Are These the Year’s Best Magazine Covers?

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The American Society of Magazine Editors has spoken: At last night’s National Magazine Awards, Time took home top honors, with titles like Inc., New York, O, The New York Times Magazine, and Saveur winning in their categories. But while those award recipients are getting a lot of press this morning, the ASME gave out a whole other set of laurels that aren’t getting as much attention, for the year’s best magazine covers. After the jump, we look at their selections in an attempt to discern whether these 11 covers really were the most impressive of 2011. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Cover of the Year New York, October 3, 2011: “Is She Just Too Old for This?” Photographer: Danny Kim. Photo-illustrator: Darrow

We’re of two minds about this cover. Ever since Demi Moore posed nude and pregnant for Vanity Fair, magazines have been digging out this chestnut. So it’s more than a little bit overdone; there should certainly be more than one way to depict pregnancy on the cover of a major publication. But the image of a woman, apparently in her 60s, in the same pose is striking enough to do its job — that is, get you to pick up the magazine.

Winner: Business & Technology Bloomberg Businessweek, October 10-16, 2011: “Steve Jobs 1955-2011” Photo credit: Getty Images

Somber, dignified, understated, humanizing — the cover is kind of a no-brainer, but this is a strong photo, and the design definitely works as an upscale business magazine’s tribute to its fallen idol.

Winner: Celebrity & Entertainment People, May 16, 2011: “William & Catherine: Love Reigns!”

This one’s pretty obvious, if you ask us, but considering that most celebrity magazine covers are a collage of unflattering candid photos and punchy word salad, we understand why something a bit more minimalist is getting the nod.

Winner: Health & Fitness Real Simple, May 2011: “Energize Your Life” Photographer: Stephen Lewis

Well, it definitely says, “Energize.” But it also says, “Here’s that close-up of a flower magazines are always putting on the cover of their spring issues.”

Winner: Lifestyle Martha Stewart Living, Dec 2011: “Make It a Magical Holiday” Photographer: Dana Gallagher

We’ve never loved the so-clean-it’s-oddly-amateurish “Living” font, and seeing it in bright red doesn’t help. But it’s nice to see a women’s lifestyle magazine choose a pretty, rural winter scene over a plate of cookies or a living-room Christmas tree for a holiday issue.

Winner: Men’s Interest GQ, August 2011: “Mila Kunis” Photographer: Terry Richardson

Maybe now is the time to confess that we don’t really understand what makes a good “men’s interest” magazine cover. Hey, Mila Kunis is awesome, and she looks as pretty as always here. But is there something brilliant we’re missing about Terry Richardson posing her in underwear and a sheer T-shirt, sucking on a Starbucks iced coffee like she’s Nancy Botwin? The clean design works for us, but we’re not quite seeing what sets this apart from other GQ (or Maxim) covers.

Winner: Most Delicious Everyday Food, Summer 2011: “Summer Made Easy” Photographer: Con Poulos

OK, yes, this looks delicious. Also: refreshing and serene. We could do with fewer fonts on the cover, but overall, we approve.

Winner: News & Politics American Photo, Sept/Oct 2011: “09.11.01” Photographer: Yoni Brook

By far the most heartbreaking cover of the bunch, American Photo’s remembrance of 9/11 is also our favorite. The black-and-white photo is somber but not sensational, and the lone rescue worker both represents the heroism so many showed that day and gives a sense of scale. The blunt but sparse type is the perfect complement.

Winner: Science & Nature OnEarth, Mar 2011: “Arctic Fever” Photo illustrator: Tia Magallon

It’s funny how the sight of a grizzly bear snuggling a polar bear can entirely defuse our critical capabilities. Good job, everyone, and carry on! OnEarth, may we suggest following this up with a rainforest issue in which monkeys cuddle sloths?

Winner: Sports & Adventure National Geographic, May 2011: “Above Yosemite” Photographer: Jimmy Chin

Sometimes it’s enough to take a photo that captures the danger, intensity, and beauty of a single moment in nature. This cover does just that, and highlights the power of the image by by thrusting it in front of National Geographic’s signature yellow border.

Winner: Women’s Interest Real Simple, Jan 2011: “Be Happier This Year” Photographer: Christopher Griffin

Yup, with all the beautiful fashion shots gracing scores of women’s magazine covers, the American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen… another close-up of a big, yellow flower. Yes, it’s bright. Yes, the font is cute. But editors? It’s also a cliché.