Crash

Simple, powerful, memorable, and above all, pretentious. I like that the poster is a moment from the film, and not just a mass of floating stars faces, which this easily could have been (The poster is brave enough to not show Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Ludacris, and Thandie Newton). And after realizing that the guy on the poster is neither the bald Billy Zane nor a slumming Vin Diesel, you are definitely intrigued as to who it is and what happened to make the guy scream. So intrigued, in fact, that you spend the entirety of the film waiting for the moment, and when it arrives, the all-consuming pretentiousness of both the moment and the shot selection makes you throw up in your mouth a little (Is my bitterness for this film a bit too unsubtle?). So, you know… good things and bad for this one.

Grade: B+

Brokeback Mountain

This is smart poster for a film that knows its success or failure lingers on the reception from the Heartland. Brokeback was always going to play fine on the coasts, the worry was the middle of the country, where the cliché “gay cowboy movie” would effectively kill any commercial chances it may have. This poster does an excellent job of tamping down the “gay cowboy movie” stigma, without copping out by showcasing the women in the movie. The poster plays it straight (no pun intended), there is Ledger and Gyllenhaal, with the mountains in the background. Their faces and posture tell you everything you need to know about the film, without overtly selling the controversy. Without even showing them touching, intuitively, you understand what the film is about. Like I said, it’s a smart poster.

Grade: A

Capote

Well, the title wasn’t lying. That’s definitely Truman Capote. And you gotta respect a film where the poster completely matches the title. So that’s good. So what else is good? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot else. You don’t get a sense of what the film is about, beyond the gigantic twee-looking man. And while everyone should theoretically know who Truman Capote is, the fact of the matter is that we don’t, and this poster does nothing to inform the uninformed. Also, the poster makes the movie look boring. I mean, look at it again, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a bowtie doesn’t exactly scream “Action”.

Grade: B-

Munich

When I first reviewed this poster I called it “frustratingly vague” while also concluding that “it is an intriguing image for quite possibly the most intriguing movie of the year”. Those thoughts still apply, though I will say that after having seen the film, I believe the poster is right to look the way it does. One man, gun in hand, questioning his reason for holding it (and possibly using it). Spielberg has a long history of wonderful movie posters, with his Oscar winning films being the highlights (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan). While this is not as powerful or as memorable as his past triumphs, it still remains the most intriguing movie poster of the year, and a model for the type of poster simplicity I long for.

Grade: A

Goodnight. And, Good Luck

What is with the large, lazy white space? And why has it become this year’s dominant movie poster trend (Match Point, Little Manhattan)? I get that I’m supposed to dig that Clooney didn’t plop his face on the poster to sell the flick, but man, a bit more intrigue would be nice. With the blocky cast list dominating the white space, the movie’s title ends up looking like a tag line, not a title. And are we just supposed to guess who the guy is at the bottom? If you’re only gonna use 20% of your movie poster, you better fill it with something a lot more interesting than the cuckolded father from the Kevin Bacon-river rafting thriller The River Wild.

Grade: D

So those are my grades for the movie posters of this year’s Best Picture Nominees. And, as promised here are some of my favorite (and in some cases, least favorite) movie posters of Oscar’s pasts, listed in awards order.

The “We Got Al Pacino and Russell Crowe So You Know You’re Seeing This Movie” Award

The Insider

Too bad America was still two years, one Maximus Decimus Meridius and a Dennis Quaid wife swap from falling in love with the fighting Aussie. Still, it’s a sweet poster that showcases great shots of two of the best actors in the business. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

The “We Don’t Care About Men” Award

The Hours

Let’s see, we’ve got a dowdy Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman dropping from her usual “9″, to here looking no better than a “5″ (at best) and the best looking girl on the poster, Julianne Moore, is relegated to the background. Obviously, whoever designed this poster hates men. And the poster is basically telling women everywhere “Good luck convincing your boyfriend to come see this. Oh, and Julianne Moore is pregnant in this, so you’ve got nothing to sell them on. In your face!”

The “Best Evidence that Hilary Swank is Totally NOT a Dude” Award

Million Dollar Baby

If Hilary Swank ever wanted to convince the world that she was a beautiful, feminine woman, that showing her raging back muscles was definitely a bad idea. Also, on a different note, if Morgan Freeman narrates your movie, please, let us know on the poster. That’s one of the main reasons March of the Penguins did so well. If I saw this poster, and it said “Morgan Freeman narrates the movie. Just like Shawshank Redemption!” I would have totally been there.

The Most Iconic Movie Poster Ever Award

The Shawshank Redemption

How did this movie not make $200 million dollars? I was thirteen when this came out, so I wasn’t exactly cognizant of the movie poster scene, but had I seen this, I may have matured much, much faster. An iconic image from the most underrated movie ever made. I can’t say more good things about this poster. It’s a wall worthy poster of the highest order.

The Creepiest Best Picture Movie Poster Award

Silence of the Lambs

You know a poster is creepy when even without Hannibal Lecter you’re still a bit freaked out. Also, any poster that has a butterfly with a dudes face on it… automatically creepy. Damn, let’s just move on.

The Movie Poster Makes the Movie Award

American Beauty

Possibly the most famous example of a movie poster bring directly responsible for a film winning Best Picture. This was the most intriguing poster of it’s year, with its bare midriff, ironic rose, and perfect tag line. Without this poster, American Beauty is just another dark family drama. With the tummy shot, it’s a powerful statement on the American family and the Best Picture of the year.

The “Jack Being Jack” Award

As Good As It Gets

How can you look at this poster and not want to see this movie. It tells you absolutely nothing about the film, nor anything about Jack’s character, though none of that matters. As long as you have Jack’s giant head and laconic smile on your poster, the movie will be a hit. (And on a related note: It’s always smart to avoid putting Helen Hunt on your movie poster, whenever possible.)

Quirkiest Best Picture Movie Poster Award

Fargo

From the quilted surface and respective needle, to the cool tag line and awesome dead body, the poster is spot on in selling a weird little thriller set in the weird universe of the Coen Brothers.

The Straight-To-Video Award

Field of Dreams

What a disgustingly amateurish poster. If I didn’t know it was a classic tale of baseball and fathers and sons, I would think it’s a low budget B-movie cheapy that was ripping off the success of Bull Durham. Is that supposed to be the Field of Dreams behind Costner? That weak looking row of corn stalks? And is that supposed to be a halo around Costner, or the moon? Did some demented Photoshop designer weasel his way into the Universal art department and nobody noticed? I’m so confused why this movie got such a short shrift, poster wise.

The Out of Nowhere Classic Movie Poster Award

Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks on a bench. That’s all this poster is. And yet, Forrest Gump made $300 million, won a truckload of Oscars and is now an American classic. I have no idea why this poster works as well as it does, but damn if it’s not an icon of poster art.

The “Worst Use of A Movie Star on a Best Picture Poster” Award

The Green Mile

Tom Hanks as a doll. How did anyone think this was a good idea? Does it tell me anything about the movie? No. Does it make me want to see this movie? No. All it does is make me stare at it and wonder “Why is Tom Hanks a doll?”

The “Best Use of a Movie Star on a Best Picture Poster” Award

Gladiator

Russell Crowe, shrouded in shadow, covered in armor, and holding a sword, now that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t need to know anything more about the movie, other than Russell Crowe kicks ass with a broad sword.

And finally…

My Favorite Best Picture Movie Poster

Pulp Fiction

What’s so great about this poster is that you can look at it five times and spot five new, cool things about it. Did you notice the pulp novel she’s holding down? Or the handgun? Or the open pack of cigarettes? So much is happening, from the scratched-out background to the “movie poster as book cover as movie poster” design. It’s ingenious, it’s sexy and it’s cool, everything that Pulp Fiction the movie turned out to be. If you’re a guy, a geek and under thirty, you own this poster, you own the script book and you own the DVD. I stared at this poster for years, praying I’d make a film half as cool as Pulp Fiction. Now, I just hope that when I do make a movie, that my movie poster is an eighth as cool as this, my favorite Best Picture movie poster.

Bangarang!

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About Jason Matthews

Jason Matthews is the head writer for TheJay.com. The site has been nominated for two Weblog Awards (Best Culture Blog, 2006 & 2007), and has been featured on more than 100 websites, including the IMDB, Defamer, College Humor, USA Today’s Pop Candy (Written by Whitney Matheson), Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch, BestWeekEver.tv, Gorilla Mask and eBaum’s World. Jason is also an accomplished playwright. He is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the Ruskin Group Theatre, where through their showcase “Café Plays”, he has written and produced forty-five one-act plays, and premiered his full-length debut comedy ‘Four Night Stand’ to a sold out six-week run in Spring 2010. In addition to his work online and in theatre, Jason was the host of PopLoad on NowLive.com from January – May 2007, and was the Editor-in-Chief of the popular Santa Barbara-based arts magazine CampusPOINT from June 2000 – June 2002. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Film Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and an intense love for Ben Affleck and Keanu Reeves. Find Jason Matthews on Twitter @ www.Twitter.com/jasonamatthews
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3 Responses to

  1. A-Train says:

    All in all, I’d say that this year was an excellent year for best picture posters. Only one real failure. And I have more respect for them for failing when trying something new, rather than had they failed for trying to do something boring and lame.

  2. A-Train says:

    I think you left (at least) one out:

    http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Rocky-Posters_i153070_c57638_.htm

    It’s classic. Tag line works well and I like the black and white (and really, we don’t need to see Sly’s ugly mug all big and whatnot). :-)

  3. Pingback: The Jay » Considering the Box Office Potential of The Bucket List Based Solely on the Poster

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