As a 12-time Oscar nominee for his cinematography, he was behind the visuals of such classics as "The Shawshank Redemption," "Fargo," "A Beautiful Mind," and "Skyfall," to name a few.
His latest project, "Sicario" (in theaters October 2), continues his top-flight work as he takes us across the boarder into Mexico to give us a gritty look at the drug war.
But we couldn't help but reflect with him about his other classics. While talking at the Toronto International Film Festival, he revealed the three titles that stick out for him the most.
1. "Kundun" (1997)
Deakins teamed with Martin Scorsese for this biopic on Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama that was a jolt for Scorsese fans who know him for his look at the underworld. With a paltry lifetime box office of less than $6 million in the US, the film has been utterly forgotten. But for Deakins, the experience of shooting the film for Scorsese, which has been the only time the two legends have teamed up, was a memorable one.
"I love the film," Deakins told Business Insider. "There's something very special about it, as it's not strictly literal. There are shots that are so evocative and hit you."
2. "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001)
"I think of all the films I've worked on, that film, to me, everything fits like a little complex jigsaw puzzle," he said. "The way the [Coens] did it, and how it's structured with a variety of mood. It was the hardest film to do that, and they really succeeded."
3. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (2007)
A film that is quickly becoming a modern-day classic thanks to Deakins' poetic shots giving a look we've never seen before from a western. Brad Pitt plays the aging outlaw Jesse James in the final years of his life, leading up to him being killed by a member of his gang, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck).
"I love that movie so much because it really captured the lyricism of the book," Deakins said, referring to the Ron Hansen novel the movie is based on. "It has similarities to 'Kundun' in not being literal. I think films these days have become too literal and too dialogue, plot-driven. 'Jesse James' has shots in it that have nothing to do with the plot, but you can get away with it, and that's what I love about film. It's not always about narrative. There's just things you couldn't express any other way but through film."