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The Best Videos of Our Oscars

March 24, 1991|JOE SALTZMAN

It's Oscar time again. On March 25, the best picture of 1990 will be announced at the annual Academy Awards.

Almost every previous winner is available on videotape and disc, including last year's Driving Miss Daisy (99 minutes Warner tape and laser video disc).

The list of winners is an exceptionally lively one starting with the 1928 winner Wings (139 minutes, Paramount tape and laser video disc). This epic silent film contains some of the best dogfight sequences ever put on film (former pilot William Wellman directed).

The plot is slow, the actors (Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen) wooden, if sincere, but even on the small screen the battle scenes are tremendous. Be sure not to miss a short but impressive performance by a young, tall actor who shows incredible presence--Gary Cooper.

Before Oscar night rolls around, you might want to schedule several evenings of best picture double bills. Pop the popcorn and you're on your way. The envelope please...

It Happened One Night (1934) and Casablanca (1943): This romantic double bill will have you laughing and crying with two of the most popular, romantic best pictures ever selected.

"It Happened One Night" (105 minutes, RCA/Columbia Pictures tape and laser video disc) won five major Oscars, including one for its director, Frank Capra. The witty script was adapted by Robert Riskin. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert offer delightful performances that seem to be spontaneous.

Scenes to replay: "The Walls of Jericho" (a hanging blanket that separates Gable and Colbert, who are forced to share a motel room); Gable showing Colbert the proper way to hitchhike and Colbert getting the last laugh; the piggyback ride argument as Gable carries Colbert across a stream; the how-to-dunk-doughnuts-the-correct-way sequence.

"Casablanca" (102 minutes, MGM/UA tape and disc; special Criterion standard play laser video disc edition) may not be the best picture of all time, but it certainly is one of the most entertaining. It has everything: Hollywood's top stars (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman); one of the most memorable film theme songs in history ("As Time Goes By"); a batch of lovable character actors (Dooley Wilson as Sam, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet), a noble hero (Paul Henreid), an evil villain (Conrad Veidt), plus sentimentality and sacrifice, patriotism and bravery.

Scenes to replay: Bergman asking Sam to "play it"; a drunken Bogart doing the same thing--if she can stand it so can he; any scene with Bogart and Bergman together; the incredibly romantic and sentimental final scene with Bogart and Rains walking off into the foggy night.

The Sting (1973) and Oliver! (1968): one of the most stylistic, clever comedy-dramas paired with what could easily be the finest motion picture musical-drama. This makes for a great family night at the movies.

"The Sting" (129 minutes, MCA tape and laser video disc) won seven Oscars, including ones for the deviously witty screenplay by David Ward and the warm, nostalgic score made up of music by Scott Joplin (nicely arranged by Marvin Hamlisch). In this classic buddy movie, two con men--one boyish (Robert Redford) and the other experienced (Paul Newman)--go after a New York hood (Robert Shaw) responsible for the death of one of their pals. It's one big surprise after another with director George Roy Hill assembling his film one neatly polished piece at a time. The only drawback on the small screen is the wide-screen format.

Scenes to replay: The opening titles and any of the title transitions salted throughout the film; the card game on the train between Newman and Shaw; Redford's escapes, once when he notices his apartment door has been tampered with, another time from a coffee shop; Shaw trying to get a bet down; the extraordinary sequence in which Redford is almost killed by a hit man, and the grand finale. Few films have been so funny and suspenseful at the same time.

"Oliver!" (145 minutes, RCA/Columbia Pictures tape and laser video disc) is a superb musical translation by Lionel Bart of the Charles Dickens classic "Oliver Twist." Sir Carol Reed, who made some of the great suspense films of the 1940s and '50s, has created a true moving picture in which plot, song, action and dance all merge into one delightful whole. Unlike so many musicals, the songs and dances don't interrupt the action, they form a continuous story. The production numbers (staged by choreographer Onna White and Reed) are rousing and the popular score always seems appropriate.

This is one film that should be seen in its original big-screen format. The pathetic video version is panned and scanned to death, a process that almost destroys the film. It's criminal not to be able to see the dance numbers in all of their glory. A letter-boxed version is desperately needed.

Scenes to replay should include every musical number, from the nonstop beginning with its exquisite opening in the orphanage ("Please Sir, I want some more") to the ending with Oliver being sent to the funeral parlor; in between are the rousing "Consider Yourself" production number with the Artful Dodger (a spunky Jack Wild) to Ron Moody's oozing Fagin in "Pick a Pocket or Two." Other key scenes: Oliver running from the law after being falsely accused of picking a rich man's pocket; the stalking of Nancy (Shani Wallis) by Bill Sikes (played by a truly menacing Oliver Reed) and the subsequent terrifying finale.

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