One of the running gags at Saturday night's 24th annual American Cinematheque Ball was how strange it was to be honoring a movie star who hasn't yet cracked 40. "What can you say about Matt Damon that hasn't been said about Brendan Fraser?" roasted Jimmy Kimmel. "You're here tonight because were running out of stars."
He's right. Truth is, while plenty of older stars and filmmakers deserve awards like this (Clint Eastwood routinely turns them down), Matt Damon is one of the few movie stars with the stature to command the necessary support from the studios and agencies that must wrangle clips, buy tables, line up video tributes from such pals as George Clooney (who pretended to be undergoing a prostate exam), ex-president Bill Clinton (who lauded Damon's humanitarian work for Haiti and Water.org), Ben Stiller, et al. Damon fit the bill perfectly, boasting two studios with Damon franchises. Universal (Bourne) and Warner Bros. (Oceans) both came through, along with the Weinstein Co., Morgan Creek and WME. The best footage came from Entourage (Damon hocks Chase for a big check) and Jimmy Kimmel (Sarah Silverman's "I'm fucking Matt Damon!"). "The worst thing I could say is, you know, Matt Damon is like, maybe he's a perfectionist," said Silverman.
Casey Affleck was even funnier than brother Ben: "He's always been a guy imagining that he was a movie star who pretends to be a good guy," Affleck said, and then displayed a strategically doctored nude photo of Damon (small black rectangle) and himself (large black rectangle). Damon turned beet red.
Among the few folks who stayed dignified in the roast atmosphere were Eastwood, who directed Damon in Invictus (for which he earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination) and the upcoming Hereafter, and Paul Greengrass, who flew in from London to make the Bourne clip intro. Damon pointed out in his hilarious acceptance speech that whenever he cracked Green Zone jokes, everyone laughed except the studio suits at the Universal table. As Damon talked about first meeting Clinton during Good Will Hunting (for which he and Ben Affleck won the screenplay Oscar), he nailed his impersonation of the president. Robin Williams thanked Damon and Affleck for giving him his "Oscar moment."
Long-time Affleck/Damon mentor Harvey Weinstein warmly greeted the duo with a bear hug. He recently bought Affleck's next, Company Men, and told me one of the other TWC movies he's high on is Butter, starring Jennifer Garner.
Affleck's wife introduced her husband as "half of one of the greatest love stories ever told, not with me," she said, reminding that Affleck and Damon grew up together and still talk incessantly about the Red Sox. Damon's "hetero life-mate" Affleck added that he was not receiving this award, but presenting it to the guy who would soon be playing Liberace's boyfriend. "As some of you may know, I started out at the same time as the guy."
In this terrific Q & A with Damon, he talks about working with the Coens on True Grit, why he and Affleck made their deal at Warner Bros., why he didn't make Avatar and how much he looks forward to directing. In that arena, at least, Affleck is ahead of him: Damon said he has seen The Town, which Affleck directs and stars. "It's amazing," he said.