If you have eyes, then I’m guessing you’re sick of seeing the same images again in again with different actors acting as various ciphers. There’s Photoshopping galore, some it truly sad. Each genre has its own set of expectations. They have all become tired; heaps of tragically unaware self-parodies plastered everywhere. Each year we can lament and question; where has the magic of movie posters gone?

Well, it’s not entirely gone. Hopefully my choices this year will emphasize that periodically something aesthetically worthy comes along. I cannot lie though; the countless mediocre/pitiful posters I had to go through to get to these is more than a little disheartening. I would go through 100 posters before anything stuck out.

The ‘Worst Posters’ list will soon follow. But I prefer this list this year. Why? Because there have been a few Worst Posters list to come out already and I must admit that after doing my own research, they hit the nail on the head for nearly all of them. Which means that my list and theirs will be very similar.

What were your personal favorite posters of the year? Here are the 20 film posters of 2011 that represent mine. The rule was only 1 poster per film. I do not claim these to be the best; just the ones that caught my eye the most and that I find myself most drawn to. I have seen 14/20 of the films here. A few of these films I’m not really a fan of but a great poster is a great poster regardless of the quality of the film it represents (and I won’t be getting into which films those are here). Off we go.

20. Shit Year
Here, we get Ellen Barkin, whose presence seems to be single-handedly melting the watercolors (Watercolors? Inked water? I suck). She looks like a clown, has a cigarette hanging out of her mouth and the title indicates this was not a very good year for her. This poster makes me want to find out why.

As the list continues, you will see a lot of ‘it makes me want to know more’. That is what a poster should do. It is first and foremost an advertisement. If it can do this in a way that is not tired or a simple rehash of the ten stock images we get from posters these days, it is a success.

19. Hobo with a Shotgun

Last year I had a couple of posters on my list that evoked the exploitation era. Hobo with a Shotgun, coming from Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse trailer contest, follows suit in what has now become a welcome trend. Creases, lots of action overlapping with each other, a self-aware tagline; it’s all there.

You will see as we go through the list just how represented Magnet releases are (five total). They do some of the most consistent poster work out there and they deserve their due for presenting advertisements in a way that promotes creativity.

18. Drive Angry
Again with the Grindhouse inspired kind of look. This just works on every level for me from the font size to the artificial messiness of it. It is unfortunate that this poster was not the one mainly used, but such is the case; even the few great posters exist to be largely unused.

17. The Devil’s Double
An in-your-face concept that goes for the jugular as far as poster concepts go. It goes to an extreme to make its point and for that, it deserves major props. The only thing working against it is the oddly misrepresentative tagline; a minute irritation. I still say Dominic Cooper looks more like Michael C. Hall here than Dominic Cooper. I can’t be the only one that sees this; can I?

16. The Muppets
Out of all the imaginative send-ups for the return of the Muppets, I chose a sparse Kermit-centric one, the only reason being that I have a soft spot for Kermit the Frog. Any poster with his head on it earns a spot on this list. Just look at that smile; oh how it melts my heart.

15. The Future
It is hard to articulate what it is about this poster that I find so memorable. The centered upside-down photo with the font contained within has an unexpectedly long-lasting effect on the mind. There’s just something about it….

14. I Saw the Devil

I was so happy to be able to get this on here as it really stuck with me throughout the year. This is a haunting use of space with the victimized yellow car illuminating the shadowy figure just enough to get a sense his weapon but not his identity. Those who have seen the film will recognize this as a reference to the opening sequence.

13. We Need to Talk About Kevin
There is suspicion and paranoia afoot as Swinton’s temperament towards her child is shown with this image. I love posters that have this purple-brown hue to them. Just look at I Saw the Devil’s poster for further proof. I don’t know how else to describe it so there you go; purple-brown hue. My description skills are clearly tops.

12. Martha Marcy May Marlene
A case of the fuzzies. I can’t help it; I love out-of-focus images on posters. This really captures Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography on the film which is still my personal favorite of the year. The poster provides a hook; why is she running away? Who from? Does she make it? Coincidentally, it is almost a reverse shot of the Margaret poster which was the last I cut for this list. And both have ‘M’ names. Weird.

11. 13 Assassins
A marvelous illustration for yet another Magnet release. Busy but not too busy, and positively engaging.

10. Black Death
I flat-out love this bleak and foreboding poster for a film that unfairly went under the radar. For those counting, this is the fourth Magnet release on the list. That endlessly hopeless feel the Middle Ages have (at least for me) is truly represented here. I think I caught the Plague just looking at it.

9. Gainsbourg
It goes without saying that Serge Gainsbourg equals suave. A poster for this biopic needs to be able to capture the personality we all think of when we hear the French lady killer’s name. This version adds the perfect touch in capturing his demeanor through the cool blue and lusty red. Just looking at this makes me want to listen to “Histoire de Melody Nelson” for the billionth time. In fact….

8. Rubber
….yeah, I put the album on; I couldn’t resist.

This graphic brings you front and center to the leering eye of a tire; a directly anthropomorphized illustration. It advertises its unconventionality, wearing it on its sleeve, begging onlookers to dig deeper into the unknown.

7. Certified Copy
I almost went with the equally impressive color-splatter poster for the film featuring the same image. The grey in this one allows Juliette Bincohe’s startling paleness to stick out as well as the ruby red of her lips and earrings in this important moment from the film.

6. Le Havre
In addition to having an irresistible illustration that is at once sparse and full of intrigue. I want to know more about what I am seeing. Who are the players and how do they relate to each other?

5. The Skin I Live In
What strikes me most about this poster is that it looks like a mid-twentieth century middle school textbook. Would it actually be found in a classroom? Who knows? But it gives off that kind of educational vibe with an artistic twist that really drew me in.

4. Shame
The poster for Shame evokes with its ruffled bed sheets an immediate context of the film’s title. It is slightly confrontational with its placement of the title smack dab in the middle; this film is not tiptoeing around its subject matter. Whether you have seen the film or not, the poster says a lot about the kind of experience it provides.  Well, that quote does not exactly scream subtlety as an allusion to the film’s content. Either way; we get the idea.

3. Cold Weather
There is an exquisite use of patterning going on and I love the placement of the actors. Even the font kills. It’s just perfect.

2. Sleeping Beauty
Emily Browning’s porcelain exterior blends right in with the beautiful embroidered couch behind her. The poster’s color palette is gorgeous. Her supposed vulnerability is being subverted just like in the film (although the film is questionably successful at this). What we would expect to be a pleading look is actually a stern stare-down daring us to pass judgment on her.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
As soon as I saw this poster, I knew it would be likely impossible that another poster would take its place at the top of the pack. Designed by Chris Ware, best known for his visually complex graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, everything here is absolutely captivating. Ware also designed the equally impressive poster for 2007’s The Savages. The color scheme, the symmetry, the jellyfish-like middle, the water, trees; there is so much happening and it is all done through abstraction. So many aspects of the film are emphasized here, but you don’t have to know that to appreciate this masterful work on display.

13 thoughts on “List: Top 20 Film Posters of 2011

    1. Wanting to watch more movies = always a good thing! Yeah…oh Campion. I know that she was really helping oversee post-production on the film. I think all of her consulting work came into play after everything had been shot. I’m going to write a short review of the film hopefully in the next couple of days. Basically I love the ideas in it but Leigh has no idea how to execute them. It was unfortunate.

  1. This is a great list. Those really are some awesome posters that aren’t run of the mill by any stretch. I’m definitely going to have to check out Black Death. The Shit Year poster is hilarious; you nailed the nostalgia of the Muppets- it’s impossible to look at Kermit without feeling warm and fuzzy (and green) inside; and my personal favorite is the Gainsbourg poster.

    There seems to be a huge trend these days of hearkening back to 70’s and 80’s posters. I know that Super 8 certainly tried to cash in on this, as has The Innkeepers.

    1. Thank you! You are definitely right about that trend. I only count films that had a US release date in 2011; otherwise The Innkeepers absolutely would be on here. Count on it having a high spot next year!

  2. Fabulous! I love poster design lists (that We Need to Talk About Kevin one-sheet is a personal fave this year). Now, if only theaters were as nice about giving away their unused promo material as they used to be…

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