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Best Modern Black and White movies (10+1list)

Best Modern Black and White movies

written by Souranath Banerjee.

The transition of Cinema from ‘black and white’ to ‘color’ is a unique evolutionary process that took years of experimentation.

Evidently in Europe (specifically in U.k and France), as early as in the beginning of 1900, the first few colored footage were made; they were mostly hand-colored short films. Then in 1914, in U.K Natural Color Kinematograph Company made the first ever full length feature film in color named The World, the Flesh and the Devil. 

In 1918 Cupid Angling was made in US by Douglass Natural Color The-Wizard-of-Oz-posterFilm Inc. which is the first American ‘colored’ feature. Then of course The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) established the era of colorful films.

Eventually the dominance of ‘black and white’ films faded away and cinema was full of colors! By the late 60s only a handful of black and white films are made each year.

Nowadays the black and white medium is regarded as a rare artistic choice for stylized visuals, or specifically used to portray a certain desired mood/emotion.

And now, the list contains some of the Best Modern Black and White movies. Enjoy!

10. Pi (1998)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo18VIoR2xU

pi-poster

Darren Aronofsky‘s first feature and an amazing black and white thriller.

A paranoid mathematician who tries to unlock nature’s universal patterns with the help of the magic number Pi!

Matthew Libatique shot the dark contrast images and successfully creates the gritty atmosphere needed for the film.

9. Nebraska (2013)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5tqPojMtg

nebraska-poster1

Oscar nominated film (nominated in six categories including ‘best film’, ‘best director’ and ‘best cinematographer’).

Directed by Alexander Payne, this black and white road movie is wonderfully shot by Phedon Papamichael.

An emotional yet humorous father-son relationship like never seen before.

8. Frances Ha (2012)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBn5dgXFMis

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Noah Baumbach presents one of the most endearing and funny film of recent times. 

A black and white comedy drama that tells the entertaining tale of an ordinary New York girl named Frances. She is quirky, childlike and sometimes a bit immature as well.

Beautifully shot by Sam Levy, the film is as spontaneous and free-spirited as it’s leading lady.

7. The Turin Horse (2011)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNkN_xCXozw

turin-horse-poster

From the master directors Béla Tarr and co-director Ágnes Hranitzky this one is an unique film with very less dialogues and absolutely brilliant visuals. 

Shot by Fred Kelemen, the film has long takes that meticulously portrays the struggle of each and every character.

Rural settings with harsh climate – black and white imagery at it’s best.

6. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_7uQsP2TBk

coffee-and-cigarettes-poster

A series of short, single location films based on people interaction which all have coffee and cigarettes in common!

One of the coolest films ever, directed by Jim Jarmusch with unique casting for each segment.

A black and white film that uses the checker tables, the black coffee and the white cigarette smoke to it’s best advantage.

5. Control (2007)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c2_B_cWK_M

control-poster

A biography of the famous lead singer of the band Joy Division – Ian Curtis.

Directed by Anton Corbijn, the film depicts the troubled life of the musical genius which ended at the young age of 23 (he committed suicide).

The film is a simple yet stylized series of black and white visuals shot brilliantly by Martin Ruhe.

4. The Artist (2011)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK7pfLlsUQM

Artist-poster

Nominated for the Oscars in 10 categories and winning 5 awards including the ‘Best Motion Picture of the Year’, ‘best direction’ and ‘best actor’!

A black and white film directed by Michel Hazanavicius that is arty as well as highly entertaining.

Shot by Guillaume Schiffman (oscar nominated), the film is a treat for all black and white cinema lovers!

3. Ida (2013)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xyxFsg_rrY

ida-poster

The Oscar winner in the ‘best foreign film category’.

Pawel Pawlikowski direction and amazing cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal.

The film is uniquely in square format (aspect ratio 1.33 : 1) and interestingly most of the frames have huge amount of negative space on the top. A must see.

2. Schindler’s List (1993)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdRGC-w9syA

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Probably the most popular black and white film of our times.

Directed by Steven Spielberg the film is a biography on Oskar Schindler’s life who helped the Jews and saved many lives during the Nazi invasion of Poland in the World War II. 

Shot by Janusz Kaminski this film has so strong imagery that one could never forget in their lives.

1. The White Ribbon (2009)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KJKvvvxY74

white-ribbon-poster

A little peaceful village haunted by a series of awful murders!

Directed by the acclaimed German director Michael Haneke, this film is a superb psychological mystery drama.

A black and white classic shot by Christian Berger, the film was also nominated in the Oscars for the Best Achievement in Cinematography category!

and (The ‘+1′ film is not necessarily the best but certainly the most unique and cool one. A must watch).

+1. Sin City (2005)

Film trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2Dj6ktPU5c

sin-city-posterIf you want to use the word ‘stylized’ to define a film – this is the one.

Super cool visuals straight from Frank Miller‘s comic book pages, the film is an epic is it’s dark and violent story telling.

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez (he also shot the film), the most stylish black and white film ever.

Poster courtesy: www.impawards.comwww.imdb.com.

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska review.

My ratings: 4/5.

Nebraska is a fusion of a person’s present, past and future. It’s about an old man’s present journey that takes him to his past in the hope of a brighter future.

nebraska-poster1An Oscar nominated film (nominated in six categories including ‘best film’ and ‘best director’) where simple human relations are portrayed sensitively sans all dramatic exaggerations; a special journey where faith and dignity walks on a tight rope.

The whole idea revolves around Woody Grant’s belief (a rather stupid belief) of winning a million in a lottery. Now Woody can’t drive, he is too old and frequently drunk, often a tad slow in his head but on the positive side he is determined to go to Nebraska and collect his million dollar winnings.

Played to perfection by Bruce Dern, the character of Woody Grant is probably best described towards the end of the film through a conversation between Woody’s son David and the receptionist.

Receptionist lady: Does he have Alzheimer’s?

David: No, he just believes what people tell him.

Receptionist lady: That’s too bad.     

Here director Alexander Payne makes fun of our current society (in his own tongue-in-cheek style) where the general norm is to disbelieve others. In that case Woody is an exception who foolishly enough dares to have faith in people.

nebraska-posterWoody makes it clear to everyone that with his million dollars he wants a new truck and an air compressor. Latter one night he confesses to his son David that with the rest of the money, all he wants is to leave it for his children. ‘That’s for you boys. I want to leave you something’ he insists.

At the very start of the film Woody’s foul-mouthed wife Kate (superbly enacted by June Squibb) along with his elder son Ross keep talking about putting Woody in a hole (a mental institution).

The younger son David seems to be the only sympathetic one (played by Will Forte). Though David’s own personal life is not at it’s peak (he recently broke up with his girlfriend) he decides to take his dad to a trip to Nebraska knowing perfectly well that the money part is a fantasy as he latter explains to his mother ‘what’s the harm in letting him have his own fantasy for a couple of more days?’

nebraska-poster1Alexander Payne in an interview at the BFI London Film Festival said something very interesting about the issue of taking care and trying to give enough dignity to our aged parents. According to him making our old parents happy is an act which is both selfless and selfish. Selfless for obvious reasons but selfish because by doing so we ourselves feel so noble-hearted and happy; in a way we are doing it for us.

Probably considering both these reasons David (who looks sad and tired throughout the film) plans to drive his father to Nebraska. A few times in the film David is accused of being just like his father; but the truth is that David’s love and patience towards his dad is the glue that holds everything else in the film.

nebraska-poster2Woody’s little road trip turns out way more exciting and nostalgic than he ever imagined. Starts with a quick tour to Mt.Rushmore, then Woody hits his head in a drunken accident, his teeth lost and found, and then a visit to Woody’s old neighborhood at Hawthorne where his brother Ray still resides, meets up with old friends (even girlfriends), a big time family reunion, and then Woody’s sudden fame in the small town as a would-be-millionaire and finally the moment when Woody shows his receipt and demands his million dollars. For the old man the journey is much more amusing than his final destination.

Cast and Camera:

Beautifully shot in black and white by Phedon Papamichael, the vast wide landscapes and the neatly framed indoors make the film a treat to watch.

Casting of the main characters are obviously well done, two of them (Bruce Dern and June Squibb) were nominated for their roles in the Oscars. But it’s the secondary characters that make the film look so realistic, Aunt Martha, Uncle Ray, Bart and Cole (the lazy cousins), Ed Pegram, Peg Nagy … just to name a few, all – every single one of them look so authentic and believable. I think for this film’s success casting played a huge role and John Jackson, the casting director did a splendid job.

Music and the straight-faced comedy:

Long drives in the picturesque wide roads are well taken care of by the soulful music of Mark Orton.

The comic situations and dialogues in this film are never too loud or forcefully ticklish but they will sure make you smile enough. Bob Nelson’s script is slow paced and subtle where even ordinary, day-to-day conversations seem funny and enjoyable.

And finally:

Dreaming of a million dollars; people congratulating him, singing songs, cheering and clapping for him – Woody relishes it all. It’s the great feeling of being the talk of the town; probably first time in his life he has become somebody important. Even at the end when he shows off his new truck and the compressor (both gifts from his son David), as he confidently drives by wearing a ‘prize winner’ printed cap (his consolation prize), he looks radiant and satisfied. Not rich but content.

Many people perceived Nebraska as a story of an emotional father-son bonding – well, yes evidently it is exactly that but again the film is also about basic human nature, their beliefs and relations; their lust and selfishness and about their courage and selflessness.  For those who haven’t seen the film yet, believe me you are missing out on something rare and classy.

Who cares for a million dollars after all, it all boils down to – as Woody instructs David ‘Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!’