liked it an awful lot before I watched it (when I wrote about it back in March), and loved it even more after I’d seen it. Impeccably illustrated by British artist Sam Hadley in a wonderful pastiche of '70s advertising art, I’d say that in its unusually upbeat portrayal of a group of actors who we expect to look glum, that it’s the poster we need right now.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s slow-burning family drama Shoplifters was released by Magnolia in the U.S. with an elegant yet fairly conventional poster highlighting one of the most poignant moments of the film. That same scene appears in a much more stylized form (Kore-Eda by way of Hokusai) in one of two gorgeous posters created for the film’s release in China, illustrated by the artist Huang Hai. I can’t choose between them so I’m rating them together. And Magnolia, to their credit, did print an alternative U.S. poster using Huang’s beach-scene design.
Once you’ve seen Sandi Tan’s thrilling and quirky cine-memoir/detective story Shirkers the details of Israeli artist Tomer Hanuka’s candy-colored poster make perfect sense, most especially the silhouetted head of the driver of the scooter. Hanuka is one of my favorite artists: his New Yorker cover “Perfect Storm” has long been my screen saver, and his limited edition prints, such as his recent designs for Annihilation, are exquisite. Somehow I missed his stunning poster for Foxtrot in last year’s round-up, so I hope this makes up for that omission.
4. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
It’s all in the grain. Julien Faraut’s brilliant experimental tennis doc was based on hundreds of hours of 16mm footage shot on the courts of Europe, footage which Faraut examines with a fine comb, running it back and forth like the Zapruder film. For the poster, the French design team of CheckMorris emphasize the grain of their chosen photograph to evoke the red gravel of Roland-Garros. The photo has been placed on its side so that McEnroe seems to be falling through the air mid-serve, while his shadow is upright (note the shadow of the tennis ball). But the strawberry on the top of this poster for me is the title treatment and surrounding text, so elegantly laid out at the top of the poster, between lines reminiscent of a tennis court. Perfection.
5. Skate Kitchen
In the year of the skate movie (there seemed to be so many), Caelin White’s superb poster for the all-girl skate crew movie Skate Kitchen, rocked the hardest. It’s one of those posters that is immediately eye-catching and ultimately completely satisfying, a poster in which every element is on point, from its throwback ’80s-style hand-written magenta title treatment to its just-right credits at the top, to its washed-out Manhattan skyline perfectly nestled in the crook of a giant banana (!), to those decks breaking the frame. Faultless.
Later superseded by a more conventional yet still striking poster featuring John David Washington against a black stars and stripes, this immediately iconic teaser for BlacKkKlansman was the foghorn blast that announced Spike Lee’s return to form to the world. Designed by Kenny Gravillis, it is immensely powerful, chilling and yet witty at the same time, perfectly suiting the film that A.O. Scott called “an alarm clock ringing in the midst of a historical nightmare.”
7. The Old Man & the Gun
This poster, which I love for its understated simplicity and use of (creamy) white space, got a lot of attention on Twitter on two occasions: first of all when I compared it with an alternative release poster for the film, which was everything that this poster was not. And secondly when I discovered that this was in fact an homage to an earlier Robert Redford poster, and thus quite fitting for his acting swan song. It’s a measure of Redford’s legacy that you don’t need to see his face. Designer still to be determined.
8. Notes on an Appearance
With his exacting and enigmatic poster for his own second feature, Notes on an Appearance, Ricky D’Ambrose joins a rarefied group of filmmakers who have also designed movie posters (including Satyajit Ray, Abbas Kiarostami, Todd Haynes, the Quay Brothers and Walerian Borowczyk). A film full of graphic design with its minutely observed maps, plans, tickets and perfectly pastiched newspaper articles, Notes on an Appearance is a mystery, or an anti-mystery as the pull-quote tells you, and its poster’s repeated grid of photos of Milan’s Duomo tells you nothing more than to look carefully. Look carefully and you still may not see.
9. The Favourite
The designer Vasilis Marmatakis has long been Yorgos Lanthimos’s not-so-secret weapon: his Dogtooth, The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer were all heralded by posters that are as off-kilter and unforgettable as the films themselves. The teaser for The Favourite continued that tradition royally with a poster that Marmatakis described to me thus:
The poster depicts the typical royal image: a profile headshot of the Queen. With her eyes wide open, pale and with heavy make up, two small figures adorn her. Emma Stone leaning over her forehead about to brush her eyeball and Rachel Weisz riding her mouth while embellishing her with pearls. They resemble insects, gruesome organisms feasting on a dead body.
Unfortunately the teaser, perhaps too gruesome for some, was not used for the official U.S. campaign, though the final poster had enough of a feel of Marmatakis’ work to fool me into thinking it was his. It even uses his type treatment, of which he explained that “the ultra wide tracking is a reference to the typography of the time (taken to the extreme).”
10. Claire’s Camera and The Day After
Cheating a bit here, but I can’t choose between either of Brian Hung’s designs for Hong Sang-soo’s two 2018 releases. Cinema Guild has been a stalwart promoter of Hong’s work in the U.S. in recent years and they have two more coming out next year (Grass and Hotel by the River). Hung is their house designer and his use of circles and negative space in both of these designs highlights the hipster charm of Hong’s oeuvre. For good measure, the Blu-ray releases of Claire’s Camera and The Day After also have alternative art on their reversible covers.
25 Runners-up (in no particular order beyond an aesthetic one)
Runner-up posters above designed or illustrated, where known, by Michael Boland (We the Animals), Spin Destiny (Isle of Dogs), Matt Frost (Hitler’s Hollywood), Adam Maida (The Strange Ones), Midnight Marauder (Hal), Brandon Schaefer (Half the Picture), LA (Suspiria), Tutanka (The Endless Film), Gilles Vranckx (Let the Corpses Tan), Midnight Marauder (Charm City), Empire Design (American Animals), Chris Ware (Private Life), Gravillis (RBG), Sam Smith (Our Time), Patrick Connan (3 Faces), Hugo Ramirez (Good Manners), Peter Strain (The Third Murder), Andrew Bannister (Zama), The Einstein Couple (The House That Jack Built) and Adam Maida again (Milford Graves Full Mantis). If you know who designed the few I’m missing please let me know.
You can see my previous Best of the Year posts—a decade’s worth of them—here: 2017, 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009.