Thursday, February 8, 2018

Breaking Down Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ 14 Oscar Nominations

Roger Deakins is one of the finest cinematographers to ever work in film. He’s a master of isolating blues, unyielding yellows, dangerous silhouettes, and deep shadows. He also has an incredible knack for capturing sunrises and sunsets, consistently proving that in order to be a great director of photography, you have to bend with the elements.

For the purposes of this post, I’m highlighting a painful reality about Deakins’ career: the man has been nominated for 14 Oscars, and never won. Now, of course, I’d love to tell you how absurd it is that Roger Deakins doesn’t have an Academy Award. But in analyzing all of his nominations, it became clear that, despite how great a Roger Deakins film looks (and they all look great), he shoots movies in insanely competitive years.

This year, Deakins is nominated for shooting Blade Runner 2049, and, like every other year he’s been nominated, he has a damn good shot at winning. One can only hope. Because if there’s a year he deserves it, it is truly this one.

1994 – The Shawshank Redemption
Deakins nominated for: The Shawshank Redemption
Lost to: Legends of the Fall
Other nominees: Forrest Gump, Three Colors: Red, Wyatt Earp
Should’ve won: We’ll see this a lot in Deakins’ path to win an Oscar: he delivers astounding work on a smaller-scale film, and eventually loses to the big, sweeping epic. This is a tough call, because while I love the coldness of Shawshank, John Toll’s cinematography on Legends of the Fall is exquisite. And, still, I think I’d place Piotr Sobociński’s work on Three Colors: Red above Deakins as well.

1996 – Fargo
Deakins nominated for: Fargo
Lost to: The English Patient
Other nominees: Evita, Fly Away Home, Michael Collins 
Should’ve won: Same deal. Deakins delivered incredible work on Fargo, but he lost to the vastness of The English Patient. Both films are shot so damn well, but I honestly think The English Patient wins out here.

1997 – Kundun
Deakins nominated for: Kundun
Lost to: Titanic
Other nominees: Amistad, L.A. Confidential, The Wings of the Dove
Should’ve won: Titanic. The technical marvel of that film cannot be ignored. L.A. Confidential comes in second for me. 

2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Deakins nominated for: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Lost to: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Other nominees: Gladiator, Malèna, The Patriot
Should’ve won: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, no question. That film changed cinematography. But oh how I love Deakins’ sepia tones in O Brother.

2001 – The Man Who Wasnt There
Deakins nominated for: The Man Who Wasn’t There
Lost to: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Other nominees: Amélie, Black Hawk Down, Moulin Rouge!
Should’ve won: What a tough year. The Man Who Wasn’t There IS noir, and I love every frame of it. But Amélie would get my first place vote.

2007 – The Assassination of Jesse James | No Country for Old Men
Deakins nominated for: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford & No Country for Old Men
Lost to: There Will Be Blood
Other nominees: Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Should’ve won: I’m not sure if this category has ever been stronger, but it certainly hasn’t been stronger since. You could make the case for every nominee, including both of Deakins’ nominations. There Will Be Blood is one of my favorite looking films of all time, and I am in no way upset that Robert Elswit won an Oscar for it. But Deakins’ work on The Assassination of Jesse James redefined what a person can do with a movie camera. Deakins would’ve won here, had the film been marketed properly. So, the winner here is Deakins, finally.

2008 – The Reader
Deakins nominated for: The Reader (shared nomination with Chris Menges)
Lost to: Slumdog Millionaire
Other nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight
Should’ve won: I’ve seen The Reader twice and, sadly, cannot recall a standout frame from it. I’d be fine with Benjamin Button or The Dark Knight winning, but I think Anthony Dod Mantle’s award for Slumdog is appropriate.

2010 – True Grit
Deakins nominated for: True Grit
Lost to: Inception
Other nominees: Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Social Network
Should’ve won: Yep, this goes to Inception, with Black Swan in second, and The Social Network at third. Strong year.

2012 – Skyfall
Deakins nominated for: Skyfall
Lost to: Life of Pi
Other nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Lincoln
Should’ve won: Over the past few years, it has become in increasingly heated debate about how  cinematography is defined. I usually (key word) prefer practical aesthetics to computer effects. Much of Life of Pi was computer generated, while much of Skyfall was shot practically. They both look great, but which is better? Ultimately, my vote would’ve gone to Deakins here, giving him two Oscars so far.

2013 – Prisoners
Deakins nominated for: Prisoners
Lost to: Gravity
Other nominees: The Grandmaster, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska
Should’ve won: And here I get to completely contradict myself, because this award absolutely belongs to Gravity, despite being such an effects-heavy film. So it goes.

2014 – Unbroken
Deakins nominated for: Unbroken
Lost to: Birdman
Other nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr. Turner
Should’ve won: Birdman first, Ida second, The Grand Budapest Hotel third.

2015 – Sicario
Deakins nominated for: Sicario
Lost to: The Revenant
Other nominees: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road
Should’ve won: Insanely tough year. My vote still goes to The Revenant, but any five of these nominees justly could’ve won.

2017 – Blade Runner 2049
Deakins nominated for: Blade Runner 2049
Lost to: ???
Other nominees: Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Mudbound, The Shape of Water
Will win: With the exception of Darkest Hour (or not, seeing as it was shot by mastero, Bruno Delbonnel), this category is a four way split. The visual power of Dunkirk cannot be ignored, while The Shape of Water could sweep the technical awards, and of course we cannot discount Rachel Morrison’s nomination for Mudbound. She’s the first woman nominated for best cinematography, and the support she has from her peers is very vocal. Still, what if? What if Roger Deakins wins his first Oscar for a lavish-looking sequel? If I voted, it’d be between Blade Runner 2049 and Dunkirk, with my vote ultimately going to Deakins.

By my estimation, Roger Deakins should have two Oscars so far, for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Skyfall. And potentially a third this year, for Blade Runner 2049. I know, it sounds crazy; his work is so good he should have more, but he’s been up against some damn fierce competition. How many Oscars do you think Roger Deakins should have?

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  1. I've seen some of the films he was nominated for, and he should have been raking in awards by now. I hope his wins this year; I haven't seen the other 3 nominees but Dunkirk did look good - tough competition this year.

    1. I do wonder, admittedly, if Deakins had an Oscar, would I still prefer Blade Runner 2049 to win this award over Dunkirk? It's a tough call, because I LOVED the look of Dunkirk so damn much.

  2. I agree with you on Skyfall and Jesse James, but I would've also rewarded him for Prisoners and Sicario. Gravity was so special effects driven and he made Atlanta look like Pennsylvania. Then with Sicario vs The Revenant, I just felt like his job of making a crime drama in the desert was harder than making the forest look beautiful. (and I really hate that shot of the floating woman)

    I really hope he wins this year. I think he will.

    1. Very fair points on both Gravity and Sicario. Deakins and Chivo have polar opposite styles of cinematography, and I just love them both so much. Either way, Deakins needs a damn Oscar already!

  3. I just started reading your site and I really enjoy your pieces. Nice article. Deakins is the man, but as you note, his work has been nominated in insanely strong years. *I think* I would go with 3 Oscars so far (Fargo, Skyfall, and Sicario). I can't decide between Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 this year. I started realizing he was overdue around 2007, so it would be sweet to finally see him holding a golden boy.
    1994: I haven't seen enough nominees, no call
    1996: Fargo (1st Deakins)
    1997: Titanic or LA Confidential
    2000: Gladiator (have to confess I haven't seen Crouching Tiger)
    2001: Fellowship
    2007: Two of my favorite Deakins movies, but I have to bite the bullet and go with There Will Be Blood
    2008: Slumdog
    2010: I'm partial to The Social Network here, but tough call
    2012: Skyfall (2nd Deakins). Stunning work.
    2013: Inside Llewyn Davis
    2014: Birdman
    2015: Sicario (3rd Deakins). Really close with The Revenant.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I really appreciate it. 1996 is such a tough call, because I love the isolation of Fargo, but The English Patient really is epic in its visual story. 2007 is also so damn difficult, because There Will Be Blood is one of my favorite looking films of all time. But so is Jesse James. Yeesh.

      I hope this is his year, even if I can't decide between BR2049 and Dunkirk either.

  4. Roger Deakins is one of the great cinematographers in cinema. He should have more Oscars than Oscar nominations. Let's see...

    1994: Trois Couleurs: Rouge w/ Deakins in 2nd.
    1996: Fargo (he should've won that one)
    1997: N/A (I haven't seen Kundun so I'm disqualifying that)
    2000: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon w/ Deakins in 2nd
    2001: Amelie w/ Deakins in 2nd (again)
    2007: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford w/ No Country for Old Men in 2nd.
    2008: The Curious of Benjamin Button (I agree with you on The Reader which I think is fucking boring and one of the reasons why I think Stephen Dalrdy is the Oscar-bait equivalent to Michael Bay).
    2010: The Social Network w/ Inception in 2nd, Black Swan in third, and Deakins in 4th.
    2012: Deakins should've won that one.
    2013: Gravity (I agree with you again)
    2014: Birdman (You just can't beat Chivo)
    2015: The Revenant (Chivo, puta madre).
    2017: Deakins better this one as I think the photography in Blade Runner 2049 is top-tier work though I wouldn't mind if he lost to Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water or Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk. I haven't seen the other 2 nods though I'm excited for what Rachel Morrison is doing for Black Panther.

    1. Hell yes, great breakdown. (Side note: I laughed out loud at your 2008 comments.) 2012 really surprised me. I did not think there was anything inherently well done about the cinematography of Life of Pi, whereas Skyfall was elevated so high past a James Bond film simply due to Deakins' contribution. He should've won that year, no question.

  5. Deakins is bloody brilliant. In the time I've been doing my own year-end rundown, he's taken my cinematography honor twice (Jesse James and Skyfall) and lost out to Chivo more than a few times.

    That said, I kind of hope Oscar doesn't give him a consolation Oscar. As beautiful as Blade Runner 2049 was, this should be Hoyte Van Hoytema's year. Unfortunately, Oscar has a long history of awarding people for the wrong film and snubbing others in the process. There doesn't seem to be an end to this cycle.

    1. It's a tough year and a tough category for the award vs. reward debate. I honestly don't think a Deakins win this year would be a consolation prize for a career of great work. I think her truly deserves it for BR2049. However, so does Hoytema. Like every damn year Deakins has been nominated, this will be another close one.

  6. I just pray to God almighty the members of the Academy will not make horribly misguided decision to vote for Rachel BECAUSE she is a woman. If she wins now people will say it's only because of the movement and she robbed Deakins.

    And I just rewatched Jesse James last week and it may be the most incredibly shot movie in history. The camera just dances. And there are so many interesting things done with the shots there. It's a travesty this movie didn't get more love and what bad luck for Rockwell - he gives the greatest performance in the movie yet Affleck got all the spotlight

    1. I agree with you about a potential Morrison win. People should win for the work. And if she won now, certain people would take her down in an unfair way.

      I can't wait to rewatch Jesse James with a fresh eye. I'm going to pay such close attention to Rockwell's work in it.

  7. That's a lot of near misses for Deakins. The visual aspect was definitely my favorite thing about BR2049, there are some beautiful shots such as the one you highlight. The story to me (sadly) is a reboot, and in many respects a rehash of something done before, even the threesome which was seen in Her (2013). They waited too long, Blade Runner 2 should have been released decades ago.

    1. Yes, I 100% agree with your comment, and echoed those sentiments to a friend of mine (his favorite of the year was BR2049), shortly after the film came out. However, it did look great, which I hope is enough for Deakins to win.

  8. You’re probably gonna give him luck with this post as it happened last year with Kevin O’Connell!

    I haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet (a couple of friends told me that it was a bit of a disappointment... I was also afraid I was not gonna like it as much as the original - being one of my favorite films - so I didn’t go to the cinema but I’m sure I’ll watch it sooner or later) but I was really glad when they say he was gonna be doing the photography as I loved Deakins for his work on Jarhead, Revolutionary Road (can’t believe he wasn’t nominated for any of these two) and The Assassination of Jesse James. Even in Stormy Monday he brought something special. What Jordan Cronenweth did on the original Blade Runner was genius. You could see on the interviews about the film how much Ridley Scott respected the guy. And I’m sure Deakins has done a great job too.

    Watching this list there are some really tough years! 2001, for instance, those films were all quite extraordinary. Same with 2000. And 2007 it’s really difficult with There Will Be Blood, I feel the same as you about that movie. That shot from Prisoners is really impressive and I love the road lights when detective Loki drives to the hospital with the kid, but it was difficult with Gravity being there too. I would have probably gave Deakins the award for Sicario, though. The Revenant was perfect (‘el maestro Chivo’ Lubezki might be my all time favorite DP but at the moment he already had 2 haha) but if there are three things that made me love that movie those were Benicio del Toro’s performance, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s soundtrack (I just read he passed away 2 days ago and I’m still in shock… that man was such a genius) and Deakin’s photography.

    1. *when they said he was... sorry.

    2. Haha I hope so! That would be awesome.

      BR2049 is not without its faults. There is one, in particular, glaring plot hole (or red flag, or puzzling question) that took myself, and many people I know, out of the film completely. It honestly makes no sense, and for a movie that is 2 hours 45 minutes long to leave in something so puzzlingly convenient... there's just no excuse for it. That said, the movie does look astounding, and I really hope Deakins wins!

  9. It seems weird to say this, but Skyfall is one where I think he should have won. As much as anything from that movie, I remember some of the wide open shots from the final act. It's a gorgeous film, which isn't something I say much about Bond films.

    1. Oh no, that isn't weird at all. That was the year I really thought he had it locked up. Skyfall looks incredible, and has much more to offer visually than Life of Pi. And you're right, how often have we said a Bond film is gorgeous? Once?

  10. Another spectacular post, Alex! What a great idea. Some of these winners are absolutely worthy, but there are a handful that shouldn't have won. I still can't believe that Sicario lost...that cinematography was out of control.

    1. Thanks Courtney! 2015 was such a strong year. Genuinely, any 5 of those nominees deserved to win.

  11. This is awesome Alex! I do thik most of the winners these years were justified, others not. Here's how I would've gone:

    94: Legends of the Fall
    96: The English Patient
    97: Gatteca
    01: Amelie
    07: Atonement
    08: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    10: Black Swan
    12: Skyfall
    13: The Hunt
    14: Mommy
    15: The Revenant
    17: Blade Runner 2049

    1. Thanks Zach! Nice picks here. Mommy really is well shot. Shame it didn't gain a bigger audience. I need to watch that one again actually.

  12. Damn, he has deserved it so many time. Such an excellent cinematographer. I this he should have won for Fargo, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall and Prisoners in my opinion. Maybe Sicario as well. That and 2007 were some really tough years. I also hoe he wins this year. Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely stunning visually. I have only gotten a chance to watch it once in the theater and i still can't stop thinking about it. I need to pick up the blu-ray as soon as possible.

    1. And I just learned yesterday that all of the color effects in Blade Runner 2049 were shot in camera. I can't even begin to wrap my head around that one. So many colored lights! That movie looks absolutely insane. (sigh), I really hope he wins this year.

  13. This is a great post. Nicely done, and I agree with so much of what you say!