I've been a busy worker bee with the 2nd Annual Coolidge Award this week. We honored Italian Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. If his name doesn't hold the cache of last year's honoree, Zhang Yimou, consider this: Storaro has shot THE CONFORMIST, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, APOCALYPSE NOW, REDS, THE LAST EMPEROR, DICK TRACY and, um, ISHTAR. Impressive, no?

Wednesday's Award Ceremony featured testimonials from the likes of former New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell and ASC president Richard Crudo. Thursday afternoon, we had a cinematographer's discussion panel with Storaro, Crudo, Stefan Czapsky (who shot one of the best films of the '90s), and Albert Maysles, who needs no introduction if you've seen this or that. (Ellen Kuras, Ed Lachmann and Maryse Alberti were also originally scheduled to appear but couldn't make it).

For me, however, the highlight was last night's screening of REDS, with an archival print from Warren Beatty's own collection. I'd been wanting to see this film for years, and it was worth the wait to see it this way. Beatty's masterpiece is a passionate, political epic about Jack Reed, an American journalist-turned-socialist who participated in the 1917 Russian Revolution, and his relationship with Louise Bryant (a rarely better, rarely less "la di da" Diane Keaton). Ingenuously framed by interviews with real "witnesses" from the era, this has an energy, drive and scope that seems all but lost in today's comparatively anonymous, box office, CGI-driven Hollywood. The film's dizzying montage of the Revolution itself, set to a grand, thundering rendition of "The Internationale", is as powerful as anything in CASABLANCA or GONE WITH THE WIND.


Earlier in the week, I also watched MILLIONS. No junkies or zombies in Danny Boyle's first family film, which asks, "What would happen if two young boys found a duffel bag stacked with cash that seemingly just fell from out of the sky?" MILLIONS sort of re-imagines SHALLOW GRAVE as a gentle kid's film where the hero faces an age-old moral crisis: what to do with money that doesn't belong to him. It's an amusing premise fleshed out with melodrama (the boys' mother is recently deceased), religious allusions, and a little satire (the story is set at the time of Pound-to-Euro conversion). On the whole, it's cute but slight; unfortunately, it can't resist adding an unnecessary villain that tampers with the tone. It ultimately has little of the weight of TRAINSPOTTING or even 28 DAYS LATER, but it's encouraging to see Boyle attempting something different.

Finally, I also saw IKIRU, a 1952 film from Akira Kurosawa--a director chiefly known for historical, epic, samurai-heavy fare. This is one of his few contemporary films, a melodrama about Watanabe, a man who finds out he has inoperable stomach cancer. Having wasted most of his life as a civil servant drone, he slowly learns how to make the most of the time he has left, and what he can leave to the world without leaving it feeling useless or unfulfilled. It's a simple, leisurely told tale, fairly straightforward until Watanabe has his epiphany. Then, the film jumps ahead, constructing a modern-day, mini-RASHOMON of itself.

I admit action-oriented epics aren't my thing and most of Kurosawa rarely resonates with me on the same level as, say, Ozu or even Zhang Yimou; perhaps that's why I really enjoyed IKIRU (whereas I merely appreciated THE SEVEN SAMURAI). Although you wish it could be more economically paced at times, IKIRU works because it's essential for the viewer to take that journey and arrive at that conclusion with its protagonist. It is a loving portrait and a societal critique intertwined, equal parts celebration of life and wake-up call to live it fully.