The Academy Awards nominations were announced last week, and once again the voting body comprised of 6,000 members checked off all the familiar boxes: #OscarsSoWhite Part Deux? Check. A rebuffing of any dark-horse nominees (Michael Shannon in 99 Homes, Paul Dano in Love & Mercy, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton to name a few) so each category reflects exactly what the early Oscar forecast predicted they’d be months ago? Check. The further memefication of Leonardo DiCaprio’s war of attrition against himself to finally strike Best Actor gold? Check. Overall, another by-the-numbers ceremony in a year full of radical, box-smashing filmmaking.
It’s the last bullet point in my jeremiad above that inspires this piece. DiCaprio, now a five-time nominee at the chipper age of 41, is widely trumpeted as a victim of ritualistic sacrifice from constant Oscar oversight. I’d beg to differ. I wish the public cacophony centered on cinematographer par excellence, the man nominated an astounding thirteen times without a single win since his first nomination twenty years ago for The Shawshank Redemption: Roger Deakins. I get that Best Cinematography isn’t as sexy a category as Best Actor, and that Deakins himself isn’t as sexy a man as DiCaprio, but c’mon already.
At the risk of controversy I’ll say no one has done more for the visual vocabulary of modern cinema than Deakins. Opting for undecorated realism over the ornate technical wizardry employed by, say, an Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman), Deakins captures the true interdependence between visual elements and thematic truths without drawing attention the camera or himself. From the rustic, death-dealing landscapes of Texas and New Mexico in No Country For Old Men, to the sweeping vistas of Morocco in Kundun, Deakins has a master’s instinct for wresting every ounce of tension, heart, humor, or beauty in every frame. Not a single shot is wasted, nor is one ever weighed down by overambitious technique. Deakins creates iconography without drowning out narrative. He has the rare gift of realizing striking images that can be celestial, yet chilling and grimy at the same time.
On the heels of his thirteenth Best Cinematography nomination for his claustrophobic, silhouetted interiors and boundless Mexican exteriors in Sicario, here are four films for which I believe Deakins should’ve won that elusive Oscar already.