5 “The Artist”
A tribute to silent cinema, “The Artist” of 2011 was the first foreign film ever to win an Oscar for best picture. The feat was rather improbable. The film not only lacks color, but also dialogue, just as in an actual silent film. The story concerns a love story between a matinee idol (George Valentin) and a young woman (Peppy Miller) who soon becomes a star of “the talkies.” Meanwhile, Valentin’s fortunes quickly decline after he finances a disastrous silent film. Peppy comes to his rescue and restarts his career on a sound film. Ironically, the film was originally shot in color and later converted into black and white.
4 “Schindler’s List”
Representing the Holocaust in film has posed a dilemma to the greatest of directors. The film medium runs the risk of reducing tragic events to mere entertainment. In 1993’s “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg opted for black and white for its simplicity and documentary realism. As noted in Joseph McBride’s biography of the director, he “got rid of the crane, got ride of the Steadicam, got rid of the zoom lenses, [and] got rid of everything that might be considered a safety net.” Instead, Spielberg opted for honest storytelling and won his first Oscar for best director in 1994.
3 “Ed Wood”
Tim Burton’s 1992 biopic of Ed Wood—claimed by many as the worst director in history—looks just as rickety as the B-movies its hapless hero attempted to make. Burton’s choice to shoot in black and white perfectly suits the down-on-their-luck actors that starred in Wood’s movies. B-actors Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell and Tor Johnson have seared themselves into our memories as monochrome phantoms of the screen and should remain that way. Because Burton insisted on shooting in black & white, he lost the backing of Columbia Pictures and moved the project to Touchstone.
2 “Raging Bull”
Considered one of the best films of Scorsese’s oeuvre, “Raging Bull” depicts the turbulent rise and fall of boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese’s richly detailed vision of 1940s NYC not only looks stunning in black and white, it would be impossible to imagine the picture today in color. Director of photography Michael Chapman received an Oscar nomination for best cinematography for the 1980 film. (IMDB) History may decide he should have won it.
1 “The Last Picture Show”
“The Last Picture Show” was the first contemporary black and white film of critical note. Orson Welles advised director Peter Bogdanovich that he should shoot the film in black and white to achieve the “deep focus” look that his mentor used so exquisitely in his masterwork “Citizen Kane.” Welles was right. Bogdanovich’s 1971 coming-of-age story of teenagers in 1950s rural Texas lent itself perfectly to the black and white medium. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, including best cinematography, and won two.