Top Ten Modern Black and White Films


Written by Lola Sterrett.

In the film industry’s never-ending quest for ideas, there is a trend that seems to be all about using things from the past. We have endless remakes and reimaginings of old movies, TV show’s adapted into full-length features and homages that read like blatant rip-offs. But one interesting theme has occurred over the years: the resurgence of the black and white movie. By drawing on the cinematic trends from movies in the 20’s to the 60’s, modern black and white films are in a unique position; they have the benefits of modern technology to create films that look years old.

When compiling this list I tried to put as many films made in the 2000’s as possible, although a few older ones snuck in there. I also endeavoured to make as diverse a list as possible, including animation, foreign language films, and movies both independent and big budget. So without further ado, here are my Top Ten Modern Black and White Films.

10. Schindler’s List (1993) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Schindler’s List will probably be the most well-known black and white movie on this list. Telling the true story of Oskar Schindler, a man who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, Schindler’s List is a movie that examines the duality of humanity during war time. On the one hand, the atrocities committed during World War II are at the forefront of the movie and there is no escaping the cruelty of mankind as the mastermind behind every life which is taken. However, on the other the hand, the movie shows us an alternative view. We are allowed a glimpse into a community who refuse to give up their identities, their hope and their lives; and we see how war does not have to bring out a sense of depravity in all men, but can bring out kindness and bravery as well.

9. Alois Nebel (2011) Dir. Tomas Lunak


After much debate, I decided to put Alois Nebel on this list. I say this because I know that a lot of people will find this movie slow-moving and extremely boring. The film depicts the life of the middle aged Alois Nebel, a train dispatcher from Czechoslovakia who suffers from vivid hallucinations stemming from childhood memories of the forced German expulsion after World War II. Due to the films examination of repressed memories (in particular how wartime memories are reconciled within the minds of traumatised citizens), if the viewer doesn’t have knowledge of Czechoslovakian history then the emotional connection between the audience and the film may be lost in translation. Alois Nebel is a visually stunning film, with an absolutely astounding level of detail in the animation. If you are interested in the technical side of animation and rotoscoping, it is a film which you should definitely check out.

8. The White Ribbon (2009) Michael Haneke


Michael Haneke’s 2009 film The White Ribbon is a tale of morality through the exploration of the quiet evils that exist in even the most seemingly idyllic of places. Set in a fictional German village, the film’s narrator (the former school teacher of the village) gives the viewers a glimpse into the mysterious events that occurred in 1913. Firstly, the village doctor is in a terrible accident, then a farmer’s wife dies in a tragic sawmill accident, a baron’s son goes missing and a whole host of abuses plague the village. With no explanation for the events, the villagers are at a loss to the catalysts for the accidents occurring around them. However, it would seem that at the root of every accident are the villager’s children, with the pastor’s children in particular lurking in the background of every bad event. The children give off a creepy Children of the Corn vibe that is well worth viewing, too.

7. Raging Bull (1980) Dir. Martin Scorsese

raging bull

Martin Scorsese’s film about boxer Jake LaMotta’s fall from grace is a story that resonates with everyone who knows that talent is not necessarily a ticket for success. Jake LaMotta is a promising middleweight boxer who sadly lets his anger control his every movement, both in and out of the ring. Coupled with his explosive bouts of anger, LaMotta is an egotistical womaniser who assumes that his Brother Joey’s (also his manager) life should revolve around him. Despite his faults, LaMotta slugs through every day. Even at his lowest point, where he tries to bribe his way out of prison, Jake LaMotta just doesn’t give up.

6. Sin City (2005) Dir. Robert Rodriguez

sin city

The violent and noir-ish movie that is Sin City is also a movie that I debated putting on this list. Like Persepolis, Sin City has flashes of colour throughout the film. With the Yellow Bastard and Becky’s coloured eyes seen throughout the movie, I wondered if I could call this a true modern black and white film. In the end, I decided that these flashes of colour are truly only flashes of colour, and are not shown on the screen long enough to take away from the black and white aesthetic of the movie. That being said, Sin City is a dark and gritty tale about a city that has devolved into a cesspit of crime and filth. It’s violent, atmospheric and, most importantly, it is a faithful adaptation of its source material.

5. Man Bites Dog (1992) Dir. Remy Belvaux

man bites dog

Do you like the recent trend of mockumentaries and found footage movies? Depending on your answer, Man Bites Dog is a movie that you either have to see or avoid completely. One of the first films to utilise the concept of a film crew following around a subject, Man Bites Dog follows a film crew finding themselves becoming deeply embroiled in a serial killer’s world of violence, nihilism and depravity. Whilst the violence is extreme and the themes incredibly dark, it’s worthwhile viewing to those who enjoy charting the evolution of film techniques and conventions.

4. Persepolis (2007) Dir. Vincent Paronnaud


Persepolis is the dramatisation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel. The story that Marjane tells is a seemingly typical coming of age tale; we see Marjane love music her parents don’t understand, talking with her friends rather than listening to her teacher and discovering her place in the world. But with the backdrop of a political unstable Iran behind her childhood, Persepolis shows how we are shaped by our environments. Marjane loves her family and her country, but, as she evolves into an intelligent and outspoken young woman, we see how the stifling and oppressive regime she lives in fuels her sense of rebellion and shame of relating to her homeland. Persepolis is a touching tale of how war and oppression shapes the lives of everyday citizens in a way that has not been explored before.

3. Frances Ha (2012) Dir. Noah Baumbach

frances ha

Frances is a mess. Her best friend essentially dumped her, her dancing career is going nowhere, she’s urinating on train tracks and she is also kind of homeless. Frances Ha examines what happens after we lose part of ourselves, part of our identity. For Frances, after her best friend Sophie moves out of their shared apartment and starts to enter a serious relationship with a boyfriend, Frances’ life begins to spiral downward. But rather than feeling resentment for being forced to watch a weird 27-year-old failing at life, Frances Ha works because Frances is incredibly endearing. She wants a life where she finds a person who understands her completely and she wants to love what she is doing; two ambitions that everyone struggling to find their place in the world will understand.

2. Pi (1998) Dir. Darren Aronofsky


Max is a mathematician who suffers from a whole a host of problems. He’s anxious socially, suffers from severe headaches, is paranoid and has hallucinations. Apart from a little girl and his mentor Sol, played by Mark Mogolis (Hector Salamanca on Breaking Bad), Max would have absolutely no social interactions of any kind. After Max’s computer Euclid breaks down and prints out a random 216 digit number, Max’s quiet life is irreparably damaged. By filming Pi in black and white, the dreariness of Max’s life is enhanced, as is the doggedness with which Max goes after learning what the mysterious number means, despite his life being endangered because of it. The movie takes on a thrilling tone and the viewer, much like Max, is able to concentrate on a singular concept.

1. Blancanieves (2012) Dir. Pablo Berger


Pablo Berger’s 2012 film Blancanieves is the inspiration behind this list. Shot like a silent movie, Blancanieves is a fantastical retelling of Snow White in the 1920’s, if Snow White was Spanish and came from a bull-fighting dynasty. After her mother dies in childbirth and her father is unable to care for her, Carmencita’s (the titular Snow White character) grandmother assumes responsibility over her and teaches the young girl the basics of flamenco dancing. But after a tragic accident befalls her Grandmother, Carmencita is shipped off to her stepmother Encarna’s house where she is reduced to nothing more than a servant. The movie is visually stunning and is vastly superior to the 2011 film The Artist, which received all of the recognition for the concept of filming a modern silent movie. There is one scene in particular where Carmencita and her father meet for the first time that is particularly touching.

– L.S.

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