I tried making a conscious effort to find posters in areas I might not have normally visited this year. That’s the effect of having been able to follow so many design firms and artists on Twitter before a majority (justifiably) bailed upon its sale. With such broad and instant access, the ease at which I discovered new releases made it so I often forget to look elsewhere.
IMP Awards is still a great resource, if only to sift through everything they’ve tagged as a given year to see if something got missed. Then there’s Brandon Schaefer‘s year-end collections and Adrian Curry’s extensive MUBI posts and Instagram to get an inside look from two poster artists and connoisseurs. And there’s a slew of other accounts who keep on the pulse of the art form when so many (e.g. studios who commission the work) can’t even bother to share a credit.
So I now follow as many artists as I can via Instagram. Email publicists as often as possible to see if they can get a line on designer and illustrator names. And hope for the best while journeying down whatever rabbit holes those names and websites lead me through––often revealing how they also created posters I championed years ago with no way of knowing until now.
All that said, I was able to collect a shortlist (around 50) from more sources that then became the below 25. I don’t think it should come as a shock that few of the big firms made it through. Most of my favorites are credited to individual names rather than a firm at all––a testament to the creatives that exist as long as you know where to look (hopefully the links below help in that endeavor) and the studios willing to exit their industry’s narrow comfort zone.
#25 – Polite Society (MURUGIAH); #24 – Biosphere (Akiko Stehrenberger); #23 – Millie Lies Low (Intermission Film); #22 – Therapy Dogs (Jump Cut / Brandon Schaefer); #21 – Once Within a Time (Grier Dill); #20 – Fallen Leaves (Idea Oshima Design / illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi); #19 – Poor Things (Vasilis Marmatakis); #18 – Our Body (Brian Hung / illustrated by Leah Goren); #17 – Falcon Lake (version_industries / Caspar Newbolt); #16 – Piaffe (F Ron Miller); #15 – How to Blow Up a Pipeline (GrandSon); #14 – American Fiction (BLT Communications, LLC); #13 – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (P+A); #12 – The Disappearance of Shere Hite (Akiko Stehrenberger); #11 – In Broad Daylight (Jennifer Yu)
#10 – The Five Devils (Unknown)
When so many other posters for The Five Devils use the same image and template to advertise the film in a generic text-above-still fashion, this Japanese sheet’s ability to wield those same pieces in such a starkly different, more powerful way is impossible to ignore. We become dragged into the frame to feel that fire, the simple masking of Adèle Exarchopoulos’s head pushing the top half of the title farther back into the distance. I also love the giant English title burning away into ash and the heavy grain that makes it seem like the actor might do the same. It’s a mesmerizing freeze frame begging for our help before its flames consume us all.
#09 – The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic (Jari Salo)
I think my favorite part of Jari Salo’s poster for The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is just how bland the all-caps sans serif Finnish text is. There was surely an impulse to make it flashier on the studio’s part, if not the artist’s––to grab the attention of those who are actually reading the poster since the dots aren’t raised and thus can’t be read by a blind person (although Salo did make t-shirts where the ink was raised). Doing so would ultimately negate the impact of that braille, though. Despite most sighted people not being able to read it, the design tells us that it can be read. That its presence is important. Making it the focus is therefore sending an intentional anti-ableist message that states how it shouldn’t always just be about you.
#08 – A Still Small Voice (Geoff McFetridge)
Documentaries should be the easiest sell for studios to roll the dice on abstraction. They don’t always have a central subject or possess a visually dramatic setting to lean on. So: hire an artist like Geoff McFetridge. Let them watch the film, supply some ideas for what the poster should evoke, and see what happens. Do we know what A Still Small Voice is about from the result? Not at all. What we receive instead is a captivating piece that can turn heads and sell the work on vibes alone. Who is this woman? Why is she echoing and overlapping to create new and different shapes? This sort of attractive aesthetic paired with the unknown sticks inside a viewers head like a photographic portrait of a stranger simply never could.
#07 – Earth Mama (12:01 / Hassan Rahim)
The muted saturation, cool colors, grainy texture, and singular typeface––everything is working in-concert on Hassan Rahim’s Earth Mama to deliver one of the year’s most striking one-sheets. It really gets at the essence of the film, how Tia Nomore’s character finds herself lost in vivid dreams to escape the seemingly Sisyphean mountain of her reality battling the system and herself to prove to the world she’s a good mother. This is a woman who deserves the chance to be with her children; one who’s stripped bare emotionally to try earning that right with another child on the way. And despite that system’s best efforts, this soft silhouette against a purple sky presents a new Eve to walk the Earth with the strength and dignity she deserves.
#06 – in water (Brian Hung)
Brian Hung follows last year’s The Novelist’s Film (my #1 of 2022) with what’s probably my second-favorite poster of his career via in water. I enjoy his winding repetitions, but these are on a completely different level. It’s a gorgeous painting of an isolated person standing in the middle of water threatening to consume him. Paired with the quote at bottom-right, we can conjure glimpses of the emotions to expect while watching––the themes that will ultimately transcend anything its plot might provide. That Hung gives the canvas (its texture and strokes clearly visible) the room to breathe in full is a testament to its power. That he also utilizes it for the secondary purpose of becoming the water that also threatens to drown the title is pure synergistic genius.
#05 – Touched (Julie Gayard / illustrated by Elisabeth Moch)
The festival sheet for Touched is another great marriage of painting (Elisabeth Moch) and design (Julie Gayard). Because while it’s one thing to get a great image like this watercolor of a nude woman, it’s another to not dilute it with bad typography. Yes, you need a credit block somewhere, but what about title, cast list, and critic quotes? Contract stipulations are often the root of bad design, but studio pressure can be, too, with smaller films that benefit from festival laurels and effusive praise. To therefore let Gayard create to the visual’s needs rather than the system’s is huge. Instead of distracting our focus, the title’s letters lead our eyes back and forth across the page (and the subject’s body) to ensure we absorb every expressive wash in full.
#04 – A Thousand and One (Desi Moore)
I’ve adored Desi Moore’s artwork for A Thousand and One since the first time I saw it. The novel cover aesthetic. The striking elongation of its subjects’ limbs embellishing its central embrace. The gorgeous coloring of the whole (black oval on off-white) and portrait itself (a mix of warm and cool to give its figures life in three dimensions). It’s simple yet evocative. Symbolic yet straight-forward. And for a film that presents itself as a look at a modern American family struggling to live out its dreams despite a system hellbent on preventing them, this depiction truly distills its essence as a Norman Rockwell cliché viewed through the carnival mirror filter imposed upon those who look nothing like his usual subjects. This love is valid regardless. This love is pure.
#03 – Magoado (Rubén Sainz)
Despite all the jokes about “graphic design is my passion” surrounding people in other disciplines dabbling in the field to infamous effect, some do have the chops to be successful across multiple fields. Case in point: Rubén Sainz’s Magoado. The publicist was quick to tell me the director designed the poster himself when I asked––it’s a nice detail to want to share. Rather than merely articulate his film’s themes to other artists before sifting through a slew of comps to find which comes closest, he simply did it himself. I love how the blurred image lets its oranges pop and how the black lines simultaneously cross-out the picture while wrapping around it like string––title unraveling to form them just as they lead us down through the page to read it.
#02 – The Zone of Interest (Kellerhouse, Inc.)
It wasn’t a surprise to discover Kellerhouse, Inc. was responsible for the heady interpretation of Jonathan Glazer’s challenging The Zone of Interest once A24 debuted the poster. Neil has made a career pushing boundaries to ensure the potential of a world where Hollywood never needs another collage of Photoshopped heads to sell its art again. This one is no different, considering the way it uses a popular device (white space) to tap into the subject matter’s unease rather than simply create an attractive visual. That emptiness is supposed to help our eyes see what the designer wants us to see, letting the page breathe as we move through it. The result here proves the opposite. Its vacuum of terror forces us to remember what’s missing instead.
#01 – Joyland (version_industries / Caspar Newbolt)
There’s so much to talk about with (version_industries) and Caspar Newbolt’s Joyland. The ornately hand-drawn floor tiles (their website always generously explains their process) doubling as a window upon the main characters. The whole’s off-center nature pushing everything into the top-left corner to provide room for text on the outside without sterilizing the composition via more symmetry. The way the three actors feel as though they exist in one scene despite a handful of lotus flowers overlapping their images to prove each has been meticulously layered atop the others. The grain, subdued colors, and blood-smeared title. It’s truly a work of art all its own and a testament to the field’s ability to sell itself as much as the product being sold.