One could say that the age of black and white films is long gone, but the color outburst of the 60s has not ruled out the simple and effective expression of filmmakers in monochromatic image. Used to convey a message, to faithfully reproduce the atmosphere of a historical period, or simply out of artistic experience, black and white films gave some reference titles over the decades: American History X, Schindler’s List, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Manhattan, Ed Wood, Man Bites Dog, Clerks, Dr. Strangelove etc. Here are ten modern black and white productions you should not miss.
1. Nebraska – 2013
Alexander Payne’s new film is one of the jewels of 2013, an analysis made impartially, but full of compassion and sensitivity, over average condition Americans in the late part of life. Woody, whose drinking has separated him from his family, is keen to go in search of a fictional prize, the last hope of his wasted life. In the hope that this will get him closer to his son, Woody takes him on this journey à la Don Quixote, with comic-dramatic family rural scenes where human interaction is missing.
2. Much Ado about Nothing – 2012
The director of The Avengers and Thor, Joss Whedon, resumes in his own way the well-known and much adapted play of Shakespeare. The old package of lies, deception and depravity comes to life in a modern atmosphere, which Whedon wanted to give, by choosing black and white, a film noir aesthetic image. Film critics have considered it one of the best and funniest comedy productions ever filmed in black and white.
3. Frances Ha – 2012
It is the story of a young woman in New York trying to figure out what she wants from life, who lives every moment with joy and serenity, although not all aspects of life are arranged as they should be. The comedy-drama has in the central role in talented Greta Gerwing and Noah Baumbach is directing.
4. The Artist – 2011
The Artist, Oscar winner, opted for black and white simply because it portrayed the transition era from silent films to the talking ones in the late 1920s. And since the romantic drama was meant to be an accurate sample of the cinema of that period, the film remained true to the filmmaking of the time.
5. Sin City – 2005
Sin City is a neo-noir thriller that explores the dark and miserable Basin City and the dramatic interaction between its eye-catching characters. The film differs from other productions through a special technique – and not cheap at all – which added color to the original footage, but only on certain portions. The procedure used brought film director Robert Rodriguez Grand Prix Technical award at Cannes Film Festival in 2005.
6. The Man Who Was not There – 2001
One of the Coen brothers less known films, but not insignificant, The Man Who Was not There, tells the story of a barber who, wishing to arrange his life, blackmails his boss’s wife. She is, however, his mistress and his plan does not work at all. The cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand and Scarlett Johansson. The film was initially in color, but was released in black and white out of the desire to give more authenticity to the period in which the action takes place, meaning the 50s.
7. The White Ribbon – 2009
German Michael Haneke received the Palme d’Or with this historical drama whose atmosphere is perfectly rendered by the black and white image – as often happens with movies that carry out the action in the distant past. His masterpiece is depicting subtly the strange and frightening events that occur in a Protestant village in rural Germany in the years before the First World War.
8. Control – 2007
Photographer at origin, the director behind Depeche Mode videos (and others), Anton Corbjin has always had a special attraction to the simplicity and expressive black and white image. For his film debut, Corbjin could not choose a better topic than the dramatic biography, with smoke and lights of the punk band Joy Division singer, whose first performance he had the opportunity to shoot.
9. Pleasantville – 1998
This funny fable movie (started in color), uses image to convey the fun and subversive message of the importance of evolution in the structure of society. When teens David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) find themselves magically transported into a black and white 50s TV series called Pleasantville, they meet the perfect American society: family values are strong, nothing out of place disturb the community and firefighters are employees who save kittens from trees.
10. Good Night and Good Luck – 2005
For his second directorial effort, George Clooney enters the life of renowned journalist Edward R Murrow and portrayed the most celebrated moment of his career, one in which, along with a group of people devoted to the press, exposes Senator Joseph McCarthy, an unscrupulous politician, whose actions threaten fundamental human rights. Since all the action takes place in the 50s, the film was impeccably shot in black and white to better mold the period, but also to better integrate the archive footage of the arrogant McCarthy.