02/07/2014 09:48 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2014

George Clooney Celebrates Monuments Men at the Metropolitan Club

On Tuesday night with an ice storm looming, George Clooney worked the room, a very big room. The elegant Metropolitan Club featured its signature ice sculptures dripping over the raw bar; with its ceiling paintings, this was an opulent and fitting locale for Monuments Men, a movie about the recovered art of Europe during World War II. Honoring the rescuers, a dream cast includes Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban in what must be called an extended buddy movie directed by George Clooney, and based on a true story from a book by Robert Edsel. Affable, fixing a fan or friend with a steady gaze and an arm firm on the shoulder, Clooney fielded questions about the film's casting. He'd see Balaban at parties, and at one for the movie Argo, he and co-producer Grant Heslov had a Eureka! moment, deciding to cast the versatile bespectacled actor.

The lavish premiere soiree, co-sponsored by Larry Gagosian, had a six degrees of separation feel. Alfonso Cuaron, director of Gravity, Clooney's other movie this year, chatted with Sofia Coppola. Recently selected for Best Director by the Directors Guild of America, he said he was understandably pleased with the accolades. John Goodman greeted Joel Coen, director of his other movie this year, Inside Llewyn Davis. Jean Dujardin took cigarette breaks in between talking about his role in Wolf of Wall Street, his other movie this year. 'A Sweees bankair," he said of his part in which he famously improvises in French and English. And Balaban, tied to Downtown Abbey through his inspired work on its predecessor, Robert Altman's Gosford Park, introduced friends to the British series' star, Hugh Bonneville. As Lord Grantham he's formidable in dinner tux. Here, less formal, the actor and his wife Lola posed for pictures with servicemen in full uniform. Balaban was off to Berlin the next day for the film festival's opening night and the new Wes Anderson film, his other movie this year.

In the next room, Nora Sagal, Clooney's god-daughter crooned, backed by a jazz band. She sings in Monuments Men. Clooney said he used to give her recordings from his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, and now listen to her. We did. She was bringing down the house with "My Funny Valentine."

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is honoring the Monuments Men who were affiliated with the museum: The Monuments Men at the Met: Treasures Saved During World War II. Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum both online and in person can discover 11 selected paintings that were saved and restituted to their rightful owners by the Monuments Men.

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