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Reel Genius: Movie posters still command their place in the spotlight

In 1991, it was the moth, not mouth, on Jodie Foster's face. Eight years later, it was little Anakin Skywalker casting the instantly recognizable shadow of Darth Vader. And this summer, it was Heath Ledger's Joker writing a bloody "Why so serious?" with his finger from the other side of a fogged-up window.

Even in this age when movie trailers are available 24/7 right on our computer screens, usually as part of the glorious interactive Web site that nearly every would-be blockbuster movie seems to get, the simple paper "one-sheet" still has the power to grab us. To creep us out. Or to make us exclaim, "Awesome!" But in either case, to get us fired up to see that movie.

Through the end of the month, Modesto's McHenry Museum is paying tribute to masterpieces of memorabilia with "Hollywood Memories: The Art of the Movie Poster." Bold graphics meet bright colors and famous faces in dozens of promotions for films of the 1930s to '70s, from "Anastasia" to "White Cargo."

But poster appreciation extends well beyond museum walls. In the Sept. 12 issue of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine's newest columnist, "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody, writes about the new comedy "The House Bunny" and the power of its poster. "I love that the poster for 'The House Bunny' is a simple, arresting head shot of a saucer-eyed Anna Faris," she writes. "Guys like Steve Carell and Ben Stiller have struck similar poses on movie posters, but this is the first time in recent memory that a woman has literally been the face of a comedy."

And earlier this summer, when EW's cover story was "The New Classics: The 1,000 best movies, TV shows, albums, books and more of the last 25 years," it devoted most of a page to the images of "five perfect posters." The posters were "The Silence of the Lambs," "Empire of the Sun" (1987), "Jungle Fever" (1991), "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (2005). For its full list, visit www.ew.com/ew and search "25 perfect movie posters."

EW's list has lots of company on the Internet. Among them:

Premiere.com's "25 best movie posters ever," at www.premiere.com/best/3573/the-25-best-movie-posters-ever.html

Tccandler.com's "100 greatest movie posters," at www.tccandler.com/columns/ 100_greatest_movie_posters.htm

Stale Popcorn's "100 greatest movie posters," at http://stalepopcornau.blogspot.com/2008/06/100-greatest- movie-posters-100-2.html

The lists share a lot of titles, including "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Vertigo," "Straw Dogs" and "Attack of the 50-Foot Woman." But like any pop-culture "best-of" compilation, some of the selections will have you thinking, "Huh?"

Really, though, an appreciation that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is what makes browsing these lists (all with the art included) so much fun.

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