The Easy Brilliance of Roger Deakins

Born on this day in 1949, Roger Deakins has been working as a cinematographer for over forty years. He has collaborated with countless directorial talents (the Coen brothers, Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes, and Denis Villeneuve, among others) and has won numerous awards and accolades. Deakins got his start in the documentary world and prefers to operate the camera himself. He’s charming, British, and gives off a reassuringly confident air. None of this may be news to you, though. In the world of cinematography and top-tier filmmaking, Deakins is a veritable household name. Yet, strangely, out of fourteen total nominations, Deakins has won just one Academy Award, for Blade Runner 2049, and it only just happened at this year’s Oscars. In celebration of Roger’s birthday, let’s take a look at, and honor, those many nominations.

Year: 1994
Deakins Nomination: The Shawshank Redemption
Oscar Winner: Legends of the Fall
Other Nominations: Forrest GumpThree Colors: RedWyatt Earp

Year: 1996
Deakins Nomination: Fargo
Oscar Winner: The English Patient
Other Nominations: EvitaFly Away HomeMichael Collins

Year: 1997
Deakins Nomination: Kundun
Oscar Winner: Titanic
Other Nominations: AmistadL.A. ConfidentialThe Wings of the Dove

Year: 2000
Deakins Nomination: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Oscar Winner: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Other Nominations: GladiatorMalènaThe Patriot

Year: 2001
Deakins Nomination: The Man Who Wasn’t There
Oscar Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Other Nominations: AmélieBlack Hawk DownMoulin Rouge!

Year: 2007
Deakins Nomination: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford AND No Country for Old Men
Oscar Winner: There Will Be Blood
Other Nominations: AtonementThe Diving Bell, and the Butterfly

Year: 2008
Deakins Nomination: The Reader
Oscar Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Other Nominations: ChangelingThe Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Dark Knight

Year: 2010
Deakins Nomination: True Grit
Oscar Winner: Inception
Other Nominations: Black SwanThe King’s SpeechThe Social Network

Year: 2012
Deakins Nomination: Skyfall
Oscar Winner: Life of Pi
Other Nominations: Anna KareninaDjango UnchainedLincoln

Year: 2013
Deakins Nomination: Prisoners
Oscar Winner: Gravity
Other Nomination: The GrandmasterInside Llewyn DavisNebraska

Year: 2014
Deakins Nomination: Unbroken
Oscar Winner: Birdman
Other Nominations: The Grand Budapest HotelIdaMr. Turner

Year: 2015
Deakins Nomination: Sicario
Oscar Winner: The Revenant
Other Nominations: CarolThe Hateful EightMad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2017
Deakins Nomination: Blade Runner 2049
Oscar Winner: Blade Runner 2049
Other Nomination: Darkest HourDunkirkMudboundThe Shape of Water

Does the Academy have it out for Deakins? Probably not. For each nomination that didn’t win an Oscar, he was up against the stiff competition. There are the epics like Legends of the Fall and The English Patient, which are the kinds of films that used to unequivocally sweep the Oscars. Then there is the newer breed of technical marvels, like Gravity and Birdman. One could certainly argue that his work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a sure-winner, but perhaps the fact that Deakins was nominated for two Oscars that year led the Academy to split its vote.

Does his number of Oscar wins ultimately matter, though? When asked about awards, Deakins might have summed it up best himself, replying, “It really doesn’t matter to me.” His work remains consistently acknowledged by both movie-lovers and fellow filmmakers. And, hey, people even write articles for him on his birthday.

But maybe there is one reason why Deakins hasn’t won more Oscars. An Academy Award is a very specific recognition. Deakins, however, has said that he prefers when his work isn’t singled out because it means that the film functions as a unified whole. Deakins’ mastery, therefore, lies in his adaptability. The only thing really tying together his notable films is the fact that they’re universally great. Put another way, one of the only things tying together those great films is the fact that Roger Deakins worked on them. 

Can’t get enough cinematography? Check out Fandor’s videos on essential women cinematographers and the worst Oscar omissions for cinematography.
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