The official release poster for Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated refugee memoir Flee—the one you might have seen more often than this—isn’t half bad: the film’s subject, Amin, is revealed in the elongated ascenders of the title, as if behind bars, while a happy memory of him as a child slips freely into the poster’s negative space. And, to be honest, the design I have chosen as my favorite movie poster of the year (this is the original Swedish version but a US version of this design has been seen in the wild) doesn’t express Flee half as well as that other one does. Its it-takes-a-village cast of characters promises something different from the film itself, which is a lean and harrowing and often solitary odyssey from Afghanistan to Denmark, and from childhood to manhood. That said, I can’t stop loving this poster that keeps the same slender title type and surrounds it with every character that appears in the film and then some. When it first came out I thought it might be the work of Max Dalton, a wonderful illustrator who has done similar grid-like multi-character art posters—often for the films of Wes Anderson—but in fact the illustrations were done by Kenneth Ladekjaer and Mikkel Sommer, who were respectively the animation director and the character designer on Flee, with art direction by the Swedish designer Martin Hultman. This is the opposite of the big-head approach to movie posters—call it the little body style—and it just sings with charming multi-cultural details.
I’ll admit that my love of this poster may be slightly colored by my love of Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb (another Nordic film with a four-letter title, by the way) a film that hasn’t made many top ten lists but which I adored in all its wintry weirdness. The nearly photo-realistically rendered Noomi Rapace and her ovine charge are illustrated by the great Rory Kurtz whose artwork for Mondo should already be legendary and whose art print for The Graduate—which features a leopard rather than a lamb—is a masterpiece. Yes, the type could be better integrated into the whole design (that billing block is a bit much) but as with Noomi and her little lamb, I love it despite its flaws.
3. The French Dispatch
Javi Aznarez’s official release poster for Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun made my top ten list last year, ten months after it first premiered online at the dawn of a pandemic and ten months before the film itself finally appeared on American screens. Luckily Aznarez kept our interest up with these four delightful alternates representing the film’s three chapters (and its brief introduction). And as if that wasn’t enough he also created a digital motion poster (in which transatlantic Statues of Liberty wave at each other across the pond), countless magazine covers for the Dispatch itself, the animated music video for Jarvis Cocker’s chanteur-within-the-film, Tip-Top (whose covers album Chansons d’Ennui is very real and quite wonderful), and even illustrations on the walls of the Dispatch offices within the film. The whole glorious jamboree can be seen here.
4. The Woman Who Ran
I interviewed Cinema Guild’s de facto in-house designer Brian Hung about his poster for Hong Sang-soo’s The Woman Who Ran back in June. As I said then, I think the latest iteration of “one of the greatest contemporary designer-director collaborations that I know of (even if the two don’t actually collaborate, except in spirit)” is his best yet. “The charming use of cut-outs and collage evident in three of his previous Hong posters reaches a new sophistication with this elegant and spare yet subtly joyous design.” You can read the interview here. I can’t wait to see what he—and Hong—do next.
5. Annette (and Confusion)
2021 was the year of Sparks. Finally, some might say. Annette was Leos Carax’s long-awaited first film in nine years but the film really belongs to the great avant-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael who conceived it and scored it in the fifth decade of their career. The French poster, featuring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and a yellow jacket in the midst of a maelstrom (Mael-strom?), which was eventually used all around the world in various configurations—including MUBI’s own UK quad, and an illustrated version—would be in my top ten on its own, but I wanted to also give a shout-out to a poster from the other Sparks movie of 2021: Edgar Wright’s bio-doc The Sparks Brothers. Annette is not the first time the Maels have worked with a French auteur. Back in 1974 they co-wrote a script with none other than Jacques Tati. Their proposed project, Confusion, was to be set in a futuristic city infatuated with television. The Maels would have played two studio employees brought in by a rural French TV company to help them out with some American technical expertise and at some point an aging Monsieur Hulot was slated to be accidentally killed on-air. While the script was written, Confusion was never made and Tati died in 1982. (What would have been its title track appears on Sparks’ 1976 Big Beat album.) For The Sparks Brothers, the artist Jonny Halifax created this fab prop poster for the film that never was.
6. The Amusement Park
One of the best new artists currently working in movie posters is the young Polish genius Aleksander Walijewski who has been killing it this year with his surreal and discomfiting yet beautifully painted takes on the world (and the body). My favorite was his poster for the belated release of George A. Romero’s 1975 thriller The Amusement Park, an educational film about elder abuse commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania no less. (The film was shelved after completion and considered lost until 2017, when a 16mm print was rediscovered and a 4K restoration carried out.) For Yellow Veil Pictures, Walijewski created one of his brilliant trademark mutations with the bleeding head of Lincoln Maazel bisected by a carousel in which the gleam on the sides of the varnished horses becomes his missing eyes. A scroll through Walijewski’s portfolio shows that he is bringing the big head back to movie posters, but in the best—and weirdest—way.
I love when a new poster introduces me to a new artist and for the French and UK re-release of Ousmane Sembene’s Mandabi that artist was Adekunle Adeleke, a young painter from Nigeria who works entirely digitally and specializes in Black portraiture. Adeleke pairs powerful, beautiful faces with gorgeous patterned backgrounds. In his paintings faces and hands seem to be emerging from planes of dazzling textile. The result, for Mandabi, is a stunner. And if his art wasn’t impressive enough he is also a medical doctor in his spare time.
Back in August I jokingly tweeted that “Neon’s poster palette has got really dark lately” over a grid of six of the distributor’s most recent posters, almost all of which were black as night with just a glimmer of something lit up—the outline of a pig, a lightning strike, light catching Nicholas Cage’s forehead—to give the poster its subject. And literally no sooner than I had done that they unleashed this somber beauty on the world (or, as I said at the time, they “lifted the mood with this...”) An image of billowing luxury paired with utter despair, this teaser (later supplanted by something more conventional of course) from Empire Design gets extra points for not putting any of its elegantly restrained type in the black negative space above Kristen Stewart’s forlorn Princess. They just let that void speak for itself.
9. Parallel Mothers
And talk about speaking for itself... the Spanish free-the-nipple teaser for Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers is the cheekiest, most daring major poster of the year—a poster that was temporarily banned from Instagram when it was unveiled in August prior to the film’s Venice premiere. The tear of mother’s milk is the brainchild of Barcelona designer Javier Jaén, whose portfolio is a toy chest full of similarly witty high-concept graphic ideas rendered in primary colors and a palpable three dimensionality.
10. Escape from the Silver Globe
Aleksander Walijewski isn’t the only great young artist spearheading the resurgence of Polish movie poster design. Maks Bereski, also known as Plakiat, has been producing astonishing work for the past few years. Some of it—like his witty, graphic takes on The Irishman or Mrs. Doubtfire—he creates for himself but he has also been doing superb commercial work lately. He assiduously catalogues all his posters on his website and the above (numbers 236 and 248) seem like two of the more personal of his commissioned work: the “official” and the “artistic” posters for Kuba Mikurda’s new documentary on the beleaguered production of Andrzej Żuławski’s 1975 sci-fi epic On the Silver Globe. In their hand-lettering especially these hark back to a very classic era of the Polish School of Posters.
20 Runners-up (in no particular order beyond an aesthetic one)
Runner-up posters above designed or illustrated, where known, by Sam Smith (Gilbert & George Day Tripping (again)), Marcelo Granero (Álvaro and Album for the Youth), Leroy & Rose (Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar), James Paterson (Last Night in Soho), La Boca (Titane), F Ron Miller (Bulletproof), Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Studio 150 (Memoria), Midnight Marauder (Atlantis and The Grand Movement), Akiko Stehrenberger (A Broken House), Dylan Haley (Chameleon Street), Vasilis Marmatakis (Great Freedom), Binalogue (The Cathedral), Caspar Newbolt (The Last Son), Dan Forkin (All the Streets Are Silent), Sister Hyde (Broadcast Signal Intrusion), Steven Chorney (Red Rocket), and Tony Stella with Midnight Marauder (The Two of Us).
You can see my all previous Best of the Year posts here: 2020; 2019; 2018; 2017, 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011; 2010; 2009. And if you’re new to this site, do check out my regular (if not always weekly) Movie Poster of the Week posts on Notebook, and my daily Movie Poster of the Day posts on Instagram. You can also follow me on Twitter.