Black-and-White movies are never just black and white, but hundreds of shades exist between them. The gradations of grey in black and white have made it a darling of filmmakers ever since the silent era. In the 1930s and 1940s, technicolor made everything in Hollywood look pretty. Those filmmakers who wanted to explore the shades of characters, the range of emotions, the depth of drama, and the mercurial nature of human persona went for black-and-white. Movies like Citizen Kane (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), and film-noir movies made black-and-white a niche at the time of color prominence.
Over time, black-and-white movies have developed a unique aesthetic of their own. In the era of the digital revolution, black-and-white is still in high demand among filmmakers for their aesthetic or political potentials and also among moviegoers for its unique cinematic experience because gradations of grey are practically infinite, and so are human emotions. The characteristic grain and shadows of black and white movies evoke nostalgia in moviegoers.
A key advantage of black-and-white cinematography is that it allows the viewers to see the light more clearly, from diverse perspectives in the absence of color. In other words, we are entitled to see the internal world of the characters in another light. As we get to know the characters and their emotional space closer, it enhances our cinematic experience in general. Netflix is keen to maintain and update a resourceful list of black and white movies. Here’s the list of some brilliant black-and-white movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now.
10. Passing (2021)
Set in 1920s New York, ‘Passing’ revolves around distanced childhood friends Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a light-skinned black woman, and Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), who tries to pass herself off as white. While reconnecting, Irene learns that Clare has married a white man named John, who is highly racist and degrades black people. As John is unaware of Clare’s racial background, the rekindled friendship between the two women threatens to disrupt Clare’s life. The film is based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name.
9. Malcolm & Marie (2021)
Chronicling the events of a single night, the Sam Levinson directorial centers upon writer-director Malcolm Elliott (John David Washington) and his girlfriend, Marie Jones (Zendaya), who return from a film premiere. While Marie initially expresses disappointment at not being named in Malcolm’s speech, she soon begins to wonder why she was not cast as the female lead in the movie.
Malcolm proceeds to explain how the character was based on all the women he had dated previously, which further causes a rift between the couple. With their personal turmoils coming on the surface, their relationship is put to the ultimate test as the night rolls on.
8. Mank (2020)
David Fincher’s biographical drama film ‘Mank’ brings to the screen a version of Hollywood as seen through screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s (Gary Oldman) eyes while he develops the screenplay for the 1941 film ‘Citizen Kane.’ Addressing the critical events of the 30s and 40s, including the rise of Nazi Germany, the 1934 gubernatorial elections, as well as Hollywood politics, the movie showcases how they affect Herman’s work. For fans of ‘Citizen Kane,’ this movie is a must-watch as it portrays the challenges Herman faced to pen the script of Orson Welles’ magnum opus.
7. Elisa & Marcela (2019)
An incredible true story of the “first same-sex marriage in Spain,” the movie revolves around Elisa and Marcela, who meet and become friends while attending a Catholic school. The friendship soon turns romantic, and the two even dream of marrying each other one day. However, even with same-sex marriage being legally forbidden, their love is too fierce to give up on; thus, they decide to be together by hook or crook. Devising a plan, Elisa dresses up as a guy and marries Marcela in a death-defying event. However, does love triumph in the end?
6. Blue Jay (2016)
‘Blue Jay’ revolves around former high school flames, Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson). Although they have been out of touch for a long time, the two run into each other at a grocery store in their hometown and are ecstatic to catch up. While the conversation opens a bagful of nostalgia, some memories that are best kept hidden creep back to haunt the former lovers. Lost in their recollection, Jim and Amanda slowly come to terms with their past, while the audience is left rooting for the two to get back together.
5. Curtiz (2018)
Revolving around director Michael Curtiz (Ferenc Lengye) and the production of ‘Casablanca,’ ‘Curtiz’ charts out the events that led to the movie’s production. Set in 1942, right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and just before the United States joined World War II, the film shows how the Hungarian state appointed a political official who kept forcing Curtiz to change the script.
On the other hand, tensions in his family, as well as his troubled relationship with his daughter, add to his worries while filming. Still, a determined Curtiz soldiers on and creates a piece of art that is considered one of the best romance movies in film history.
4. The Other Side Of The Wind (2018)
‘The Other Side Of The Wind’ follows director Jake Hannaford, who is frantic to revive his fledgling career. Determined to earn fame through a flashy film, Jake seemingly bites off more than he can chew as the film seems to be heading towards a disaster. Besides, the incessant media attention also brings Jake’s personal life to the forefront, which affects his sanity and well-being. Ultimately, things take a dark turn as Jake grows more desperate by the second, leading to disastrous events that are sure to leave a lasting effect on the audience.
3. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)
Loosely based on Radha Blank’s life, ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ portrays how an out-of-luck playwright and teacher named Radha feels she has reached the peak of her potential. Unwilling to let the rest of her life go to waste, Radha comes across modern rap music and remembers how she had abandoned that hobby back in high school. Determined to make it big in the rap industry, Radha strives forward but is met with one obstacle after the other, leading to utter humiliation. However, the 40-year-old refuses to give up, and the rest of the movie follows Radha’s redemption arc as she embraces her responsibilities, explores her boundaries, and learns to embrace color in her life.
2. What Did Jack Do? (2020)
A hilarious yet stunning short movie, ‘What Did Jack Do?’ features a detective (David Lynch) investigating a murder in a locked-down train station. Coming across a talking capuchin monkey, the detective begins suspecting it of committing murder. Thus, abandoning other leads, he interrogates the talking money leading to a funny and somewhat unsettling climax.
1. Roma (2018)
Director and writer Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ is the festival darling of the season with multiple winnings and widespread critical acclaim. The movie follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker from the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City. Cuaron uses his childhood memories and experiences to weave a heart-touching tale of the women who raise a generation.
The movie also sheds light on the social status of women in a male-dominated Mexican society of the 1970s. Set in the backdrop of the political uprising that shook the country in the 70s, ‘Roma’ is one the best black-and-white movies in contemporary times.
Read More: Best Black and White Movies of All Time