Robert Downey Jr. Honored With American Cinematheque Award

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Jennifer Aniston, Mel Gibson, Jamie Foxx and Jodie Foster were on hand to fete "The Avengers" and "Sherlock Holmes" star Friday night in Beverly Hills.

It said something about Robert Downey, Jr. that of all the people he could have picked to present him with his American Cinematheque award, he chose Mel Gibson.

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Downey accepted the award by saying that Gibson had advised him to “hug the cactus” of embracing humility and asking forgiveness when he was trying to overcome drug abuse. He then said, “Unless you are without sin  -- and if you are, you’re in the wrong f***** industry – you should forgive him and let him work again.”

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The Oct 14th dinner at the Beverly Hilton had begun with an exceptionally clever clip of Jamie Foxx, Garry Shandling and Gibson in a “brainstorming session” trying to think of things to make the dinner more interesting.

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What got the most laughs was Foxx complaining that Downey’s playing a black man in Tropic Thunder could ruin things for Black actors. “So what’s he going to do next?” asked Foxx. “Some day he’s going to play Martin Luther King?”

The dinner then segued into the classic pattern of speakers who then introduced clips.

Jodie Foster played the tape from her own Cinematheque dinner when Downey called in from the state prison where he was incarcerated, saying he was “on location” and wished her a good night. “His beautiful brain has no off switch and no caution button,” she said.

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There were then clips and speakers who included Anthony Hopkins; Downey’s pregnant wife Susan; and his father Robert showing part of a 1969 experimental film he made in which his four year-old son played the part of a human acting as a dog who needed to be adopted or die. “We couldn’t afford a babysitter that day so we brought him along,” said the father in a thick New York accent.

Jennifer Aniston noted that she knew Downey when “he never let his career get in the way of his commitment to hard-core, classic Grade A drugs.” Anthony Michael Hall, who was with Downey in Weird Science, said he “had a hard time getting time off from Burt Reynolds’s dinner theater in Jupiter, Florida. We’re doing Cats.” And Jack Black called the honoree a “stone-cold, stud muffin.”

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Michael Douglas praised Downey’s ability to be “more open in front of a camera than he is in life. It’s a license for freedom.” Jon Favreau might have been stretching it a bit in saying that “not since Joseph in the Bible went from prison to prophecy” has there been a life transformation like Downey’s. And Joel Silver recounted in some detail the honoree’s penchant for defecting on the trailer floor of co-star who had gotten on his nerves. “I felt like a camp counselor having to deal with this,” said Silver.

Guy Ritchie and Jared Harris both spoke of Downey’s work on Sherlock Holmes and introduced a clip from the upcoming sequel.

But it was Gibson presenting the award that got the biggest ovation. He recalled hiring Downey for 1990’s Air America and being warned that the actor might have some personal issues; meeting him, and then deciding, “Nah, he’s OK.” He paused and said, “Mind you, you have to remember the person making the judgment.”

If there was anything wrong with the evening, it is that unlike in years past, this one, which was one of the best, won’t be televised.