Roger Deakins: The Ten Best Cinematographers working today

86th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
It’s time for a new weekly series folks! Yes, starting today I want to try a new series on for size. Much like how I looked at the best winners in almost every Academy Award field, I want to now turn my attention towards individuals (specifically those active in the field), starting with cinematographers. Basically, this first one will look at the best Directors of Photography currently working in the business. There’s tons of amazing DP’s in the industry so this is clearly going to be a divisive list. Still, that’s part of the fun of it as well! Hopefully you all enjoy and this becomes a weekly or at least monthly series…

Before I get to the list, I’m going to quickly explain what will be happening below. In short, I’ll be listing ten DP’s/cinematographers that I think are the best in the business right now. That excludes retired and deceased DP’s, in case you were wondering. Also, I clearly could go 20 or 30 strong, so there will be some big snubs here. I might do a follow up at some point, but that’s not for right now. Here I’ll briefly explain why they earned a spot and list their best outing to date. It’s that simple. Alright, here goes nothing ladies and gentlemen!

Behold my list for the ten best cinematographers working today:

10. Jeff Cronenweth – A perfect match for filmmaker David Fincher, Cronenweth displays a great knack for translating Fincher’s view of the world to the screen. Often dark, sometimes antiseptic, but always carefully thought out, they’re a terrific team (just look at everything from Fight Club to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to Gone Girl to The Social Network). A two time Academy Award nominee, he’s still a rising star. They’re both going to win Oscars someday soon, mark my words. (Best work to date: Fight Club)

9. Ben Richardson – A name not many people are intimately familiar with, Richardson is a real up and comer. He’s not flashy, but he displays a versatility that is really underrated. From Beasts of the Southern Wild to The Fault in Our Stars, he can basically do it all. I expect big things from him in the years to come. (Best work to date: The Fault in Our Stars)

8. Matthew Libatique – Nominated for his brilliant work on Black Swan, Libatique is Darren Aronofsky’s go-to DP. The cinematographer has also impressed with The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream, to name two other top tier works, along with Iron Man for something completely different. He’s malleable as well, going from smooth to handheld with no issues whatsoever. I’m a big fan of him. (Best work to date: The Fountain)

7. Greig Fraser – Between Foxcatcher, Killing Them Softly, and Zero Dark Thirty, Fraser is the definition of a gritty cinematographer. He gets down and dirty, looking at men and woman as they go about their lives under a microscope. He’s someone who has yet to be nominated for Best Cinematography but is on the fast track to rectifying that. (Best work to date: Zero Dark Thirty)

6. Robert Elswit – A winner for There Will Be Blood and a nominee for Good Night and Good Luck, Elswit is a classy DP who often works with Paul Thomas Anderson. For example, Boogie Nights and Magnolia are two of his crowning achievements. He’s displayed some great range too, something that’s very common on this list, if you’re paying attention. (Best work to date: Magnolia)

5. Bradford Young – In a very short time, Young has become the next big thing in the cinematography world. Just last year, he came close to his first nod for the duo of A Most Violent Year and Selma. He caught a lot of people’s attention with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and he’s going to keep catching the eye of important folks as he moves forward. Mark my words…he’ll be a multi time nominee before too long. (Best work to date: A Most Violent Year)

4. Hoyte van Hoytema – I have a hunch that van Hoytema is going to be the best in the business in about a decade. Last year he blew me away with Interstellar and the year before impressed me greatly with Her. He has a talent for depicting the future, as well as the recent past with The Fighter, so keep following him. He’s going places. (Best work to date: Interstellar)

3. Janusz Kaminski – A legend who often works with Steven Spielberg, Kaminski is simply one of the best at what he does. He’s responsible for both Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. I rest my case. Throw in Minority Report, among many others, and he’s status as an icon for cinematographers everywhere is undisputed, and rightly so. (Best work to date: Saving Private Ryan)

2. Emmanuel Lubezki – Up until the last few years, Lubezski was mostly known for his beautiful cinematography and always being an Oscar bridesmaid instead of a bride. Back to back wins for Gravity and Birdman have changed that of course, so now he’s the near king of the field that folks already held him up to be, especially in the last decade, where he also shot The Tree of Life, among other works. (Best work to date: Gravity)

1. Roger Deakins – My pick for the best in the business right now, Deakins is the most overdue cinematographer ever, if you ask me. Just look at this partial bit of his resume: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Barton Fink, No Country for Old Men, Prisoners, The Shawshank Redemption, and Skyfall. That would be more than a career’s worth for many, but that’s just a drop in the bucket for Deakins. It’s a crime that he’s yet to win an Oscar for Best Cinematography, but until that day arrives, this small honor will have to do. He’s going to have an Academy Award eventually though, he’s just too good not to win at some point. (Best work to date: The Shawshank Redemption)

Stay tuned for another list of this sort very soon!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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