I stand before you today a reformed hater of Ben Affleck.

Trust me, five years ago I was an outspoken opponent of the man, lighting quick with the snarky 'Gigli' jab; and a regular, casual dropper of the phrase "that a**hole Ben Affleck."

But why did I despise Ben Affleck? Because of a few offensively bad bombs like 'Pearl Harbor,' 'Gigli' and 'Daredevil'? Because he had the nerve to date and then propose to Jennifer Lopez? Because everyone else suddenly did? I'm not really sure.
In the late '90s, Affleck was the intelligent and witty wunderkind behind the triumph 'Good Will Hunting,' who had an eye for classic material ('Dazed and Confused,''Chasing Amy,''Boiler Room') and who stayed loyal to his blue-collar roots in his hometown of Boston. But after the turn of the century, Affleck was the smarmy elitist snob from the overrated 'Good Will Hunting,' who made s***ty movies ('Paycheck,''Jersey Girl,''Surviving Christmas') and who wouldn't stop shoving his love for the Red Sawx down our throats.

You could point to a very specific time period when the world turned against Affleck: 2002. It was the year Affleck appeared in a couple moderately successful thrillers, 'Changing Lanes' and 'The Sum of All Fears,' but importantly, it was the year he fell for "Jenny From the Block."

Their union just so happened to correspond with the boom of celebrity tabloids: Where there was once just PEOPLE Magazine, now there were at least 10 successful imitators, and they couldn't get enough of "Bennifer," the not-so-honored recipients of the First Celebrity Couple portmanteau. The public reacted by to the couple's overexposure by at first obsessing over them, then quickly letting that obsession morph into seething hatred. So they (we) hated them, but at the same time, couldn't get enough of them.

It didn't help that what followed were two awful creative collaborations, 'Gigli' and 'Jersey Girl,' plus Affleck's unsightly turn as a blind, red leather-clad superhero in 'Daredevil.' But was the public really upset with his disappointing artistic output? Nobody hates Hugh Jackman even though 'Wolverine' pretty much sucked, and he's also made the abominable 'Van Helsing,' 'Australia' and 'Swordfish' (in fact, despite his crimes against good taste, I kind of love Jackman, one of the nicest and most genuine people in Hollywood).

There's also the issue of politics, of course, since Affleck is an outspoken liberal. But anyone who hates Affleck for his political views must also hate Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks and, really, the majority of Hollywood. So that point's irrelevant here.

Whatever the case, Affleck, publicly recognizing his sudden unpopularity, did the wisest thing an overexposed celebrity could do -- pay attention, Paris Hilton -- he went away. After his 2004 dud 'Christmas,' Affleck wasn't heard from again (aside from tabloid reports on his marriage to another Jennifer, this one named Garner) until 2006's 'Hollywoodland.'

His supporting turn as fallen TV Superman George Reeves in 'Hollywoodland' was widely acclaimed, a comeback role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Affleck used publicity interviews for the movie to both chastise the outrageousness of the celebrity media and also (somewhat) apologize for the lackluster movies he'd made. He claimed he didn't want to be an A-list star in the limelight anymore. It wasn't worth it.

Affleck's come through on that vow. He's taken supporting roles in movies like 'Smokin' Aces,''He's Just Not That Into You' and 'State of Play,' and made a startling impression behind the camera with his directorial debut, the excellent 'Gone Baby Gone.'

And no role singlehandedly defines Affleck 2.0 like his latest, that of a longhaired and scruffy stoner-slacker in Mike Judge's new comedy 'Extract' (think the Diedrich Bader sidekick in 'Office Space'). Affleck steals every scene he's in, and reminds us why we took to the Bostonian in the first place. Here he's coarse, foulmouthed, and freaking funny.

Despite the actor's reinvention, haters still abound. As "noobular" suggested on an IMDB message board recently, "I hate this guy ... Someone should punch him in that gigantic chin of his." Several other threads on his page included the word "douche" in the subject line.

But forget the haters. Affleck is a good dude, a good actor, and a damn good director, it turns out. Who's ready to jump back on the bandwagon with me?

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