This weekend, I was able to watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for the first time. I really adored this film. While the cast was quite marvelous, cinematographer Roger Deakins seemed to be the star of the film. This is a slow-moving film - but not boring - in which Deakins has a great amount of responsibility. Although this marvel effort in photography was most likely tough to achieve, I can't help but think this is the type of opportunity cinematographers dream about. The average shot length in this film is probably exponentially higher than it is in most other films, and Deakins fills those shots with gorgeous images of snowy landscape and lantern-lit train robberies.

By no means is the film lacking in its other areas. Pitt gives a cryptic, but effective performance in the lead role, and Affleck spearheads a tremendous supporting cast. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - who also did some great work on The Road - is mesmerizing. But I think this is a film that will ultimately be remembered for its cinematography, and rightfully so. I also think it will age well.

It makes me wonder about some of the other great cinematographic efforts from the 2000s. 2007 is obviously a golden year, considering both Deakins' work on No Country for Old Men and Robert Elswit's Oscar-winning work on There Will Be Blood. I think it is the vast landscapes of these two films which give the lensers the same opportunities that Deakins had on Jesse James. Wally Pfister also comes to mind when I think of great cinematographers from the 2000s. His work on The Dark Knight, although in a much different setting than these group of films, is no less effective.

I would love to hear what some of you think about this topic. What are the best cinematographic efforts of the 2000s? There are numerous films I have yet to encounter from the past decade, so recommendations of any kind are encouraged.


Teddy B said...

My 5 favorites:

Eduardo Serra: Unbreakable

Conrad Hall: Road to Perdition

Harry Potter 6: Bruno Delbonnel

Children of Men: Emmanuel Lubezki

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Janusz Kaminski

Joel Dylan said...

Agreed on Jesse James and Diving Bell. Agreed on Children of Men, of course.

I think Wally Pfister was robbed when Anthony Dod Mantle won the Oscar for Slumdog. I did like Mantle's work, though, on Dogville and especially Antichrist.

Deakins for The Man Who Wasn't There--he is a master. Robert Richardson for his work with Tarantino.

Lastly, I thought Tetro and Thirst were beautiful.

Univarn said...

Road to Perdition was just great cinematography, and that would probably be my favorite. I need to watch this a second time, but I quite loved it the first time around. I've said for years Robert Ford was a role Casey Affleck was born to play, and just nailed it. He would have breezed home with an Oscar any other year, but he just so happened to go against the juggernaut of Javier Bardem and Anton Chigurh.

As for cinematography, I agree with Teddy B on Unbreakable. Alwin Kuchler's work on Sunshine is all too often overlooked, so much love goes there.

Danny King said...

My reaction to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" was somewhat muted when I first saw it a few months ago, but I will agree that the cinematography is one of the highlights of the film.

"Road to Perdition" is one I would have mentioned if it were fresher in my mind. It is one of my favorite Sam Mendes films, and whenever I think about the photography in that film, the Newman-Hanks scene in the pouring rain comes immediately to mind.

I actually have "Dogville" sitting at home right now, so I'll try to give that a watch as soon as an opportunity presents itself. The cinematography in "Antichrist" was as haunting as the violence, and I mean that in a respectable way.

I personally would have given the Oscar to Affleck over Bardem, but I agree with Univarn when he says that the latter had a head of steam nobody was going to stop.

Great thoughts so far.

Max Kimble said...

anything by Tim Orr. His work with David Gordon Green this decade has been in the same category as Terrence Malick's pictures.

El Chupanebrey said...

My Favourite 5:

- Roger Deakins: Tie between THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE - marvellous, simply breathtaking. I think these are the most outstanding of Deakins's works in the 2000's (and he has done a few outstanding jobs in these ten years: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, visual consultant for WALL-E...)


- Tom Stern: CHANGELING - there's a great symbiosis between Stern's cinematography and the brilliant art direction.

- Robert Elswit: GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK - black-and-white perfection...


Fitz said...

Wally Pfister (The Prestige, The Dark Knight)

Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Deakins work on Revolutionary Road was beautiful which made the subject matter all the more devastating.

John Gilpatrick said...

I think Children of Men is the best ever for me, but 2007 offered the incredible 5-pack of Diving Bell, Jesse James, No Country, There Will Be Blood, and Atonement. Best year for cinematography ever.

Danny King said...

@ Max: The only film of his I've seen in "Pineapple Express."

@ El Chupanebrey @ Fitz: "Revolutionary Road" is another great piece of work from Deakins. Many of memorable shots from that film. I particularly love the one of the two leads dancing at the beginning.

@ John: All of this "Children of Men" love makes me want to re-watch that film. I hardly remember it.

Jose said...

Edward Lachman "Far From Heaven"
Emmanuel Lubezki "Children of Men"
Christian Berger "The White Ribbon"
Anthony Dod Mantle "Antichrist"
Seamus McGarvey "Atonement"

Anonymous said...

Jesse James the best cinematography of the decade? No way, the whole style of the film is a faceticious imitation of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven.

Danny King said...

@ Max: I will definitely add those to my Netflix queue.

@ Jose: Berger's work on "The White Ribbon" made that film watchable, at least for me.

@ Anon: I haven't seen a Terrence Malick film yet, although many people have compared the feel of "Jesse James" to Malick's films. Sorry I can't offer an opinion on it being an "imitation" or not.

Anonymous said...


The best shot for me is when we meet Dorothy Evans. I love the way Deakins fades out the edges of the frame, as if you are looking at an old photograph from the era.

Marvelous, just marvelous.

Danny King said...

@ James D.: Definitely. I didn't mention Deschanel's brief appearance, but the way she is shot in her introductory scene is quite memorable. That brilliant "old photograph" feel is present in a lot of the third act.

Youn C said...

Another Children of Men fan here.
Ahh, good cinematography is simply priceless.

Also, the unforgettable but controversial opening scene of Antichrist. Simply magnifique!

Danny King said...

@ Youn C: Yes! That "Antichrist" opener is one of the most memorable scenes from 2009.

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