Every year Oscar pundits say the same thing: this is Roger Deakins’ year to finally win. La La Land took home the Cinematography Oscar last year, but that was okay because everyone knew Deakins had Blade Runner 2049 coming up and sight unseen it already felt like no way he could lose for that one. Even though it’s a sequel, even though it’s a genre movie – THIS is finally his year.
Last year around this time we wrote up his work in the Coen Brothers’ magnificently shot Hail, Caesar. There was no better cinematography last year than the work Deakins did for that film, and yet he wasn’t even nominated.
Last year people were already talking about this year, even though cinematography often goes to a strong Best Picture contender. But we’ll get to that. First, here’s Deakins’ 22-year Academy history:
He was last nominated when he worked with Denis Villeneuve on Prisoners, and again on Sicario. Now the two are teaming up again for Blade Runner 2049, which looks beautiful indeed but without Best Picture heat it may not a sure bet that he wins, unless you’re looking at a beloved vet win — as we’ve sometimes seen happen. Let’s look at the Best Cinematography winner over the past 20 years, an asterisk* means a Best Picture nomination, and a + sign indicates a Best Picture winner.
1997 — Titanic+
1998 — Saving Private Ryan*
1999 — American Beauty+
2000 — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*
2001 — Fellowship of the Ring*
2002 — Road to Perdition (posthumous to Conrad L. Hall)
2003 — Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World*
2004 — The Aviator*
2005 — Memoirs of a Geisha
2006 — Pan’s Labyrinth (no Best Picture contenders were nominated)
2007 — There Will be Blood*
2008 — Slumdog Millionaire+
2009 — Avatar*
2010 — Inception*
2011 — Hugo*
2012 — Life of Pi*
2013 — Gravity*
2014 — Birdman+
2015 — The Revenant*
2016 — La La Land*
As of now, Deakins is tired with George Folsey for 13 nominations and no wins. One more winless nomination and he will have the record of the most nominations for cinematography with no wins.
What is odd about Deakins is that it isn’t as though he’s a blend-in kind of cinematographer. He’s known as the best in the business, which it makes it kind of bizarre that he never won.
I hope he wins. The film looks, as usual, beautifully shot. But the movie has to be really good. It has to be good enough to overcome the Best Picture stigma (Assuming Blade Runner 2049 is not nominated for BP. If it is? Game over.)
Movies do win without Best Picture heat – it’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but it certainly helps.