Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roger Deakins – Movies Spotlight – October 2011

Roger Deakins is one of the best working cinematographers right now (and among the best in cinema history). He is best known for his work with the Coen Brothers. This month, he has a new film coming out entitled In Time – directed by Andrew Niccol. It is a sci-fi thriller about a society in which people stop aging at twenty-five, and must work for more time (here is the trailer).

Early Career:

Growing up, Deakins loved painting, which informed his decision to enroll at the Bath School of Art and Design to study graphic design. At school, he discovered his love of photography, leading him to make a photographic documentary of his hometown (Torquary, Devon, England). He then transferred to the National Film and Television School in England. He worked on a number of documentaries after graduating. In the early 1980s he also tried his hand at music videos both as a director and cinematographer. His work includes Carl Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes and the concert film Van Morrison in Ireland. Building off his music video work, he began to get jobs shooting feature films. His first couple of note are Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy and Michael Radford’s 1984. In 1989 he came to America, shooting his first three American films: Mountains of the Moon, Air America and The Long Walk Home. Then he was sent the script for the Coen Brothers’ fourth film and a fantastic cinematic partnership was formed.

Collaborations with the Coen Brothers:

Having seen Deakins’s work on the films Stormy Monday, Sid and Nancy and Pascali’s Island, the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) sent him the script to their new film, Barton Fink, and invited him to join the project. Even though his agent advised against it, he met with the brothers and decided to work with them. It ended up winning the 1991 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Next, he shot The Hudsucker Proxy for them. It has brilliant cinematography, being recognized by both the London Critics Circle Film Awards and British Society of Cinematographers. Fargo became the Coen Brothers’ first commercial hit (through their first six films) in 1996. Deakins received his second Oscar nomination for his fantastic work shooting the frigid landscape. The Big Lebowski came next (my personal favorite of the Coen Brothers’ films). Deakins got his fourth and fifth Oscar nominations for his work on the next two Coen Brothers’ films: O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There (which might be the most underrated work of his career – he won the 2002 AFI Cinematographer of the Year Award for it). The brothers then went through an artistically slow phase with Intolerable Cruelty and (their remake of) The Ladykillers. In 2007 they won their first Best Picture Oscar for No Country for Old Men and Deakins his sixth nomination. While not as flashy as some of the previous films, A Serious Man features excellent work from Deakins – but, his latest collaboration with the Coen Brothers True Grit features phenomenal work, collecting his ninth nomination (among my favorite cinematography of 2010). All in all, Deakins has shot eleven of their fifteen films.

Other Feature Films:

In addition to Deakins formidable body of work with the Coen Brothers, he has shot a number of fantastic films, beginning with Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption garnering him his first Oscar nomination. Andy emerging from the sewage drain into the rain is one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, and beautifully shot. Having worked with Tim Robbins as an actor on The Shawshank Redemption and The Hudsucker Proxy, Robbins hired Deakins to shot his second feature Dead Man Walking. Next he received his third Oscar nomination for his work on Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. He then shot Norman Jewison’s biography of boxer Rubin Carter The Hurricane, and in 2001 he shot his first Best Picture winner for Ron Howard A Beautiful Mind. House of Sand and Fog is sort of a forgotten film from 2003, but Deakins’s work on the film is quite good. He then shot Jarhead working for Sam Mendes for the first time (for Mendes’s first two films he had worked with cinematography legend Conrad Hall). He next shot Paul Haggis’s follow-up to Crash (in that it was his next film) In the Valley of Elah. He also shot Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007, receiving his seventh nomination. While it did not win the Oscar, it is one of the ten best shot films of the decade – absolutely magnificent (the other nine are: Amelie, The New World, Children of Men, Road to Perdition, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and City of God). He next shot John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own play Doubt. Deakins got his eighth nomination (sharing it with Chris Menges) for Stephen Daldry’s The Reader and he also shot his second film with Mendes Revolutionary Road that year (2008). He also served as a visual consultant on the animated films How to Train Your Dragon, WALL-E and Rango.


Up next for Deakins is his third collaboration with Sam Mendes, shooting the twenty-third James Bond film (currently untitled). It will be his first major action film (though he has worked on Hollywood films before, as he shot Courage Under Fire and The Village). While not formally attached, he will likely be shooting the new Coean Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis, due in 2013.

Career Highlights:

1)      Barton Fink (1991) – (DVD, Streaming)
2)      The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)* – (DVD, Streaming)
3)      The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
4)      Dead Man Walking (1995) – (Blu-ray, DVD)
5)      Fargo (1996) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
6)      The Big Lebowski (1998) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
8)      The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)* – (DVD, Streaming)
9)      A Beautiful Mind (2001) – (Blu-ray, DVD)
10)   House of Sand and Fog (2003) – (DVD)
11)   No Country for Old Men (2007)* – (Blu-ray, DVD)
12)   The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)* – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
13)   Doubt (2008) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
14)   The Reader (2008) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
15)   Revolutionary Road (2008) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
16)   A Serious Man (2009) – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
17)   True Grit (2010)* – (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

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