By Pola Rosen
The papparazzi lined the walk outside Tavern on the Green recently as Meryl Streep, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, Richard Gere, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Affleck, holding hands with Gweneth Paltrow, entered to receive awards from the 89 year old National Board of Review. Rita Moreno, the only woman to have garnered four awards including the Tony, Emmy and Oscar, hosted the gala dinner.
Meryl Streep presented the Career Achievement Award to Robert Duvall citing his "astonishing body of work for 35 years. He played Ike and Eichman. As an actor, his only interest is the truth." As she continued to speak, her voice broke a little when she compared him to someone she had loved who died: the quality they shared was in bringing "care and delicacy to every character and a modesty to their work." Robert Duvall characterized himself as a "late bloomer and still blooming. Iím always trying to grow and to grow, you have to have heroes." Kasi Lemmons, picking up the award for Directorís Debut from Diahanne Carroll was so excited that she called Rita Moreno, Chita Rivera. Quick-witted Chita delivered a riposte but the faux pas was referred to throughout the evening. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck modestly accepted their award for Special Filmmaking Achievement quipping that in their tuxedos, they were about to apply for jobs as maitre dís. Ben, at his seat, was showered with hugs and kisses from Gweneth Paltrow, clearly not the average waiterís tip. Paltrow was dressed very casually and wore no make-up with her hair pushed back with a simple barrette.
Ishmael Merchant spoke about trying to make Room With a View 12 years ago and trying to raise money from Hollywood Studios. He then gave the Best Actress Award to Helena Bonham Carter, who has had a successful 12 year career. Art Garfunkel, who looks only vaguely the way he did when he and Paul Simon were together years ago, presented the award to Jack Nicholson for Best Actor. Jack, he said, has worked with almost everyone in this room. "He did the first movie in America with Francis Ford Coppola and weíve never recovered." Breakthrough Performer Awardee Bai Ling, from China, evoked tears with her stirring words: "Everything I have is because of my grandmother who taught me how to love." She brought home an important message for drama students and students everywhere: underlying the talent and glitter of the Hollywood and New York film industry, lie hard work, study, and the inspiration and love of mentors.