After the award kept missing him for far too many years, English cinematographer Roger Deakins achieved his second Academy Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography in the span of three years. In 2018, Deakins was awarded for his work on the sci-fi instant-classic Blade Runner 2049. This year, he received an Academy Award for 1917. It would have been a crime if he didn’t!
1917 managed to enthrall viewers and public recognition for cinematography is the main reason for it. A World War I story, all filmed in a single shot technique, 1917 is a truly unique cinematic experience. It’s gut-wrenching, tense, fierce but beautiful throughout.
Captivating imagery is ingrained in all movies Roger Deakins has been involved with. Regardless of the genre, being pure family drama or futuristic sci-fi, the movie will have a unique visual tone to it.
1917, the story of English soldiers in WWI, is by far the Englishman’s finest work. However, there are over 80 titles in Deakins’ filmography, spanning back to 1975.
Deakins’ overall body of work is so extensive and impressive that we couldn’t include award-winning movies like Fargo in it.
Roger Deakins is a master of his craft. It’s not an understatement saying that, if all people were adept at their trades the way this cinematographer is of his, we would live in a utopia.
The 70-year-old’s work has always managed to achieve an honest stamp of quality. That’s a great thing about browsing movies by their directors of photography. Even if the story or the acting isn’t to your liking there are always unique, enthralling images to be enjoyed.
Especially, if a name like Roger Deakins stands behind the cinematography.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
- Major Awards Won: 3 (Oscar, BAFTA, American Society of Cinematographers)
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Doing a sequel for a movie with an iconic visual mythos to it, and 36 years later, was a challenging feat even for the veteran Deakins. Blade Runner 2049 manages to correct the injustice of the Englishman’s sole Oscar nomination up to that point. This film had a whopping 12 award nominations!
Dirty and gorgeous at the same time, Blade Runner 2049 received the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. This was a year in which the film went up against tough competition like Dunkirk and The Shape of Water. However, making the beyond-polluted Earth look natural was impressive and made the film work well. Especially, with its orangish dusty air and black land.
Director Dennis Villeneuve opted to display grandeur or isolation by utilizing shadows and silhouettes in challenging settings. Luckily, he had a pro behind him.
Sicario (2015)By starting in documentaries, Roger Deakins picked up a rare ability to ground the stories. Regardless of whether they are sci-fi or action thrillers with high stakes. Without the monumental cinematography, Sicario’s script of a special ops team battling Mexican cartels could’ve easily slipped into the slot of campy movies.
You know, similar to certain films Arnold Schwarzenegger made in the 90s.
This is the second movie Deakins did with one of the best directors today, Denis Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 was, of course, the third so far. Regarding Sicario, long aerial shots of Texas, as well as Mexico, play the role of exposition far better than words. Both Villeneuve and Deakins were clearly missed for the movie’s sequel.
Sicario was nominated for awards regarding cinematography at the Oscars and BAFTAs. Sadly, it lost to The Revenant and its impeccable cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. That does not make Sicario any less impressive, however.
Jarhead (2005)Besides Villeneuve, Deakins has also worked continuously with his fellow countryman, Sam Mendes. Besides 1917, the duo worked on another war movie, Jarhead. This film differed a bit, as it took place in the late XX century. It depicts one marine’s training and deployment in the Gulf War, known as “Operation Desert Storm.”
The brightness and the heat of the wasteland offer a major element to the story, written by Anthony Swofford. Jake Gyllenhaal is the star of the film and does extremely well in this lead role, something Hollywood was not sure he could do beforehand.
The scorching sun and the steamy horizon are staunchly contrasted by the memorable scene of the unit walking through burning oil fields. The overall look and feel of this film help you get as close to the Gulf War as possible.
Jarhead, probably undeservingly, was snubbed at the awards but remains one of the most rewatchable war movies in the cinema.
True Grit (2010)
- Major Awards Won: 1 (BAFTA)
Ethan and Joel Coen are the most frequent employers of Roger Deakins. The western remake True Grit earned the Englishman his ninth Oscar nomination, but more importantly, a BAFTA win. The American Society of Cinematographers nominated True Grit and Deakins that year but the award went to the movie Inception.
Meanwhile, at the Academy Awards, the photography enthusiast received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Deakins once again excels while filming in outdoor locations and wilderness. He managed to blend the feel of the film between the classic and 21st century western. The cast was impressive and helped to sell the vision of the overall film. The child protagonist is played by Hailee Steinfeld while grumpy old grizzled U.S. marshal is played by Jeff Bridges.
This film has a slightly fun adventure vibe to it, in spite of how films like it normally came off. They preferred this over the normal gritty, dusty, macho-like older films set in this time period. This small tweak for True Grit helped it land better than others, with the original being almost completely forgotten about as a result.
Prisoners (2013)One of the darkest blockbuster thrillers of the past decade, Prisoners owes much to its sinister tone to the work of Roger Deakins. This is a long and strenuous film, equally dim and gloomy in its indoors and outdoors scenes. As with the characters, a lot of it is merely implied in Prisoners not announced loudly.
While Deakins is known mostly as the master of natural light, a lot of the movie takes place at night and under the neon lights. Sometimes, this can take place beneath a rain shower too. The Academy Awards nominated Prisoners for Best Achievement in Cinematography, but Emmanuel Lubezki once again won, this time for Gravity.
Some would argue this decision by the Academy. However, Prisoners is often rewatchable by many while Gravity has been a mixed reception by critics and regular viewers alike. That alone should be considered a win.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)Comedies are rarely in the talk of movies with amazing cinematography. This is especially true about the absurd, silly, and light-hearted types. Therefore, that speaks volumes regarding the achievement of the photography team behind O Brother, Where Art Thou? in our book.
The film is a period piece as well as the Coen brothers’ adventure crime story, set in the 1930s within the deep south.
Even the academy acknowledged the cinematography with a nominee but this was one of the most competitive years in film. The award went to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yet the color play in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the wide landscape shots make the movie fun to (re)watch even between jokes and shenanigans.
While he had already been in films and television, this film helped to launch George Clooney into stardom. The way the film looked is just as much the reason for its success as the writing. Is it safe to say Clooney partially owes his career to Roger Deakins? There is a good argument, clearly.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2011)
- Major Awards Won: 2 (BAFTA, American Society of Cinematographers)
Some say that doing a war film is a rite of passage every great director must pass. Yet you could say the same regarding cinematographers and the colorless movie. The Man Who Wasn’t There is slow black and white film made by the Coen brothers, but it’s sadly one of their least remembered projects.
Some believe this comes down to the decision of distributing the picture in black and white.
Like most modern black and white movies, it was filmed in color and converted to the old style in post-production. Deakins has claimed that they weren’t going for the noir look. However, he and Coen brothers ended up there with a lot of shadow play taking place.
Besides the BAFTA and ASC win, Deakins was nominated for an Oscar in once again a quality packed year. He was nominated among films like Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge! and A Beautiful Mind.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Major Awards Won: 1 (American Society of Cinematographers)
Arguably the favorite movie of most people and the number one rated movie on IMDB. Deakins had the opportunity and the task to enhance the inspiring jail story of Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins. He had to display the claustrophobic, sullen images when the tale went grim. Then he had to boost the moments of hope with natural light.
The work he did on The Shawshank Redemption gave Roger Deakins his first Oscar nomination. Like the film itself, its cinematography received the praise it deserved throughout time.
Subtleness is the key for Shawshank, although the movie created some iconic, splashy shots. Funny enough, the man behind them isn’t very fond of those shots.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
- Major Awards Won: 1 (BAFTA)
Deakins believes that the biggest challenge of any cinematographer is to make the imagery of the movie have unity to it. Perhaps there was no project where that togetherness of tone was more important than in No Country for Old Men.
The chronological and tense nature of the most critically acclaimed Coen brothers movie needed to be consistent to work.
The harshness of the world the antagonist and the protagonist are chasing across sets the tone as much as the brilliant performance of Javier Bardem. The year 2007 was a huge year for amazing films, but two stood out above the rest, There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men.
They battled across Oscar categories, but There Will Be Blood ended up getting the nod in the cinematography section. Both films are classics, so we cannot fault the academy here. It would have been tough either way.
In Time (2011)Surely the film with the least critical acclaim on this list is probably In Time. However, it is a tremendous action sci-fi thriller with an interesting premise, set in a dystopian/utopian future.
In the film, people will stop aging at 25 but are medically set to live one more year. Instead of aging, people purchase time to add to their life. If you happen to run out of time, that is the end of your life with no ability to come back.
Since aging stops in a person’s mid-20s, those 70 to 90 years of age can look 25 their entire life. Yet in order to live, obviously, time is of extreme need.
This makes currency differ from cash or coin money to time. This is what people must use in order to purchase things. It is kind of compelling to think about the idea that you’re literally giving away part of your life when to pay for something. That hits home for many.
While not a masterpiece, the In Time film probably suffers from having Justin Timberlake as the star. However, this is not because of his acting but rather because of his reputation as a pop star at the time. However, this film proves Timberlake can act and stand up among seasoned pros.
A shot of In Time truly can’t be mistaken for another sci-fi movie due to its mostly greyish and light orange colors. This easily shows the class disparities in the story, which is hard to do subtly in any story. The photography elevates In Time from a movie that, to some, can be looked at as just a project for a bored singer wanting to be a movie star.
It stands out as an actually good sci-fi action movie with a proper theme.
- Major Awards Won: 1 (American Society of Cinematographers)
As the 1917 cinematographer, Deakins presented an important part of real British heritage. Prior to 2019’s masterpiece, with its director, he worked on the influential fictional legacy of British storytelling – James Bond. Working on any Bond project is huge as the franchise is pretty much always going to be big.
However, no one will tolerate a screw-up in this franchise. This is especially true for the Daniel Craig version of Bond, which has included hit movies every single time. Therefore, Skyfall could not be any less than perfect for Bond fans. No pressure, right?
Thankfully for Deakins, Skyfall has the second-best rating for a Bond movie on IMDB. It takes a gritty, realistic Daniel Craig-played version of the 007 even more down-to-earth.
Roger Deakins had a lot of night work for Skyfall in which he managed to contrast the dark with bright colors while not losing on the edge. It was so impressive overall, that it earned him his 10th Oscar nomination.
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of Roger Deakin’s three 21st century western movies. As weird as it might be, all of these movies came out in the space of four years. The uniquely-titled movie came out in the same year as No Country For Old Men, earning Deakins two nominations at the 2008 Oscars.
The same thing happened at the ASC awards with There Will Be Blood winning in both.
Deakins’ shots in this movie resemble the work seen in the filmography of Terrence Mallick. Things were a bit more experimental and unusual than in others. Again, it gave him the opportunity to play with natural light, within bright landscapes.
Kundun (1997)Once again going against giants of cinema, Roger Deakins didn’t manage to win the cinematography Oscar in the year Titanic came out. His work on Kundun with Martin Scorsese remains the most underseen movie in both of their filmographies.
Deakins prides himself on being able to deliver a specific, different mood for every movie he makes. This concept rejects the instructions of making something similar to his previous work.
With Kundun, a story of the Dalai Lama, Deakins had a perhaps easier but still challenging task of presenting a unique culture. Tibet, with its monks and specific customs, remains a photographer’s dream destination. Kundun runs like a nature documentary at times, mostly because the natural landscapes and material are completely real, without the need for green-screening things in.
Unbroken (2014)Dealing with two highly cinematic fields – sports and war, Unbroken was a testing playground for all artists involved with it. The Coen brothers sign the script amongst others, while Angelina Jolie did the direction. The overall movie, as well as its sequel, tell a real story that is almost unbelievable.
Telling the real story of the impressive man, Louis Zamperini, was not going to be an easy task. This was going to be especially difficult for someone like Roger Deakins. There was going to be contrasting imagery from a Japanese entrapment camp in World War II. Then track & field events, following his amazing Olympic journey.
Unbroken won high acclaim and still has a high rating among critics. Deakins was once again nominated for an Academy Award and an ASC Award due to his work on the film, but Birdman and Lubezki triumphed once more.
The Village (2004)Roger Deakins collaborated with who’s who of the world’s greatest directors. In 2004 Hollywood’s next big thing (at the time) M. Night Shyamalan, utilized the Englishman’s talents as well. In one of his mediumly received movies, Shyamalan called upon a man well-versed with period pieces.
The Village is one of Deakins’ rare excursions into the horror-like stories. This is a medium in which cinematography can play a bone-chilling role as much as sound editing or cuts. The lore that Shyamalan created for the tale was certainly compelling. It is that of a small 19th-century Pennsylvania village that lends itself perfectly for memorable shots and distinctive visual ambiance.
The Village did not land well with everyone who saw it. However, the one common thing everyone seemed to agree on was that the visuals were fantastic. Deakins clearly made his work stand out, making this a film that still holds up today.