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10 Black and White Movies to Watch this Holiday Season

The holidays are coming up which means food, shopping, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” on repeat with your grandparents for six hours straight while you wait for Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners. This year, wow your parents and weird extended family with these 10 black and white movies that are both critically acclaimed and won’t leave you passed out on the couch while your annoying little brother posts pictures of you drooling online.

Disclaimer: Some of these movies have themes that involve suicide, abuse, and murder so if these topics are disturbing to you, discretion is advised.

10) The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

To start off the list is the Cold War suspense thriller, The Manchurian Candidate. Based on the novel of the same name, the story follows Captain Bennet Marco (Frank Sinatra) and Staff Sargent Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) as they return from being captured and held by the Soviets during the Korean War in Manchuria, China. All seems well when they return, but something happened to Shaw in Manchuria and Captain Bennet Marco is determined to get to the bottom of it…

Why you should watch: If Frank Sinatra isn’t enough to convince you (he’s got us convinced), then perhaps the intense action and political subterfuge will. After all, the movie wasn’t nominated for two Academy Awards for no reason.

Watch it here!

9) A Roman Holiday (1953)

If Breakfast at Tiffany’s doesn’t already have you convinced that Audrey Hepburn is an amazing actress (and overall Golden Age icon) then A Roman Holiday will do just that. A Rom-Com set in Rome, this movie centers around Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn), who gets tired of her boring, diplomatic life and escapes from her embassy only to meet and fall in love with dreamy, American journalist Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).

Why you should watch: If this isn’t the most 1950’s thing we’ve ever seen! Watching the chemistry between Hepburn and Peck will have you swooning and there isn’t an awkward sex scene you have to wince through with your parents on the couch next to you.

Watch it here!

8) Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Sunset Boulevard is yet another love story but this time with a much darker twist. This story starts out with the death of failed screen writer Joe Gillis (William Holden) and continues with all of the things that happened leading up to his death. The story begins with Joe comically running from men trying to repossess his car and quickly spirals into a dark tale of obsession and desire when he runs into Norma Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) seemingly abandoned mansion looking for a means of escape.

Why you should watch: If your parents are the type to criticize you over and over again about how celebrities these days are just the worst, remind them fame has been affecting Hollywood stars since Hollywood was created.

Watch it here! 

7) Dr. Strangelove (1964)

On a lighter note, our next selection has nothing to do with murder or romance…well…it has nothing to do with romance. Dr. Strangelove is a comedy satire that focuses on an off-the-hinge United States Air Force general who more or less orders a Nuclear Strike against the Soviet Union during the midst of the Cold War. To be more precise, it focuses on the President of the United States’ attempt to save the world from a Soviet doomsday device that will detonate once the nuclear bomb the Air Force general ordered hits, so, you’re in for a treat.

Why you should watch: It’s going to be a long evening listening to Uncle George talk about how much he loves our current President, “he who must not be named.” Take a breather and watch a movie about a president who actually (sort of) cares about the welfare of his people.

Watch it here!

6) A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Now, to be completely honest, watching the movie is nothing compared to seeing the play live, but if you want something close to arguably what is Tennesee Williams’ greatest work, the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire is a pretty safe bet. It’s a complicated plot but essentially, the story starts with an aging school teacher, Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) who moves away from her hometown to start a life in New Orleans with her sister Stella and Stella’s husband Stanley. However, as she tries to start over, Blanche soon finds that she can never outrun her past.

Why you should Watch: A Streetcar Named Desire, as Panic at the Disco puts it, is “Beautifully Depressing” and much like Sunset Boulevard deals with some pretty heavy stuff. But, that being said, it deals with so many themes revolving around mental health and the sinister nature of societal standards. If you’re looking for a story to invest in this holiday season and an opportunity to get woke, this is the movie for you. Also, on another note, Tennessee Williams was an astounding playwright and one of the first openly gay playwrights to reach commercial success which is all the more reason to look into his memoirs and works!

Watch it here! 

5) Some Like it Hot (1959)

One cannot simply write a list of good black and white movies and not include Marilyn Monroe. So, as tribute, Some Like It Hot has made the list and not just because it includes Marilyn Monroe. It’s a good movie, we promise. Consider one of the greatest comedies of all time, Some Like it Hot is the story of Jazz Musicians Joe and Jerry who, after bearing witness to a Mob killing, devise a plan to leave town and head to Miami. The catch is, they’re disguised as women in an all women jazz band. Although the “cis-men-dressed-as-women,” trope is definitely a bit outdated given the progress that has been made today on trans and LGBTQIA+ rights, this movie was immensely progressive for its time as it was published despite disapproval all throughout Hollywood for exploring the idea of LGBTQIA+ relationships such as the one Jerry (Daphne) and Osgood develop in the film.

Why you should watch: Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon faces that the family is sure to recognize. It’s worth the watch simply as a chance to take a glance at Hollywood during the 1950’s and see how entertainment has evolved into a more inclusive industry, and it gets you thinking about how it could become even more inclusive in the future.

Watch it here!

4) Miracle on 34th street (1947)

If this is going to be a holiday movie list, there has to be at least one holiday movie and thus, A Miracle on 34th Street has made the list. Basically, it’s about a nice old man who gets institutionalized for claiming to be Santa Claus, and the young man that decides to defend him in court by claiming that he’s the real life Santa.

Why you should watch: It’s a Christmas classic. It’s NOT “It’s a wonderful life.”

Watch it here!

3) Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Instead of binge watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix this holiday season (Although that is honestly a tempting move) try Sullivan’s Travels. A play on the book Gulliver’s Travels, Sullivan’s travels follows Hollywood Director John L. Sullivan who decides to go on a journey disguised as a homeless man after his producers call him out for trying to create a film about human suffering despite knowing nothing about it. Comedy ensues.

Why you should watch: Everyone has that one 11 year old niece that has an iPhone 8, a Macbook, the latest Kylie Jenner Makeup kit and 3 credit cards while you’re sit there wearing the sweatshirt you bought freshman year of high school and your sneakers that you’ve glued together 8 times wondering why your cracked iPhone 5s won’t open twitter anymore. If you can convince her to watch it with you maybe, just maybe, this movie might teach her a little something about privilege.

Watch it here!

2) Psycho (1960)

If you have watched a single episode of Bates Motel, it is a necessity that you watch Psycho. It’s where it all began! The plot begins with Real Estate Secretary Marion Crane as she embezzles 40,000 dollars from her company and sets off for California to meet up with her boyfriend and start their life anew. On the run from the police, she stops for the night at the Bates Motel where she meets Norman Bates and the horror begins.

Why you should watch: Not only is it one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest works and the birth of a franchise that still has relevance today, the movie is a complex thriller that is sure to stop your parents from nagging you about how much money you’re spending and why you’re still single for a whole 1 hour and 49 minutes (bless up).

Watch it here!

1) Citizen Kane (1941)

And of course, the best for last, Citizen Kane is arguably one of he most critically acclaimed and well-known movies of all time (*echoes through the room*). After the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, journalists and newspapers go on an epic scramble to find the meaning of his final words. It seems like a simple enough premise, but the movie has been combed through and through for its close relation to the life and works of William Randolph Hearst, as well as for the social commentary that it makes on censorship, yellow journalism, and corruption. This makes it a film that was relevant when it was made and even more relevant now.

Why you should watch: If you’ve ever found yourself trying to impress your family with how sophisticated you’ve become whilst away at college, well, you’re welcome.

Watch it here!

Photo Credit: Cover

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Em once climbed Mount Everest in Three hours. She once bent a spork with just her mind and almost always showers naked. Takes pride in her ability to complete quests within a reasonable amount of time and can say the alphabet backwards and forwards on any occasion if asked politely. Currently spends her time studying International Studies at AU, playing board games, and participating in dramatic cold reads of 80's sitcoms and passive aggressive sticky notes.
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