Year's silver-screen gold and a diamond celebration


NEW YORK -- The best movie I've seen so far this year: Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." The title the most people have trouble remembering: "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." The most difficult title to remember correctly: "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." The title least worth trying to remember: "The Assassination of Jesse ... etc." Most difficult titles to keep straight: "Gone Baby Gone" and "Grace Is Gone." Most misleading title: "There Will Be Blood," which makes it sound like a slasher movie, especially in a year in which blood has been flowing in movies like a broken faucet. A movie in which too much blood flows for the film's own good: "Sweeney Todd," which otherwise is a stunner, as much a treat for the eyes and the ears as any film this year. Most overrated movie, with the worst ending: "No Country for Old Men." Best actors of 2007: Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" and Frank Langella in "Starting Out in the Evening." Best actress: Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose." Most welcome comeback into our consciousness: Julie Christie, 1965's Oscar winner for the then-daring "Darling," now again a cinch to be a leading Academy Awards contender for "Away From Her." ... Something to celebrate next week besides Christmas and Boxing Day: the 75th birthday of New York's stately Radio City Music Hall, justifiably self-proclaimed from the start as "the showplace of the nation" and still one of the primary destinations for anyone making a visit to the Big Apple. (Its current Christmas show, which comes complete with high-kicking Rockettes, elves, skaters and camels, has received extremely high marks from reviewers.) It was on Dec. 27, 1932, that the mammoth, 6,200-seat structure at Sixth Avenue and 50th in the heart of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center first opened its doors, not with the stage-and-screen show policy as later became the norm but with the intention of presenting twice-daily variety bills. So far, so good, except that the inaugural program turned out to be a disaster, an over-produced, bloated show that lasted nearly six hours (a long sit!), not finishing until 2:30 a.m. Much too much of a good thing, that bill included a 100-piece symphony orchestra, Martha Graham and a ballet troupe, turns by dancers Ray Bolger and the Berry Brothers, comedians Weber & Fields, singer Jan Peerce, actors DeWolfe Hopper and Taylor Holmes doing monologues and countless others including a group of 36 precision dancers known as the Roxyettes, named in honor of the man who spearheaded the idea of the theater in the first place, "Roxy" Rothafel. (When "Roxy" left the organization and moved on, those dancers were renamed the Rockettes, as a nod to Rockefeller Center's founding fathers.) Word-of-mouth for the opening show was, understandably, poor. The theater itself, however, with its 100-foot-wide, semi-circular stage designed to look like the outline of a sun rising at sea, wowed the customers, and within two weeks a new format was in place: Beginning Jan. 12, 1933, the Hall presented its initial stage-and-screen show (first movie: "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" with Barbara Stanwyck, accompanied by an hourlong stage extravaganza) and continued that policy for the next 47 years. Today it is New York's premier performance arena and still a jaw-dropper for anyone who steps for the first time into its magnificent lobby and cavernous auditorium. Happy No. 75 to this unmatchable Manhattan landmark, a viable entertainment center in 2007 and a treasured link to Hollywood's fabled past.