This Sunday, the 88th Oscars will be held, amidst great controversy. We’re all extremely eager to see how everything will unfold, not just about #OscarsSoWhite but also will he finally get the gold statuette he’s been expecting his entire career? Will he finally get the recognition he deserves, after all these nominations without ever winning?
That’s right, this year, Roger Deakins may actually win the Oscar, for his thirteenth nomination. And he’s never won. Oh yeah, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio, too. But this is just his sixth nomination, so he’s still got plenty of time to get his. So let’s take a look at ten times Roger Deakins shot incredible films (some, not on film, actually).
This is the 13th nomination for the revered cinematographer, and the second time he collaborated with Prisoners helmer, Denis Villeneuve. They will also work together on the long-gestating sequel to Blade Runner.
Following FBI agents trying to bring down the Mexican drug cartel, Deakins once again showed the extent of his immeasurable palette with this gritty story, going from extremely bright outdoors to the incredible darkness of the underground network of the drug cartel, he managed to create an incredibly gripping and memorable universe.
9) Shawshank Redemption
This one dates back a bit now, and remains one of the most universally acclaimed films you can hear of. Based on a Stephen King novella and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as two incarcerated men who find solace and, yes, redemption in their relationship over years of imprisonment, there’s a reason it still holds the top spot on IMDb’s top 250. It’s a beautiful story made with immense skill and gorgeous, timeless cinematography.
A personal favourite, and one of the best film in recent years, this story of the turmoil that shakes a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1963, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican council as well as the end of segregation in the United States, as a stern nun played by Meryl Streep suspects a priest, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, of having abused the only African-American child in the school.
The script is adapted from a Pulitzer-winning play by its original author, John Patrick Shanley who also flawlessly directed the film. Roger Deakins’ work in this feature perfectly showcases his skill of shooting images that are more than what they seem: they always push the story forward, and reveal something about theme, character or plot in a merciless, truthful way that makes this film absolutely unforgettable.
Deakins was not nominated for an Oscar for his work on this film, even though the film garnered five nominations: for the four actors and for the screenplay.
This entry is one of the many, many collaborations between Deakins and the Coen brothers. They seem to have found a kindred spirit in him, as they’ve consistently been shooting with him since Barton Fink, except on some occasions (notably Burn After Reading, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, and Inside Llewyn Davis, which was gorgeously shot by Bruno Delbonnel).
Their range as storytellers is extraordinary, as is Deakins’ skill and ability to adapt to virtually any given material. In the American South, Deakins made the most of the incredible, light-soaked landscapes, as well as the juicy performances by the stellar cast.
6) No Country For Old Men
Another entry from the Coen brothers, which earned four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director(s) and Best Screenplay for the fraternal duo, as well as a Best Supporting Actor/Worst Haircut In The History Of Cinema, for Javier Bardem, this film was one of the modest revival the Western genre has experienced in recent years, and it was clearly top notch.
Again, Deakins brought together a gritty environment, awe-inspiring lands and impeccable performances to perfect result.
Again, the Coen brothers. Again, the man who can do broad, stunning shots adapted his style to the story. Shooting in a naturalistic, almost vérité fashion, he brought incredible bleakness to the cult film. It was also experimental, as Deakins tried to see how little light he could get away with.
This kind of aesthetics is not what Deakins is most revered for, yet it perfectly suited that material, and he did it brilliantly.
4) The Assassination of Jesse James
Another one in the Western genre (you can also count True Grit in), Deakins was nominated for an Oscar in the same year as No Country For Old Men, and lost both to Robert Elswit, who won for his work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic There Will Be Blood.
This film was well-received, and Deakins’ work was a particular standout as well as a key element in giving the eerie, gorgeous, romantic, quality to the entire work. The above shot alone could have won an Oscar.
3) The Man Who Wasn’t There
I have a particular fondness for black and white. If used properly, it can be gorgeous, and have this incredibly romantic vibrance that gives a film tremendous power. The film was shot in colour in order to achieve greater range -and that last word is definitely one that pops in mind when thinking about Roger Deakins.
The images that he shot for the Coens’ neo-noir remind us, if at all necessary, of the greatness he can achieve.
This is a peculiar outing both for Deakins as for Scorsese, who directed Kundun. It’s worth noting that the 1997 feature about the dalai-lama is the only collaboration between them. Lately, Scorsese has been associated with another extraordinarily versatile DP, Robert Richardson, and Deakins has a busy slate too.
It’s definitely an esoteric entry, as it’s a study of a character whose life is so indelibly intertwined with the society he lives in, the rites of that society and Buddhist spirituality that it’s bound to be so. It remains, however, a favourite of both Scorsese and Deakins in their respective filmographies.
This film made history. It’s a groundbreaking James Bond, story-wise. It’s an incredibly well-made feature that quite frankly borders on perfection. The story is riveting, the performances are top-notch and the cinematography is so striking that virtually every shot could be printed and framed and it could be acceptable decoration in your apartment. The silhouette fight? Definitely. The Aston Martin in the Scottish highlands? Oh yes. Notably, it’s the first film that Deakins shot on digital, arguing that it was just better than film.
The above shot is not one that’s most often cited, yet it’s just gorgeous. Bond and a bad guy are falling into the dark, blue-green water as we can perceive the fiery mayhem going on in the surface, and those colors blend perfectly into this riveting composition.
These are just ten of Roger Deakins’ contribution to film. He’s shown incredible versatility over the course of his career, always adapting to what was best to the story. This Sunday, he may finally get recognition for his peerless work. Any film I’ve missed? Let me know!