Cinematheque fetes thesp

Friday’s American Cinematheque Award dinner had both an upside and a downside: The film org demonstrated its mastery of the award gala format; the BevHilton showed it had forgotten how to park cars.

Honoring George Clooney, the nonprofit Cinematheque had its most financially successful kudos dinner in 21 outings. But by 7 p.m. the BevHilton had “run out of parking spots,” leaving scores of arriving guests stuck in a nasty traffic jam that snaked down two driveways.

Adding to the joy, it was raining.

But nothing was going to keep the crowd of stars and execs from the event. What’s usually a tribute became what Clooney himself dubbed “a roast,” but with a political air, as Bill Clinton, John McCain and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined those delivering taped messages.

The aud was in a upbeat mood for a dinner that kicked off with remarks from Cinematheque board chairman Rick Nicita and prexy Henry Shields Jr.

Longtime friend Bonnie Hunt noted the award was not for lifetime achievement, but more a midcareer pat on the back. She then got a laugh by noting if the 45-year-old Clooney “were a woman, it would be for lifetime achievement.”

Clooney’s political activities were mentioned several times, including his recent address to the United Nations on behalf of refugees in Darfur. The kudos spanned both sides of the aisle, with taped praise from McCain (R-Ariz.) and Schwarzenegger (Clooney’s co-star in one of the night’s top punchlines, “Batman & Robin”) as well as Madeleine Albright and Al Gore; Walter Cronkite ended the political seg by intoning, “Good night, and good luck.”

Danny DeVito recalled getting “a backstage tour of the Vatican” with Clooney, while Noah Wyle and Julianna Margulies noted their “ER” co-star’s loyalty to friends “who he hires again and again both before and behind the camera … we’re told.”

Other speakers included Richard Kind, Don Cheadle, Ellen Barkin, Morgan Freeman, Jerry Weintraub and Carl Reiner, who urged Clooney to demonstrate what he considered the honoree’s greatest talent: his impression of Liza Minnelli‘s ex-husband David Gest.

Taped tributes also came from David Letterman, Matt Damon, John Cusack, David Strathairn, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Julia Roberts, who made the award presentation, declared, “Be glad the world has this man in it.”

In accepting, Clooney said he’s “not quite crystal clear” what the American Cinematheque does, “but I’m told it has something to do with American cinema and theque.” He also gave as good as he got, showing the aud embarrassing photos of Damon and Cheadle, among others.

Cabler AMC will air the gala on Dec. 13.

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