Inspired by a recent post on Esquire.com, I have been thinking about contemporary filmmakers’ use of black and white – both the good and the bad. But for the purposed of this post, I am focusing on the good. As an amateur photographer, I’m a fan of black-and-white images, so I’m not averse to watching movies in monochrome, whether they’re old or new, classic or modern. Of course, they can’t all be great – or at least great to me – but here’s a list of five of my favorites. Do you have a favorite black-and-white film? Are you more of a color-saturated movie fan? Sound off in the comments.
Probably my favorite black-and-white movie. Set in the 1950s and focusing Edward R. Murrow’s stance against McCarthyism, Good Night And Good Luck was considered a bold and risky move for director George Clooney, since this was just his second job as director (the first being Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, 2002). But this 2005 gem is enthralling and plays almost like a documentary. Viewers feel like a fly on the wall, watching Murrow fight for his cause.
If you were making this list, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic likely would be on your list as well. It’s the first major black-and-white film in my lifetime that I can recall. (I was in college when it was released.) Certainly, the look of the film was befitting of the subject matter and tone. And the black-and-white also lends an even deeper realism to the amazing story of Oskar Schindler.
This 2005 adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel ushered in a mini-genre of movies that look like ink on paper. That particular trend may not have lasted, but this movie still stands as a modern crime drama with a somewhat unique look. Moreover, the violence isn’t hard to stomach since the blood and gore are animated.
I really enjoyed the use of black and white in this 1998 movie. As part of the storyline, the main characters are transported into the monochromatic world of a 1950s television sitcom, but what happens then isn’t all laughter and comedy. And color doesn't just denote the setting in Pleasantville; it is used a metaphor. As the innocence fades from the residents of the fictitious Pleasantville, they are enveloped in color. This is a beautiful film to watch.
I still don’t fully understand this 2001 Chris Nolan film and I doubt most of you do either. The movie isn’t entirely in black and white, but Nolan uses the contrast to keep viewers aware of the two timelines in the story as the amnesiac protagonist tries to figure out who he is and why he is out for revenge. If you haven’t seen this one yet, be prepared to watch it several times.