Magazine Covers of the Year: What's Good, What's Bad, What's Puzzling

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Obama, cupcakes, Lady Gaga, and worms.

They're among the subjects of the 72 magazine covers shortlisted in the 2010 Best Magazine Cover Contest, sponsored by the American Society of Magazine Editors and Amazon.com. Chosen by 90 top magazine editors, the covers are broken down into 12 categories. You can view the nominees, complete with a description of why each was chosen, at Amazon.com (congratulations to The Atlantic for its inclusion in "Best News & Business" for its May cover "Fat Nation"). Hundreds of covers were submitted for consideration; what's good, bad, and puzzling about the ones that were chosen?

The Good:

Whether it's turning the concept of the celebrity cover on its head (sometimes literally) or perfectly combining headline and image to encapsulate controversial news, New York magazine produced the most visually stimulating, debate-sparking, and refreshingly clever covers this year—a consistence in quality that's all the more impressive because it's a weekly publication. The magazine is duly rewarded with six nominations (below), more than any other competitor. But with 43 issues hitting newsstands during the eligibility period, there's at least a dozen more superb covers worthy of being singled out.

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Including a category like "Sexiest" invites endless subjectivity when it comes to taste level, which is why the nominations in this category are so strong. It would be easy—and lazy—to name off six overtly sexualized covers, or nominate six issues based on the blush-worthiness of the women modeling on them. Instead the nominated covers, all appropriately provocative, are diversely sexy. The SI cover is all-American; Cruz brings classic glamour along with sex appeal; Christina Hendricks on New York simultaneously celebrates the modern woman and throws back to pin-up girls; the EW cover not only features a man, but proves that sex is funny; and then there's January Jones.

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The Bad:

In 1995, Friends was the show of the moment, and the cast-members were the hottest celebrities in Hollywood. The iconic Rolling Stone cover of Aniston, Kudrow & company in a speeding car perfectly captured their fast ride to fame and the show's catapult to success. Fast-forward to 2010, where the cast of Glee and the show itself are on a near-identical wild ride. That could help explain why their Rolling Stone cover is almost exactly the same. Whether or not the magazine meant the image to be a homage to Friends (doubtful), considering all the celebrity covers of the year, this copycat photo shoot is a lazy inclusion in the top six.

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Vampires are the meme of the moment. Understood. So obviously a "Best Vampire" cover category is created— look, the magazine industry is still hip! As big of a groan as the mere existence of this category elicits (these awards are meant to celebrate quality journalism, not fads of the moment), the nominees, pardon the pun—or don't—suck. Five of the six covers are of Robert Pattinson promoting Twilight. Wouldn't the creation of a separate category for a topic imply that there were enough options in that category to yield a varied, quality list of nominees? In this case, no. It appears to be a shameless PR ploy, and an uninteresting one at that.

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The Puzzling:

Wired's design wins awards left and right. The reason: their design is nearly perfect. Their covers are flashy, but not too busy; create the perfect synergy between fantastic groundbreaking cover stories and art to proactively illustrate them; their use of celebrities are as surprising and unexpected as their unconventional cover ideas are bold. That's not even to mention the conception and design of their iPad version, which makes magazine reading an experience. And yet, with 72 nominees and 12 categories, Wired has no nominations for Cover of the Year. The epitome of puzzling.

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Also: apparently magazine editors really like hamburgers?

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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