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45. Sea of Love (1989)

Quickly becoming a classic poster, Sea of Love is also a film that nudged me deeper into the world of film noir when I first saw it in the theater. The type area at the bottom is a little too dense, and the poster as a whole is marred by the typographic star-treatment that Pacino gets (some things about film posters never change!) — but the Bond-style pose and its controlled interaction with the large image in the background are striking.

44. The Border (1982)

If you’ve never see The Border, do so. The poster uses language to make some bold claims about the film’s appeal, but it generally backs them up — this is a good movie with a strong cast and a convoluted, morally ambiguous narrative that places it squarely in the realm of film noir. What I appreciate about the poster design are the rather subtle details: notice that the flag is on the opposite side of the chain link fence, suggesting that the Nicholson character is somehow on the wrong side of the border, or even that there is a very real barrier separating him from the flag, and everything it stands for. Those are the biggest chain links I’ve ever seen, and the fade-out used to transition from the flag are to the text is clumsy, but the poster is original and challenging. And designers: How often do you actually get to see ITC Eras put to such good use?

43. Thief (1981)

Great wordmark! The fewer the letters, the more difficult it is to make compelling, and the easier it is to take for granted — yet Thief stands out like a beacon in this design, in all of its 1981 glory. Beyond the type, I appreciate the pre-computer layering of a threshold-style image of James Caan against a photographic background with safe sparks flying.

42. Sharkey’s Machine (1981)

This isn’t a great poster — there are plenty of better ones in the countdown. But it scores in a big way for being so bloody bizarre. Looking at it today, one could easily believe that Sharkey’s Machine is a comedy in the same style as the Naked Gun films. There’s an unmistakable quality of campiness going here that I would be foolish to attempt to dodge. But be that as it may, the centered composition, the highly contrived (and surprisingly successful) photo-illustration, and the wonderful neon light title typography (you have no idea how incredibly difficult that is to render!) really demands that viewers take this poster seriously. Burt’s shoes notwithstanding, there’s a lot to like here. I mean, c’mon, Bernie Casey rules!

41. The Nickel Ride (1974)

Is it a photograph or is it an illustration? I think the answer is a little bit of both. This is one of the stranger films in the countdown, characterized by the ‘gritty aloofness’ that was emblematic of so many 70s crime films. While I like the imagery here very much, and I love the logo-style treatment of the title typography, I certainly wish they were better integrated — combined in such a way that the large image in the box weren’t so arbitrary. Looking at the composition this way, it’s as if any scene from the film could be pictured in the box — and we want a poster where the two images presented share a relationship that means that neither one could be ‘swapped out.’

40. The Parallax View (1974)

Designers will call this a ‘designerly’ poster — meaning it offers a happy blending of high concept and graphic boldness that is a clear departure from typical film poster design, the sort of trendsetting poster that most designers would give their eye-teeth to claim as their own. The limited color palette and the thoughtful reinforcement of the concept via the style of the title type is what pushes this over the top. In a wall of film posters, this one shouts at you.

39. Magnum Force (1973)

The great comic book artist, Jack Kirby, would be proud of this poster. The extreme foreshortening of Dirty Harry’s famous revolver is incredible: the hand cannon seems to be bursting forth from the picture-plane. Combined with the overall simplicity of the rest of the poster, it makes for a design that is as nearly as powerful as the .44 magnum. Notice especially how the typography is nestled up against the imagery, and presented in a striking diagonal with color used to draw attention to the film title. The ample negative (white) space is surprising for a poster promoting a major motion picture — can you imagine how busy and garish the poster would be if this film were released today? No thanks!

38. 12 Monkeys (1995)

Black, white, and red, you old scoundrel — you just never look bad. Here’s a simple photographic design that relies more on clever photo manipulation than it does star-power, and with such a cast that’s really saying something. Compositionally this design is far too heavy on the right hand side, but the juxtaposition of type and image here is so striking that it almost makes up for this leaning tower of poster. One of the criticisms of this design is that it inadvertently suggests the Terminator franchise, but this hasn’t held much water with me. I’ll let you decide.

37. No Country for Old Men (2007)

I had to fight off the temptation to improve this poster’s position in the countdown. The type treatment is fantastic — gritty, interesting, cohesive, and with colors and supporting text that is suggestive of the film’s western setting. The image of Josh Brolin on the run connects back to countless noir films from the classic period, and the horizon on which he runs doubles as both a Texas landscape and horizontal tear through the design. I’m held back though by the image of Javier Bardem — though I wouldn’t argue for his removal from the poster. Instead, I’d tweak the design so that Brolin didn’t seem to be emerging from Bardem’s mouth, and select a photo in which Bardem looks directly at the viewer. And is it just me, or does he appear to be wearing make-up?

36. Badlands (1973)

The poster for Terrence Malick’s Badlands is one of the stranger entries in the countdown, in spite of its apparent simplicity. First, and most importantly, it works as a noir poster: placing the fugitive couple in a dramatically staged image that speaks not only to their alienation from society, but also to the romantic undercurrent of the film. The obvious allusions to sex (position of the female figure), violence (prominence of the shotgun), and the road (inclusion of the car) almost go without saying. Just like the poster for Thief, I appreciate the quality of the wordmark, which manages to captivate through its hand-rendered style, in spite of its out-of-the-way location in the composition. On the con side, I hate the text at the top of the poster, which unfortunately most viewers will read first. Fastidious? Really? The text is so self-important that it verges on being silly.

35. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Most of the time simpler is better, and when we take a look at the teaser text on the poster for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang we can really see why the attempt at introducing the film on the Badlands poster doesn’t work. The message here is communicated clearly, quickly, and sets the proper tone for the film — not to mention how well the figures of Downey and Kilmer beautifully frame all of the poster’s text. Part of me wants to bristle at the use of Photoshop, but the mixing of the high-contrast large figures with the scenes from the film inside is striking and well executed — though I’m as aggravated as ever by the lazy use of a typeface for the title. Find an old typewriter and type it in yourself darn it! The lowercase “k,” “b,” “s,” and “n” letterforms should not be twins! The designer tried to cheat our eyes by employing uppercase letters to avoid total repetition, but it’s a fail. Argh!

34. The Getaway (1972)

High concept rendered beautifully: using the passports as a way to sneak in the stars’ faces was a stroke of genius. Throw in a well-used .45 and some shells to make an impromptu still-life and you’ve got an atypical — and incredible — movie poster.

33. Drive (2011)

Part of the contemporary film marketing racket is getting the star’s face on the poster in as big a way as possible — even more so with a “little” movie like Drive — Ryan Gosling has got to sell the tickets. Yet, even with those design restrictions in mind this remains a powerful image from a noir perspective. Drive is the most authentic noir film to come out of Hollywood in some time (read my review here, which explains the film as a classic noir), and the pent up energy in the photo says much more than 1,000 words. The title type in straight magenta is a daring choice that gets at the film’s other throwback area, the eighties; while the text type seems to move across the picture plane. Great poster, great movie.

32. Chinatown (1974)

Now don’t go all crazy on me, I have my reasons. As with all of my other countdowns, it’s important to remember that I’m looking at poster designs only, not the films themselves. And while the poster for Chinatown is in a good spot here, it doesn’t rise to the same heights as the film itself does — what poster could? I’ve made the argument in the past that this may be the best film — and certainly the best screenplay — of all time.

So let’s take a look at the poster though. Here are the problems: The first, and biggest, is the repetition of the title. Did you ever notice it before? Why in the world is Chinatown — ugly quotation marks and all — repeated twice on this poster? Silly designer. Lose the lower repetition of the title, recapture the saved space in order to make the illustrative “box” that much larger, and diminish the overwhelming black frame. Make no mistake, the illustration here is good — sort of a 70s take on Alphonse Mucha and the art nouveau style — and it should be a more prominent aspect of the design. I’m all for quality negative space (see the poster for Magnum Force), but the cropping of the Nicholson figure in order to maintain the heavy black color field at the bottom is a clear design error that diminishes the impact of this poster.

31. L.A. Confidential (1997)

Just like the previous entry, it can be quite difficult to separate film from poster as this is one of the most recognized and critically acclaimed neo noir films, not to mention my favorite contemporary film. (Titanic? Really, Oscar?!?)

I can’t give credit to the designer for the vintage typography — borrowed from the original book jacket — and the photocomposition is a bit too contrived for me. L.A. Confidential is really about Ed Exley and Bud White, yet our friends from down under are situated farthest from the viewer. Certainly the arrangement of the actors is based on 1997 star power, and done in good sense, but fifteen years later the poster resonate as well as it did at the time. Gotta love how DeVito is taking a phone call from somewhere inside Kevin Spacey’s jacket pocket though.

See you soon for the top 30! Download and comment away! 

1 comment:

  1. Really nice job here, tought to argue choices. Love seeing welldone posters.