The overwhelming majority of films since the 1970s have been filmed in color. The few black-and-white films since then – The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and Young Frankenstein in the ’70s, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull and Zelig in the ’80s, Schindler’s List, Ed Wood and Clerks in the ’90s, and Good Night, and Good Luck, Sin City and Persepolis in the ’00s – represent some of the most daring and unique contributions to cinema. With the popularity of The Artist in 2011, there has been a mini-revival of black-and-white movies. Here are some highlights from the past year, and a pair of forthcoming films to look forward to.
Three of the industry’s hottest directors have made black-and-white films this past year. Native son Alexander Payne directed the bittersweet Oscar-nominated film Nebraska , which tells the story of Woody, an elderly alcoholic (Bruce Dern) who believes he won a million dollars and is determined to travel from Montana to Nebraska to claim his winnings with his estranged son (Will Forte) in tow. Indie hero Noah Baumbach directed girlfriend Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, a quirky comedy about a young woman trying to figure out how to get along with her best friend, pursue her dreams, and basically live like an adult in New York. Gerwig earned a Golden Globe nomination for her fearless performance of a modern woman: courageous, but adrift. And Joss Whedon, the man behind blockbuster movies and TV shows, went small scale with Much Ado About Nothing, a retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy that was filmed at Whedon’s Santa Monica home in 12 days.
If you’re looking for something that flew under the radar, check out The Artist and the Model, a French film set in World War II about a sculptor (Jean Rochefort), disillusioned and at what he believes is the end of his artistic career, who is inspired (and not just artistically) by a young Spanish refugee (Aida Folch) who becomes his model and his muse. Blancanieves, from Spain, is a silent film that reimagines Snow White as a female bullfighter (the gorgeous Maribel Verdu) in Seville in the 1920s. And for a truly unique experience, check out Computer Chess, about a chess tournament set in the 1980s between software programmers and the chess programs they designed.
There are two black-and-white films coming to DVD in April that I am excited about. Escape From Tomorrow, a horror movie about a man’s descent into madness at the happiest place on Earth: Disney World (where it was secretly filmed, without Disney’s permission). And then there’s A Field in England from British director Ben Wheatley, about a group of deserters from the English Civil War in the 1600s who find themselves in a field, where strange things happen. It’s sort of indescribable, so check out the movie trailer and see for yourself.