TOP 5 MODERN BLACK AND WHITE MOVIES
Once the days of color movies were well established, a few directors returned to black and white – either for effect, or sometimes even cost. This list is a summary of the best work produced in black and white in modern times. By modern I mean movies that were made using black and white for effect even though color was the most common film format. Films that use splashes of color are allowed, but films which use a lot of full frame color are not (this excludes Pleasantville and American History X).
1. The Man Who Wasn’t There – 2001, Joel and Ethan Coen
This is probably one of the Cohen Brother’s lesser known films, but it is certainly not one that should be neglected. The film tells the story of a man trying to escape from his humdrum life and it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Scarlett Johansson, and Frances McDormand. The film was actually shot on color film but was released (as intended) in black and white – to give more authenticity to its setting – the 1950s. When it was released, a couple of reels were accidentally released in color.
2. Clerks – 1994, Kevin Smith
This movie describes a day in the life of two clerks in New jersey. It covers their various mishaps and misdemeanors, which include drug dealers, a wake, a dead customer, and a lot of abuse of customers. The film was shot entirely in black and white and was financed entirely by the director (who sold his comic book collection and maxed out a bunch of credit cards to raise the funds). In total it cost $27,575 to make, and has since made over 3.1 million US dollars.
3. La Haine – 1995, Mathieu Kassovitz
La Haine is a brilliant film about three young men in Paris – an Arab, a Jew, and a Black. The three friends are struggling during times of racial unrest and the film centers around the consequences of a policeman shooting an arab during race riots. I have to confess that this is my all time favorite French film, so be sure to watch it. The black and white film adds to the feeling of authenticity in the riot scenes and might even be considered to be a commentary on the racial aspects of the film (ie, no color signifies the hope that we will live in a world free of color discrimination).
4. Schindler’s List – 1993, Steven Spielberg
Schindler’s List is based on the life of Oskar Schindler – a German businessman who saved the life of over 1,000 Jews during the second world war. The decision to film in black and white was made to give a timeless feel to the film and it was based on German Expressionism and Italian neorealism. The black and white filming caused difficulties for the set designers who were used to working in color; they had to darken the sets and costumes in order to prevent the actors from blending in. The color red was added to one girl’s coat in order to symbolize the blood on the hands of the allied forces who did nothing to help the Jews at the time.
5. Sin City – 2005, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
The film Sin City was based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. This film is one of the few fully digital, live-action motion pictures. This technique also means that the whole film was initially shot in full color, and was converted back to high-quality black-and-white. Colorization was added later to each scene and the whole thing was treated for heightened contrast to give more separation to the blacks and whites (as is often seen in the film noir tradition).