Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best (and Worst) Movie Posters of 2014

Well, here's a first. Before even completing my list of the year's best movie posters, the eventual number one selection was already ordered and hanging on my wall. And for only the second time since doing this, my poster choice for the top spot is from a film that took a critical and commercial drubbing, with its one-sheet likely to be the only aspect of the production that's fondly remembered years from now. But at least that's something. Unlike reviewing movies, in which thoughts and feelings can waver over time, spotting a great movie poster is closer to love at first sight for me. It's obvious when all the design elements and advertising creativity converge to create a perfect storm.

Just as it was for film, 2014 was an unmistakably great year for posters, with any the runners-up easily capable of sliding into one of the top ten slots. By now, you probably have a good idea what I'm looking for and how my tastes lean, very often preferring actual artwork and retro designs to photoshopped slickness. And boy does this year's top choice ever reflect that, ingeniously conveying the the film's theme with an unforgettable image. Stare at that instead of some the year's worst for proof that movie poster art is far from dead. Just a reminder that only official, studio released movie posters qualify so no alternative designs are eligible. And as usual, all images courtesy of Impawards.com.

The Best...    

10. The One I Love

The low-budget indie The One I Love (currently streaming on Netflix) is the third film released this year that covers a scenario I can't talk about in fear of giving too much away. It's all literally and figuratively "reflected" in this one-sheet, which we may as well call a painting since that's exactly what it is. And a very good one that artistically captures Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass to an almost alarming degree. In fact, it looks more like them than they do. In a genre-bending rom-com that's all about the images we present to each other, this approach couldn't have been more fitting. Digging the giant white typeface and the subtle adjustment to Duplass' reflection and Moss should probably send royalty checks to this artist for the rest of her life. While I'm still on the fence about the bizarre film, I know exactly how I feel about its poster.   

9. Palo Alto

John Hughes would be proud. With a throwback quality that recalls 80's teen classics like Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles, anyone who saw Gia Coppola's adaptation of James Franco's collection of short stories would know, for better or worse, just how big a departure this film is from movies like that. They're not even orbiting the same planet, which makes the choice of poster art especially ironic and inspired, not to mention mesmerizing to look at. Emma Roberts, who definitely wasn't bad in the film, might actually be delivering a better performance on this poster. I don't dislike the film as much as others do, but you can still add it to the list of movies creatively surpassed by their advertising, perhaps promising a more fulfilling, contemplative effort than was eventually delivered. If done well, I'm also a big fan of borders framing an image, as you'll see many more times below.

8. Whiplash

While this Brazilian Whiplash one-sheet is the only foreign poster to make the cut it's important to express my admiration for the official U.S. theatrical version (see runners-up below) that embraces the lost art of creatively incorporating an abundance of review blurbs onto a poster. But even that can't compare to this, in which Miles Teller's drumming prodigy finds himself being pushed to the edge. Between the tan border sharply contrasting with the bright orange background and the black and white image of the protagonist walking the drumstick, this is not only one of the most stylistically sharp and simplistic posters of the year, but one of the most eye-catching. There's a similar international version but the border takes up too much space and the color scheme just isn't as interesting. This also has a throwback 70's feel to it the other can't replicate. If this doesn't get you pumped to see the film, nothing will.    

7. Inherent Vice

There were a number of neon-infused posters to choose from for Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, including the now seemingly iconic teaser with the woman's legs. Taken as a set (see below), this was easily the strongest poster series of 2014, but this Doc Sportello-focused character piece is the most memorable and unique design of the bunch. From afar it's easy to mistake it for a giant, rainbow colored psychedelic snow cone but a closer look reveals just how much of the movie's craziness it captures. And that's coming from someone who hasn't even seen it yet. Those who have pretty much describe it as feeling exactly how this looks: Insane. Joaquin Phoenix looking stoned, dumbfounded or both. Katherine Waterston striking that killer pose. Sailboats. Josh Brolin looking humorless. Hey, is that Owen Wilson playing a sax? And how about that neon, which looks supremely cool against the worn, distressed charcoal colored background. If the film's even half as good as this poster promises, I'm in for a wild ride.

6. Enemy (Choice of Three)

While there was one clear standout amongst the Inherent Vice set, Enemy had three one-sheets so stellar it would be a crime to leave any off the top ten so I'm cheating. Between this and Nightcrawler I'd probably name it the slightly superior Gyllenhaal film of the two, with an accompanying poster campaign that does a great job reflecting the duality theme at the mysterious story's center. We have the old vase and faces visual trick, but with a key and spider importantly substituted, as mild-mannered college professor Adam stares down his movie actor doppelganger, Anthony. The first, and some would argue best, poster released featured the Toronto skyline sprouting out of Gyllenhaal's head with the ominous spider hovering above. But my favorite is probably the old school playing card-style teaser, which again highlights the benefits of a tan border against a bright background. And I really like how the giant red type and illustration and disintegrating blank faces give it a classic book cover feel.

5. Blue Ruin

Can we just pause a second to admire just how cool and original this poster is? There really nothing like it visually and you definitely couldn't imagine a better single image introducing one of 2014's most overlooked gems to audiences still unaware of its existence. Kind of disgusting, but oddly appropriate, we're given the excellent rendering of actor Macon Blair's reluctant and often downright frightened vigilante, Dwight. He's a man out for revenge with little idea how he'll obtain it. This poster is what he envisions happening to him if he continues along the path he feels is his moral obligation to take. This blueish green hue isn't a color combo we're used to seeing on a poster, making the whole package really jump out at you, while the blown off skin nearly sells the meditative revenge thriller as a horror movie. For those who've seen it, that's not exactly false advertising.

4. Nightcrawler

Max Headroom meets Bright Lights, Big City in this inspired one-sheet for Dan Gilroy's cult classic-in-waiting, Nightcrawler. It's becoming increasingly difficult to come up with fresh ideas for plastering an actor's giant face on a poster to the point that you can almost hear the groans when each new one is released. Solving that problem here is an uncomfortable close-up of Gyllenhaal's videographer sociopath Louis Bloom that's as unnerving for viewers as the character and film. There's something really classic about this design that let's you know the movie means business and while L.A. arguably functions as the co-lead in the film, the treatment it gets on the poster is more in line with how Lou sees it. Full of money, ambition and opportunity. There's no missing the well placed bright yellow title, as well as the great tag line in white. Whoever cam up with the idea to give this a textured, out of focus look should get a raise. That's what takes the poster over the top. If 2014 truly was the year of Gyllenhaal, then this was its logo. 

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

As thrilling as it was witnessing the Michael Keaton's comeback this year, we also got his prominent return in movie poster form with a one-sheet that not only brilliantly captures the actor, but the weirdness of the film itself. From the extremely odd positioning of the credits and titles to Birdman himself sitting atop Riggan Thomson's head, this approach was a relief for those who feared the print advertising for this oddball gem would go a more predictable route and maybe spoof superhero posters. Of all the contenders on this list, it's the easiest to see hanging in a study or TV room because of its portrait quality while the shading on Keaton is eerily reminiscent of those Shepard Fairey Obama "Hope" posters without thankfully going in that overused direction. The green and brown combo looks great but what takes it to the next level is how well Riggan's inner plight is incorporated, as the specter of his former role hangs over his head.

2. Under The Skin

Putting aside my feelings on the actual film (which I do plan to eventually revisit), this would probably be named the best poster in just about any other year but this. And having seen it lit up outside a theater, I can assure you it looks even more incredible in person. Imagine knowing nothing about the film and then seeing this. Besides the bizarre rainbow-colored depiction of Scarlett's face against the black, constellation-filled sky, the choice of the white border surrounding it creates a kind of juxtaposition we hardly ever see on a poster. Even the blue title treatment, which at first glance doesn't look like much, is perfectly symmetrical and beautifully presented, with the bottom of the words subtly sliding "under" the border below. And because of how it's worked in hovering above her head, that five-star quote actually means something and draws you in. A movie as difficult and challenging as Under The Skin is an impossible sell but design power Kellerhouse captured its otherworldy weirdness while also promising something a bit deeper than what ended up on screen. Scratch that repeat viewing. I'd much rather stare at this poster for two hours.

1. Men, Women and Children

Who thought I'd be this happy seeing everyone bury their heads in their phones? Where to even begin in discussing all the elements at play in making BLT Communications' teaser for Jason Reitman's Men, Women and Children the year's timeliest and most timeless poster, straddling the line between two eras in a beautiful design that brilliantly conveys the film's theme. First, we have the jarring incorporation of a modern day texting crowd into an image that appears to have been lifted straight out of a 1970's magazine ad. And it doesn't feel like a recreation either. It looks like the real thing, borrowing heavily from some of the best art of that period. Mad Men recently had the market cornered with their Brian Sanders and Milton Glaser tributes, but the concept of the retro homage has never before been executed as well as this.

The observation that we've unplugged from the world and each other isn't anything revelatory, but the style in which it's visually depicted here opens our eyes to it in a fresh way that's quite moving. And notice how despite being boxed in and smothered by a sea of digital humanity, it's the two young people making the only physical or emotional connection of any kind. Having not yet seen the film, I have no idea who these characters (played by Ansel Elgort and Kaitlyn Dever) are, but ALREADY care about them. The rest of them are so busy on their phones that they're partially obscuring the title! This clever use of space and positioning isn't something you see every day on a poster. From there it almost becomes a game of spot the star (Jennifer Garner,Adam Sandler, Dean Norris, J.K. Simmons) with impeccably rendered versions of the actors close enough in likeness to look realistic, yet also far enough to qualify as abstract.

Typically bright colors are completely faded out to draw our attention to the flesh-colored, aqua wearing couple in the center. Topping it off is the pitch-perfect tagline: "Discover Little You Know About The People You Know." Imagine the film living up to this poster, or even just being half as good. From what I'm hearing it isn't, but I'm almost afraid to find out since I really don't need anything messing with this perfect image in my mind. It's too just depressing to consider this was the ad campaign for a creative failure. A masterpiece in creative design, the one-sheet for Men, Women and Children leaves all the other 2014 posters in the dust.     



And The Worst...

It seems as if Johnny Depp's a permanent fixture on this worst list every year and I think I've finally figured it out. For a big movie star, his face is just really boring to look at, at least the way it's being presented on these posters. He's one of the worst possible subjects for this kind of  treatment because he looks exactly the same on every one. Blank. Half-digitized or not, this is so uninspired I'm falling asleep just looking at it.

...Continuing on. You can dress him up all you want. Put him in a ridiculous costume. Even give him a fake mustache, an ascot and dye his hair. You can even put some really ugly wallpaper in the background for effect. Nothing seems to work.

The scariest poster this year isn't for a horror movie, but for Paddington. With its creepy, dead eyes this is seriously terrifying and a long way off from the adorable bear we knew and loved. Every child (and parent) in America is probably now too traumatized to see this. Here's hoping they do better with Charlie Brown.

Another year, another Adam Sandler entry in this category. There were a number of terrible one-sheets for Blended, but how can anyone not pick Sandler riding an ostrich as the absolute worst? It's Adam Sandler. Riding an ostrich. The kids seem to be looking at something, but I'm not sure what. Airbrushed and photoshopped to death, even by the lowest Hollywood standards. 

Okay, so it's technically no worse than any other Nic Cage movie poster but it just had to be included for the sheer laziness. In the end though, does it matter? Anyone wanting to check this Kirk Cameron remake out for Crazy Cage probably won't be convinced or dissuaded by the advertising. The man and his hair is front and center, as it should be. With a digitized apocalypse raging in the background. Wait, is that Jordin Sparks?

Speaking of Kirk Cameron. He's arrived to"Put Christ Back in Christmas," in case you haven't heard. And he's wielding a candy cane. And a crystal ball. The only movie on here I'm kind of afraid to see, or at least would be if there were any plans to. Would make an interesting double feature with the Left Behind remake. It does look a little busy though.

"From the creator of Mad Men." Just plastering those words across a blank page would have been a better design choice than this, which is not only a photoshopped insult to three talented actors but a slap in the face to a guy who created one of the greatest achievements in TV. The skeptic in me thinks this was an intentional attempt to further bury a movie the studio didn't want. They also went through many different title incarnations before settling on this bland and poorly punctuated one. What's with the rooster?

Sorry, I have nothing. There are no words. 

Your regularly scheduled feature tonight, The Other Woman, starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton, has been preempted by an uproarious new comedy in which a woman's cartoon leg comes to life, ruining the dating lives of her two roommates. It's the best mix of live-action and animation since Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

A superhero movie and/or big blockbuster CGI spectacle is usually a fixture in this category so here's the latter. But who could have guessed it would look this low-rent? I know the movie had a big budget but something must have been left over for this. Gives new meaning to the term "cut and paste."

Brie, you know I'm a  huge fan but you have a car coming out of your dress and that Miami sunset design really needs to go. But the funniest thing is how none of this depicts the "One Man, Two Lives" tagline. What two lives? Everything looks the same. That also looks more like a 1997 promotional shot of Dirk Diggler than any recent image of Wahlberg. Based off this Direct-to-DVD design, Goodman seems to be the sole highlight. But supposedly, this remake of the 1974 crime drama starring James Caan isn't quite as bad as expected, or at least better than the poster. I'd sure hope so.