Saturday, November 16, 2013

Top 10 Black and White Films Released Since 2000

With Alexander Payne’s patient and oddly mystical new film, Nebraska, out this weekend, I thought it’d be fun to list my favorite contemporary films that were released entirely in black and white. Much of Nebraska’s minimalist charm is that it was captured through cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s stark lens. Here are a handful of other films that took risks by telling their tales in sharp monochrome.

Honorable Mention
The Mist (2007)


I mentioned the black and white version of Frank Darabont’s The Mist in my recent list of the best Stephen King film adaptations, but I’m mentioning it again for good reason. By releasing the film in black and white (as a special feature on two disc DVD/Blu-Ray), Darabont made a good film great. I really wish Darabont had the opportunity to release this version theatrically, but alas, it waits patiently to be discovered.

10. The Turin Horse (2011)

Béla Tarr makes complex, emotional films using very few editing cuts, sparse dialogue, and bleak black and white photography. The Turin Horse, as described by its maker, is about a man, a horse and the “heaviness of human existence.” It’s said to be Tarr’s last film, which is a damn shame. For those of us who appreciate Tarr’s work, The Turin Horse, in all its metaphorical, transcendental patience, is a film of great importance, helmed by a man who clearly still has something to say.

9. The Artist (2011)

The chief reason I appreciate this Best Picture-winning love letter to the silent era of cinema is because of its audacity. If you told me 10 years ago that a near-silent, black and white independent film would nab Best Picture in a few years time, I would’ve laughed you off. But Michel Hazanavicius had the stones to tell this story his own unique way, and damn if it didn’t pay off.

8. Frances Ha (2013)

Noah Baumbach’s latest film is about a young New York woman trying to make it on her own. Frances, as played to perfection by indie darling Greta Gerwig, is aimless, confused and equipped with an utter lack of drive. Watching the movie, and Sam Levy’s gorgeous, digital photography, it’s so clear that Baumbach adores his conflicted heroine. And, as a result, we can’t help but feel the same.

7. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

A shared trait of the films on this list, aside from their look, is that the majority of them were experiments in narrative storytelling. Jim Jarmusch spent more than 15 years capturing vignettes of people engaging in random conversation. The result is a mostly sublime deviation from conventional storytelling. No, not every segment in Coffee and Cigarettes fully works, but the many that do work, delight to no end.

6. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

In recreating the reign of Joseph McCarthy, as seen through the eyes of fearless reporter Edward R. Murrow, George Clooney devoted his film to those few brave people who stood their ground and made one hell of a difference. The film, with its tight script, impeccable cast and lush photography, still remains Clooney’s finest directorial effort.

5. My Winnipeg (2007)

How does one exactly describe My Winnipeg? Wikipedia calls it a surrealist mockumentary, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, documentary and narrative feature. The film is, essentially, director Guy Maddin (who has yet to make a film that meets the standards of convention) showing us his hometown, Winnipeg, by blending “documentary” footage with recreations of people, places, and events. My Winnipeg is a little wild, totally weird, and completely worth your time. You’ve never seen anything like it.

4. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Another Béla Tarr entry, this time his magnum opus, the quietly devastating, uniquely gratifying Werckmeister Harmonies. The film, again shot with Tarr’s distinct style of extremely long takes and narrative patience, tells the story of how a small Hungarian village slowly comes to ruin after a circus arrives. But, as is always the case with Tarr’s work, plot is nonexistent in the world of Werckmeister Harmonies. This is a film about mood and feeling. A film about silent regret and slow dilapidation. I can’t say I find the need to revisit the film often, but when I do, I am utterly transported.

3. Control (2007)

It took me a while to get to Control. I heard critics and fans hail this Ian Curtis biopic as the finest music biographical film of recent memory. I heard star Sam Riley captured the essence of the Joy Division singer perfectly. I heard nothing but great things, yet I put the film off for years. Upon finishing Control for the first time recently, I realized that all of those things I heard were correct. If, like me, you’ve neglected Anton Corbjin’s film for too long, then trust me when I tell you it’s time well spent.

2. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
Whenever I watch this Coen brothers gem, I’m reminded that Billy Bob Thornton was born to play the part of Ed Crane, a despondent barber who gets wrapped up in a criminal mess. Same goes for James Gandolfini, who, as “Big Dave,” intimidates his ass off with a few choice words and cold stares. And Tony Shalhoub, who plays hotshit lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider with impeccable gusto. In short, The Man Who Wasn’t There is an assembly of talent at their best, and I absolutely love it.

1. The White Ribbon (2009)

The time: just before World War I. The place: a seemingly quaint northern German village. The mood: immediately chaotic. But Michael Haneke isn’t interested in creating chaos in a formal way. Instead, he lets it slowly brew until the tension is palpable. As this small village continues to experience inexplicable and anonymous violence, we as an audience begin to fear every passing scene. We have no idea where Haneke is going to take us, or how far he’ll go once we’re there. Much has been made about the ending to this picture, a conclusion that I find daring and perfect. The scariest form of fear is the fear of the unknown.

32 comments:

  1. Great list here, really digging on the inclusion of The Turin Horse, that is a must view for anyone interested in film, my God. Control is a great flick, Anton is a real inspiration of mine, especially The American. I'm very surprised that Woody hasn't gone monochrome in awhile, maybe he told all of his black and white stories already.

    I've yet to watch The Mist the way it was intended, I guess I should dig that up real soon. Also Frances Ha! Holy shit Alex, way to have great taste.

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    1. Thanks man! Really kind of you to say. The Turin Horse (and really all of Tarr's films) are certainly something else. So unique and wonderful. It is interesting that Woody hasn't done black and white in a while. I wonder if he'll ever go back to it?

      Thanks again for the nice comment!

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  2. With the exception of the black-and-white version of The Mist, Good Night, and Good Luck., and the Bela Tarr films as I haven't seen those films. I will totally agree with you on this list as I recently saw a small piece at the Criterion website where Noah Baumbach talked to Peter Bogdanovich about the photography in Frances Ha and how it was challenging to shoot a film in black-and-white with digital where he made some mentions about the neon lights in Paris where if it was in color, it looked tacky but since the film was presented in black-and-white. It looked amazing.

    BTW, did you see what is coming to Criterion this coming Feb? I'm very happy.

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    1. Dude that Criterion push is NUTS. So many solid flicks there. Kind of weird how they openly admit Blue is the Warmest Color is getting a bare bones treatment, but will be released later with tons of special features. Oscar push, I guess.

      I loved the way Paris looked in Frances Ha. That's a really interesting point there. That flick looked amazing.

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  3. Damn, this is one great list here sir. Some of my all time favorite directors listed on here, Jarmusch, Haneke, Tarr, Coens - oh yeah buddy. I'm not sure I would have put Baumbach's film on here (even though I liked it... didn't love it - but I'm not a huge fan of his work anyway so...) but the rest are killers for sure. I really need to get around to watching some of Madden's work because it sounds so strange and bizarre from both the way you and others have described it. What's a good place to start in your opinion?

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    1. Thanks man! Good place for Maddin? Whew, tough call. The Saddest Music in the World is probably his best, but just be warned... this dude is out there!

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  4. Great post! If you haven't seen The Color Wheel I'd recommend you seek it out. It's a mumblecore film shot on black and white 16mm film that I really dug.
    -Dan

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    1. Thanks Dan! The Color Wheel... I'm all over it. Thanks for the reco.

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  5. It's funny. I'm actually going to do a marathon of modern black-and-white films after my current John Ford one. Frances Ha will definitely be in there, and I might have to consider a few others on your list that I haven't seen. Good Night and Good Luck would be at the top for me, and I also really like Medicine for Melancholy as another under-the-radar pick. Nice job.

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    1. Oh I can't wait to read your reviews for those films. Medicine for Melancholy is a new one for me, I need to check it out ASAP. Thanks for reading, Dan!

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  6. Nice post. I think Frances Ha would top mine though I love Control too. And you know how I find Coffee and Cigarettes extremely cool.

    Unfortunately, black and white has never looked gloomier to me than in The White Ribbon.

    I really want to watch The Man Who Wasn't There. I'm not the biggest Coen Brothers fan but I have a feeling I'll like that one.

    I just saw this Spanish silent movie called Blancanieves at the film festival here. That is one stunning and very smart and delightful movie. Check it out if you haven't already.

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    1. Oh yes Blancanieves is wonderful as well!
      -Dan

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    2. Is Blancanieves good? I'm glad to hear that. The trailer was so blah to me.

      The White Ribbon is So gloomy, and I fuckin' love it. Such a twisted little flick. You'd like The Man Who Wasn't There for no other reason than seeing a baby faced ScarJo :)

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  7. Great list! I love every single film on here. I'd have Tabu on my list, and I'd rank The Artist much higher :)

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    1. Thanks man! Tabu is good for sure, barely didn't make the cut.

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  8. I haven't seen a lot of these(only Coffee and Cigarettes, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Artist and The White Ribbon). I'll definitely get to Frances Ha very soon and Control and The Man who wasn't There are on the watch list too.

    As for those I have seen, I like Good Night, and Good Luck the best. Unresolved ending of The White Ribbon left me with very unsatisfied feeling. Knowing Haneke, I am thinking that's exactly what he wanted but I didn't understand what would you make such a film ending it in a limbo?

    I am with Nikhat on Blancanieves. I saw it on the plane, on my way to India and it still enamoured me.

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    1. Good Night and Good Luck is great, isn't it? Love that one.

      Yes, I think Haneke definitely wanted you to feel that way. I also think that, while the ending is unconventional by film standards, it is very true to life. Life often presents mysteries that go unsolved. In film, we automatically demand that they be solved. In life, we simply move on.

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  9. I've only seen 3 1/2 of these: The White Ribbon, Good Night and Luck, and The Artist. I've also seen The Mist, but in color. I'm not a big fan of it, but the idea of it in B&W is intriguing. Love me some Frankenweenie, though. :)

    Btw, the folks over at Screen Rant have literally just posted a similar list. They're calling it their Favorite "Modern" B&W movies so they're going back into the 80s.

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    1. Meant to mention that since I didn't see The Mist in B&W that's what I'm counting as my 1/2.

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    2. I'll have to check their list out! Including the 90s and 80s seemed to... I dunno, easy to me. Schindler, Raging... but hey, to each their own. The Mist is so much better in B&W!

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  10. Cool list, I really need to see Control, I don't know why I haven't since I'm a big Joy Division/New Order fan.
    My top 10 would probably be;
    Frances Ha
    The Man Who Wasn't There
    Sin City (if this counts)
    The White Ribbon
    Good Night, and Good Luck

    Can't wait for Nebraska, and also Computer Chess which I am seeing this week, which I've also heard great things about.

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    1. Thanks man. I didn't count Sin City, but dude, I love the shit out of that movie. Can't wait for the sequel.

      Computer Chess is a new one for me... I'll have to keep my eye out for it!

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  11. I personally loved "Good Night and Good Luck" quite a bit and am surprised that "The Good German" did not find a place in this list. My reviews of these movies are put up at http://moviebore.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/good-night-and-good-luck-movie-review/ and http://moviebore.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/the-good-german-movie-review/

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    1. Hey man, thanks for the comment. Soderbergh is my god, and I really dig The Good German. But I suppose I'm more into the 10 films I listed. Still, all good stuff. Will scope your review in a bit.

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  12. Great stuff man. I love every film on here, except I haven't seen My Winnipeg or Coffee and Cigarettes yet. Glad you finally watched The Turin Horse by the way. It might actually top my list.

    I'll throw out another Blancanieves mention. You should check it out.

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    1. Thanks buddy! Blancanieves... so that's a must for sure. I'm all over it. The Turin Horse was so special and different. I actually need to give it another go.

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  13. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't seen most of these movies. There's such a beauty to having a black and white aesthetic. This is a great post, Alex :)

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    1. Thanks! I loved that the topic of this list made for such an eclectic group of films. I love them all!

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  14. Great choices, I always feel that black and white really highlights the dramatic impact of a movie.

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    1. Thanks man. And yeah, I couldn't agree more. If done right B&W can seriously highlight dramatic impact.

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    1. Oh I loved the way that film looked, but it didn't impress me as much as the flicks I listed. Still, great photography in that one.

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