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Contender-Roger Deakins-Elah-No Country-Jesse James

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Among this year’s awards nominees, British cinemagrapher Roger Deakins is a double dipper. He’s in the unusual position of having been nominated twice in the same Oscar category, for best cinematography, for his work on No Country for Old Men and also on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. These represent his sixth and seventh Academy Award nods, dating back to The Shawshank Redemption in 1995. Deakins, in a first, also received two out of five noms from the American Society of Cinematographers for best work on a feature film for No Country and Jesse James.
Both films are, broadly speaking, Westerns. But they occupy opposite poles of the genre in terms of story, setting and look. No Country–directed by Ethan and Joel Coen—is the ninth film for Deakins with the two brothers, dating back to Barton Fink in 1991. Up for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, the movie updates the old-style Western to the 1980s, with a combustible brew of narcotics and violence. Deakins captures the twisty plot, triggered by the discovery of $2 million in a suitcase left at the scene of a drug deal gone awry, with a finely tuned naturalism that adds loads of visual interest without calling attention to itself. “My lighting tends to be naturalistic,” he notes. “I like paring down images and sequences into their very basic elements.”
By contrast, in The Assassination of Jesse James, Deakins depicts the frequently told tale of the 19th century train robber who is killed by a member of his own gang, with luminous imagery that offers a sepia-toned take on the Old West. Director Andrew Dominick “had in mind this kind of warm tone and he wanted the shadows to look as if they were encased in amber,” recalls the DP.
Deakins’ versatility was recently on display on yet a third film released in 2007, The Valley of Elah, about a father’s hunt for his son who has returned from Iraq but has mysteriously disappeared. The cinematography underlines the film’s milieu with a desaturated look that’s subtly tinged with the color of Army green.
The DP doesn’t like to repeat himself, as evidenced by the range of films he’s photographed from Sid and Nancy and Kundun to A Beautiful Mind and Jarhead. “I think of each film as very different and that’s what draws me to different projects,” said Deakins.
If there’s a commonality in his technique, it’s in the way he frames images. “I always operate the camera myself, so the framing is very important to me, even more important than the lighting,” he observes. “I started out shooting documentaries, which was less about the lighting and more about the contents of the frame.”
Deakins recently finished Revolutionary Road, working as DP for the first time with director Sam Mendes. He is presently filming Doubt, directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his Pulitizer Prize winning play about a duel of wits and morality between a nun and a priest.
– Jack Egan
2008 Nominations
Oscar, Best Cinematography, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men
ASC Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country for Old Men
BAFTA Film Award, Best Cinematography, No Country for Old Men
2002 Wins
ASC Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, The Man Who Wasn’t There
BAFTA Film Award, The Man Who Wasn’t There
AFI Cinematographer of the Year Award, The Man Who Wasn’t There
2002 Nomination
Oscar, Best Cinematography, The Man Who Wasn’t There
2001 Wins
British Society of Cinematographers, Best Cinematography, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Camerimage, Special Award, To a Team for Outstanding Achievements in the Art of Cinematography, shared with Joel and Ethan Coen
2001 Nominations
Oscar, Best Cinematography, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
ASC Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
BAFTA Film Award, Best Cinematography, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
1998 Nominations
Oscar, Best Cinematography, Kundun
ASC Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for a theatrical Releases, Kundun
1997 Nominations
Oscar, Best Cinematography, Fargo
ASC Award Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, Fargo
BAFTA Film Award, Best Cinematography, Fargo
1995 Wins
ASC Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases, The Shawshank Redemption
Camerimage, Bronze Frog, The Shawshank Redemption
1995 Nominations
Oscar, Best Cinematography, The Shawshank Redemption
British Society of Cinematographers, Best Cinematography, The Shawshank Redemption
1994 Nomination
British Society of Cinematographers, Best Cinematography, The Hudsucker Proxy

Written by Jack Egan

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