Oscar season is upon us – that time when movie buffs debate and argue over the nominees, fume over the films that deserved recognition and the ones that deserved nothing, root for their favourites – and finally acknowledge the fact that the Oscars aren’t, never have or will really be about the best films of the year… until next year’s awards.
Anyway, for better or for worse, the nominees are out – and even though conventional wisdom tells us not to judge a book by its cover, we’re going to do just that – rank the 8 Best Picture contenders of the 2019 Academy Awards, by their posters.
8. GREEN BOOK
(Poster design by The Refinery)
Unlike the film, which has generated a fair bit of controversy over its racial politics and factual liberties, there’s nothing especially wrong with the poster for Peter Farelly’s Green Book, and the main reason it ranks lowest here is merely its blandness, which extends right from the image to the tagline. It features Viggo Mortensen driving a fancy car as Mahershala Ali sits majestically in the back seat. We get plenty of clean, negative space, a thin sans-serif title and a generally soothing green-blue colour tone – which projects it exactly as the pleasantly inspiring, crowd-pleasing ‘Oscar-bait’ that it intends to be. On closer look though, Mahershala Ali looks a little artificially grafted onto the background – and his look into the camera throws me off just a little bit- is he staring at us in silent judgement, or in exasperation – asking what he did to be stuck in a car with this uncouth creature? I guess we’ll never know.
7. BLACK PANTHER
(Poster design by Art Machine)
As much as a landmark as this film might be in the superhero genre (not to mention, the first of its kind to get a Best Picture nomination), its poster isn’t especially radical or pathbreaking, following pretty much in the footsteps of other recent Marvel movies such as Avengers: Infinity War, Thor: Ragnarok and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Still, to give credit where it’s due, there is a nice symmetry to the poster and clearly, there is some effort to add a some degree of elegance to the conventional (and mandated) overcrowded collage of faces that we always see on posters like this. While not as cool as this trippy Thor poster, it continues the welcome trend of using structured lines and geometry to beat this well-worn genre of film posters into shape.
6. A STAR IS BORN
(Poster design by Concept Arts)
The poster for Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born – appropriately goes for old-school glamour with a swoony romantic vibe. The shimmering gold text – set in Didot Roman – sits nicely against the black and white portrait of the lead couple who look immersed both in their love for music and for each other. Aptly, the key art has the look and feel of an old music album cover – which works well to sell this old-fashioned musical romance – powered by the chemistry and star wattage of its two luminous leads. The way Lady Gaga’s eyes look at Bradley Cooper almost seems to say: “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 don’t believe in you, but all you need is one to change your life…”
(Poster design by BLT Communications)
The key art for Adam McKay’s Vice features a portrait of its title character in a sharp, minimal silhouette with an eye-popping and high-contrast combination of yellow and black, making this poster one that’s hard to miss. We see Dick Cheney’s glasses and collar highlighted in white, and his instantly recognizable jowl prominent in the image. It’s also reminiscent of iconic political posters such as the Barack Obama “Hope” poster, – except that instead of optimism, the imagery here exudes a darkly comic, cynical and sinister quality. This is the story of an anti-hero – or as the old Indian saying goes – Yellow Yellow, Dirty Fellow…
4. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
(Poster design by Gravillis Inc.)
Colour and silhouette again play a prominent role in the poster for Bohemian Rhapsody, which portrays Freddie Mercury in his trademark pose on stage set against a flaming sky in hues of yellow, orange and purple that immediately draw you in. The film’s title uses the Queen insignia in the background with ‘Rhapsody’ echoing the font of the band logo. It vibrantly showcases the spark and swagger of its iconic protagonist – with the tagline providing an effective hook: “The only thing more extraordinary than their music is his story.” (I also must make a special mention of these great international posters from Works Adv, which are my personal favorites from this campaign).
(Poster design by Concept Arts)
The poster for Roma goes straight for the jugular, choosing a powerful image from the film’s emotional climax, with all the main characters from the film enveloped in a teary huddle. It’s a simple but poignant poster that grows manifold in impact once one has seen the film. The only prominent ‘design’ element here of course is the evocative title design, which seems to be in a custom art-deco style typeface that reflects the period and place the film is set in – the Roma neighborhood in Mexico City is home to a lot of Art-Deco architecture. (Interestingly, both the posters from design agency Concept Arts in this list feature a yellow title placed on a monochrome photograph – though for entirely different reasons and to varied effect.)
(Poster design by Gravillis Inc.)
The poster for Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman presents us with a design that’s instantly attention-grabbing – hilarious and provocative in equal measure – pretty much how the film’s been widely described as well. It features the lead protagonist, an African-American police officer in a Ku Klux Klan costume, with one hand raised in a defiant fist and the other holding an afro-pick; his eyes staring out at us through the holes in the hood. The logo uses a slanted and modified version of the vintage font ITC Pioneer, in a nod to the title design of the 1971 Blaxploitation film Shaft. The clever tagline – ‘Infiltrate Hate‘ pretty much sums up the film’s plot and adds to what is easily one of the most brilliant, cool and memorable American posters of recent times.
1. THE FAVOURITE
(Poster design by Vasilis Marmatakis and Midnight Oil)
And finally, it is rather apt that my top movie poster(s) of this list come from a film called… The Favourite. The phenomenal Greek designer Vasilis Marmatakis has designed posters for all of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films ever since Dogtooth, and impressively, the filmmaker has managed to retain the off-kilter sensibility of both his films and their posters – even as he has ventured into Hollywood, making films with major American movie stars. To begin with, the typography design is striking, sublime and audacious – using a fully justified layout, which drives the letter-spacing on some words way off the charts. It really shouldn’t work, but in the hands of a masterful visual artist like Marmatakis, it does – and how. The teaser poster features Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz atop the face of the Queen played by Olivia Colman, dressing her up like a corpse – the former brushes her eyeball while the latter holds up a string of pearls. The grotesquely comic suggestion, of course is that they’re really preying on her like vultures.
The other poster designed by the agency Midnight Oil borrows Marmatakis’ typography (this is hands-down, the most insane credit block I have ever seen) and uses a less dark, and equally funny image with wonderful details – whether it’s Emma Stone’s grumpy, childlike expression and pose at being left out of the frame, the way Olivia Colman’s cape doubles up as a rug under her, or the rabbits that populate the scenery. It’s regal, baroque and a flat-out delight.