THE 9 BEST CRITERION COVERS OF 2011

it was a very pretty year

read the list, parse through my selected commentary, and definitely feel free to voice your dissent / approval in our sparkling new comments section below! i’d also recommend checking out Robert Nishimura’s list over at Criterion Cast, a great read from someone who actually knows a thing or two about graphic design. 

1.) THE MUSIC ROOM (designed by Marian Bantjes)

for the first Satyajit Ray film inducted into the Collection, Criterion commissioned “vector artist” (please don’t ask me what that means) Marian Bantjes to design something beautiful but broken, an abstract image that captured the spirit of a man who lived his life atop a fragmented mess of half-forgotten memories.

The genius of Bantjes’ design is the extent to which it feels incomplete, like a scavenger map to a tracing the various touchstones of a particularly tormented human life. The twinkling flecks of white she contrasts with the gray backdrop obviously form a chandelier (a pivotal image in the film), but each time you look at them they require you to piece them back together, to determine their ultimate shape and take note of where the gaps are. I know that each time I look at it, it’s something of a three step process:

Step 1: Is that an octopus?

Step 2: No, that is not an octopus.

Step 3: Oh, right, it’s that chandelier from the movie that inspired this image, and it magnificiently captures the cracked persona of an Indian aristocrat who is forced to reconcile his life’s greatest regrets while eulogizing the traditional world to which he once belonged.

2.) THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (designed by Eric Skillman)

3.) SECRET SUNSHINE (designed by Steve Chow)

the stressed and simple picture of Jeon Do-yeon captures the film’s raw intensity (and that of its blistering central performance) in a way that a more abstract image probably never could.

4.) INSIGNIFICANCE (designed by Fred Davis)

Designer Fred Davis’ cover design — a splintered image of “Marilyn Monroe” that blossoms into “Einstein’s” nuclear notes — is striking, particularly against the oblivion of its white background. 

5.) SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (painted by Sean Phillips, designed by Eric Skillman)

Stunning. A garish rendering of the film’s opening scene — Falco haunting the mid-town streets under the ever-watchful eyes of J.J. Hunsecker — this is one of Criterion’s most beautiful releases. The epic booklet contained within is a black & white wonder, dense with enriching essays in the guise of an old-time gossip rag.

6.) THE KILLING (designed by Connor Willumson)

7.) FOUR FEATHERS (illustration by Gregory Manchess)

8.) ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (designed by Aesthetic Apparatus)

9.) KURONEKO (designed by Sam Smith)

Sam Smith and Eric Skillman have collaborated to deliver a truly unique Criterion cover, the first lenticular or whatever you call it in the company’s history. It’s a gorgeously ethereal design in the first place (based off Smith’s one-sheet design and flecked with the thick, jangly font he created by hand), but as you tilt the box and the figure on the front disappears from the grove… it’s perfection, and it totally nails the film’s unique tone.

honorable mentions: THE MIKADO (designed by F. Ron Miller), and BRANDED TO KILL (by Eric Skillman) — we need more pink!