Monday, September 23, 2013

Top 10 Roger Deakins Films

I have yet to see a movie shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins that wasn’t memorable for the way it looked. Simply put, Deakins is one of the best, most gifted men to ever lens a film. After seeing what Deakins did with the purposefully drab and purposefully cold film, Prisoners, this weekend, I thought it’d be fun to list my favorite-looking Deakins films. Enjoy!

10. Coen Brothers Comedies (1991-2009)

I tried picking a favorite among all the films in this category, but I simply couldn’t. There’s something about the Coen’s zany humor that Deakins encapsulates perfectly. Whether it’s John Goodman running down a hellish hallway (or standing among fellow KKK followers), Jeff Bridges flying over Los Angeles, Ryan Hurst getting tackled repeatedly, or Michael Stuhlbarg being swallowed by a massive chalkboard, Deakins is as much a part of the Coen brothers’ comedies as the Coens themselves.

9. The Hurricane (1999)

Even though the boxing scenes in this film amount to just eight minutes of screen time, they (intentionally) evoke Raging Bull in all the best ways. Beyond the boxing flashbacks, Deakins paints much of The Hurricane with little saturation and stark contrast. A very cold and very real looking film.

8. Jarhead (2005)

Roger Deakins’ is primarily known for his decades-long collaboration with the Coen brothers, but his partnership with Sam Mendes is certainly worth mentioning as well. Their three filmic efforts are listed here, beginning with the over exposed, impossibly hot palette of Jarhead. The look of this movie makes me sweat.

7. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

The Man Who Wasn’t There was one of the first films to be shot in color and converted to black and white in post-production. The results are thick blacks and lush grays very rarely seen. In addition, Deakins’ use of shadows here conjures the best that film noir has to offer.

6. Fargo (1996)

I love the shot I’ve screencapped here. The first time I saw the film, I had no idea what I was looking at. Then old William H. Macy came slowly shuffling into frame. This movie just feels cold. And sparse, and desperate, and alone. 

5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The shot of Andy Dufresne’s mortified face, followed directly by a gliding POV of him entering the prison for the first time, says more about the hell of incarceration than any monologue possibly could.

4. Revolutionary Road (2008)

It’s the isolation that strikes me most about Deakins’ work for Revolutionary Road. Whether it’s a slow push-in of a neighbor resentfully starring at a house, the cold hue of Kate Winslet hiding in silhouette, or Michael Shannon going nuts out of focus, everything feels so alone.

3. Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is easily the best-looking James Bond film ever, but, dare I ask, is it the most aesthetically pleasing action film ever shot?

2. No Country For Old Men (2007)

Josh Brolin is running from Spanish thugs. They’re chasing him in a large, loud truck. The sun is coming up behind them, it’s lightning in front of them. And I’m terrified.

1. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

It’s impossible to pick a single favorite still shot from this movie – every frame is poetic and gorgeous and evocative. I love when cinematography acts as a character in a film, which is certainly the case for The Assassination of Jesse James. Deakins is as big a star of this movie as Brad Pitt. Period.


36 comments:

  1. He does some great work. Awesome list, I love the picture you chose from Skyfall. That whole scene was breathtaking.

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    1. Thanks! He's a visual master if there ever was one. LOVED that single shot fight in Skyfall.

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  2. Very well done, I was not aware that Deakin's was onboard for TAoJJbtCRF but it only makes sense. That's one of my favorite looking films of all time. It reminds me of an old photograph (like the ones taken at the end of the film) where it looks dusty and old... yeah, but looks perhaps more resonant and full of life than a modern photograph. Love that film and now it makes sense why it looks so amazing.
    I too love his work with the Coen brothers (not sure I've ever thought of Barton Fink as a comedy but whatever) with my favorite probably being A Serious Man. I just love that whole vibe of that film, from the actors to the script to Deakins' stellar cinematography - it all works. Glad you really dug Prisoners as well man!

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    1. Thanks man. I completely agree with you about Jesse James. That movie looks old, but it's not old looking, if that makes sense.

      Barton Fink really toes the line of comedy and drama, but I guess I've always felt that it is absurdist humor, at its finest.

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  3. As beautiful as Robert Elswit's work in There Will Be Blood was that year, Deakins should have won the Oscar for Jesse James. Not only is it beautiful film, he and Dominik took many risks visually that fit organically with the material and the tone of the original book.

    I would also offer Kundun as a Deakins master work, although I'm not sure which film I'd take off to give it a spot. Possibly Revolutionary Road, which was beautifully shot but didn't seem like too far a reach for Deakins. The Village should get an honorable mention, where the cinematography (and production design, as well) was the best part of a so-so film.

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    1. It's a damn tough call, but I might have to agree with you about Elswit/Deakins in '07. Ah, I just don't know, they are both so damn impressive.

      Kundun came in at a very tight number 11. That is amazing work on Deakins' part. The Village was damn close as well, for the exact reason you mentioned.

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  4. His work on Skyfall was fucking masterful! That fight scene, you know the one, oh good God, the color in contrast with those thick, almost otherworldly blacks. Ahhh! Barton Fink is easily my favorite work of his, I haven't had the pleasure of watching The Man Who Wasn't There.

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    1. Such an amazing sequence, that fight. Barton Fink is such a trip, thanks much in part to Deakins' visual appeal. Love this guy!

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  5. The day he finally gets that friggin' Oscar is one I'll remember fondly.

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    1. Yeah, it's actually getting a little silly at this point.

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  6. OH!!!! I can't fucking argue w/ this list though I have some personal favorites of Deakins' work that I love that I want to include. Sid & Nancy where that shot of Sid & Nancy kissing while the garbage is follow down around them in slow motion. The Secret Garden, truly beautiful to look at. And most of all, WALL-E. I know it's an animated film but the contributions he made for the way the scenes on Earth looked. You can't deny that helped create some new standards of how animated films should look and such as he did the same with some recent films for Dreamworks Animations.

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    1. Oh man, I LOVE that fuckin' shot from Sid & Nancy. Great call there. That movie is so damn raw.

      Also in complete agreement about his work for Wall-E. He made that one stand out among other animated films.

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  7. Brilliant! My top 3 would be the same, and most of my other picks would just be in a different order. I might go with O Brother specifically instead of #10, but why nitpick? He does incredible work!

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    1. Thanks man! Tough to narrow down the favorites because you're right, his work is always so incredible. Love this guy.

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  8. I think Skyfall is the most aesthetically pleasing action movie too. I remember being gobsmacked by the cinematography when I saw it in the theatres for the first time, and then coming home and finding out it was Deakins *obviously*.
    I really need to see your number 1 and 7. Though I'm not a big Coen brothers person (yes I know, I know!), I think I might actually like that one.

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    1. I think you'd like The Man Who Wasn't There. It's a very un Coen brothers, Coen brothers flick, if that makes sense. Plus, a young Scarlett Jo!

      The Assassination of Jesse James is pure brilliance. Period.

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  9. Fantastic list Alex, some brilliant films here. I watched Jesse James the other day for the first time and thought it was superb. Very interested in The Man Who Wasn't There now, not seen that one.

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    1. Thanks man! I just rewatched Jesse James for this post. I love it even more now. Whatta gem. The Man Who Wasn't There looks amazing.

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  10. While this list features many movies I still have to watch (shame I feel is endless), I got an urge to watch Shawshank again.... I've seen it about 10 times already. Damn. I'll try to focus on my to-be-watched list though and I think I'll watch something from this list.

    PS: Shawshanks's favorite scene for me is the rain-scene and Freeman sitting in the field. Lovely.

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    1. I know what you mean... so often it is so much more comfortable sitting down and rewatching a movie we love. It can be hard to tackle our daunting watchlists!

      I love those scenes from Shawshank as well.

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  11. Wow. This is such an impressive list. It's cool to see Skyfall so high; it looks so different than any other Bond film, even Casino Royale. I can't argue with any of your picks, and the top one's are definitely among his best work.

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    1. Thanks so much Dan! I LOVE Casino Royale, but yeah, nothing tops the look of Skyfall. It's just gorgeous.

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  12. Great post. I find it extremely impressive that Roger Deakin's work has pretty much solidified him as an auteur in the same way Greg Toland was.

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    1. Yep, I'd agree with you there. Deakins is a god of cinematography. He'll be one of the all time greats.

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  13. Beautiful list, your top three are the same as mine. I can't believe he hasn't won an Oscar yet. Your featured image from Jesse James is a perfect example of how brilliant he is. That train robbery scene was just amazing.

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    1. Thanks man! So glad you dig the picks. It's baffling that he still remains Oscar-free. 2007 was a tough year for that category, but man... what fine work. Love what he did for Jesse James.

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  14. AMAZING POST! Jesse James is not only one of my all time favorite movies - it's one of the most gorgeous films I've seen. The music and cinematography make it look like fairytale, very sad and tragic fairytale. I love how you mentioned Jarhead making you sweaty and Fargo feeling so cold - he really captures the temperature with his craft and that is such a rare talent. It's kinda like with Perfume where the cinematographer practically captured different scents.

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    1. Thanks! Jesse James really is presented like a beautiful, tragic fairytale. That was a great way to put it. I've never even thought about Perfume that way, but you're so right.

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  15. Great list..!!...Roger Deakins' cinematography adheres to the screenplay like skin to the flesh,,

    .I too loved that shot in Fargo..the composition is awkward and unbalanced..This effectively communicates the mindset of Macy's character to the audience....The long shot multiplies the feeling of isolation too..

    In all aspects, Roger Deakins is the Peter O'Toole of cinematography!!..

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    1. Love that comparison. Deakins is the MAN. So glad to hear you're a fan. Thanks so much for the comment.

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  16. I'm vaguely familiar with Deakins work. I saw Revolutionary Road, Skyfall, and Prisoners, and they all looked great. Also, even though there technically wasn't a camera, Deakins was the visual consultant on my all time favorite film, How To Train Your Dragon, which also looked amazing.

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    1. Dragon really did look amazing. I had no idea what was your favorite film - I adore that movie.

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  17. I would love to see the 4 hour version of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford... I hope they make it availiable one day.

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    1. Me too man. Put it out there for us fans!

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  18. All good, and a huge fan of Roger's work. But I gotta say I think my favorite is 'True Grit'. Every scene is like a master painting. just can't look away in case I miss something.

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    1. That is one hell of a gorgeous film, no doubt. Thanks for the comment!

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