10 Best Roger Deakins Movies
It is rare that a cinematographer is a household name—but if such were the case for any, it would be Roger Deakins. His decades-long relationship with the Coen brothers has all but guaranteed to him public attention. Deakins’ work with Sam Mendes, Andrew Niccol, and Denis Villeneuve has also taken great strides to garner him a larger—and deserved—audience. Indeed, he has had a significant hand in some of the greatest modern masterpieces of American cinema. Below you will find the ten best film of his storied career to date.
If one movie can be credited with making the Coens as widely known as they are today, it would be Fargo. Long before the anthology series which it inspired, Fargo was something of a marvel. It is a gorgeous film about the amiability and cruelty of the far-north midwest with strong central performances from Frances McDormand and William H. Macy.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Coens are no stranger to comedy nor to drama nor to everything in between but their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel may be their best dramatic film. Javier Bardem gives a haunting performance as cold-blooded killer Anton Chigurh. This neo-western lingers in the mind for days afterward, as does the gorgeous cinematographic work by Deakins.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski remains the Coens’ biggest cult hit. Jeff Bridges’ “the Dude,” a Los Angeles burnout who just wants his rug back gets way more than he bargained for. It features career-high performances from both Jeff Bridges and John Goodman. The Big Lebowski start to finish one of the funniest films of the last quarter-century, even today.
A Serious Man (2009)
A Serious Man is, interestingly, one of the few films centered around a Jewish-American by Jewish-Americans Joel and Ethan Coen. It is also one of their best with Michael Stuhlbarg as the aforementioned Larry Gopnik, whose mid-20th-century life is crumbling around him and causing him to question his faith. A Serious Man also features a beautiful portrait of the developing suburban midwest by Deakins.
O Brother Where Art Thou (2000)
O Brother Where Art Thou is one of the more ambitious and bizarre but ultimately entertaining collaborations between Deakins and the Coen Brothers. George Clooney plays Everett McGill who fills the role of Odysseus in this loose reimagining of Homer’s The Odyssey. With his fellow chain-gang escapees (John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) in tow, the film supplants Odysseus’ struggle to return home on the open sea with Everett’s similar struggle through the Depression-era south.
True Grit (2010)
After the widespread acclaim of their handful of western genre films — most recently the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men — the Coen Brothers set out to remake the 1969 John Wayne True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld gives a very strong early performance as Mattie Ross, the 14-year-old who hires a grizzled U.S. Marshall (Jeff Bridges) to hunt down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father. Along the way, Deakins captures vibrantly the beauty and cruelty of the untamed wilderness.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Deakins’ western genre bona-fides extend far beyond his work with the Coens. The same year he worked with them on No Country for Old Men, he also collaborated with Andrew Dominik on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The film details exactly what is described in the title, dramatizing through great performances and gorgeous cinema Robert Ford (Casey Affleck)’s bizarre obsession with notorous Missouri outlaw Jesse James (Brad Pitt).
In Time (2011)
In Time is a severely underrated film by Andrew Niccol, the man behind Gattaca and The Truman Show. Between gorgeous cinematography by Deakins, strong writing by Niccol and sleek, minimalist production design, the film takes a thin and sort of goofy allegory for wealth inequality and makes it work in a fun and stylish way. Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, and Vincent Kartheiser all give solid, entertaining performances.
It seems only right that seasoned veteran in western genre cinematography Roger Deakins would work on a film penned by the biggest name in the neo-western genre today, Taylor Sheridan. Deakins has also collaborated with Denis Villeneuve, the film’s director, for most of Villeneuve’s English-language work both before and after. Sicario — through its central characters played by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, and Daniel Kaluuya — details the bleak reality and slippery, sometimes nonexistent morals in the war between the drug cartels and the U.S. federal agencies on the Mexican-American border.
After the lackluster response to Mark Forster’s 2008 James Bond entry Quantum of Solace, Sam Mendes was given the reigns to the Daniel Craig-led sequel Skyfall. The resulting film was lauded for its style as well as its stunningly inventive story for a film franchise that celebrated its 50th year of existence in the same year. Javier Bardem received much acclaim for his performance as did Deakins for his cinematographic work which helped bring a much-needed home run from a series that some expected to be out of tricks.
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