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Hanks for the Memory, and Lange Too : Home entertainment: The Oscar-winning actor and actress are well represented on video.

March 31, 1995|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winning an Oscar always boosts interest in renting the past movies of each year's lucky four actors and actresses. Industrious retailers help by putting their old films on display.

Cassettes of movies starring best actor winner Tom Hanks, some retailers report, are renting briskly again, particularly "Philadelphia," featuring his performance as a man with AIDS that earned him the best actor Oscar last year. So is "Big," the fantasy comedy/drama for which he received a best actor nomination in 1988 and which, until "Forrest Gump," was his most popular role--playing a child locked in a man's body.

Many retailers are already spotlighting movies with best actress winner Jessica Lange ("Blue Sky")--and she has plenty to spotlight. Lange was in a tight race with Meryl Streep for the title of best American actress of the 1980s. Be careful with Lange's movies, though. She's made a career out of being the best thing in a so-so movie.

Consider her most prominent movies, all dramas: "Frances" (1982), the biography of psychotic actress Frances Farmer; "Country" (1984), about a farm family in financial crisis; "Sweet Dreams" (1985), the biography of country singer Patsy Cline; "Men Don't Leave" (1990), the story of a widow struggling to raise her children, and "Music Box" (1989), about a lawyer defending her father, who's accused of being a Nazi war criminal.

Lange is terrific in all these movies, but none--in terms of writing and direction--is exceptional.

Lange won a best supporting actress Oscar for 1982's "Tootsie," which is a first-rate comedy-drama--but not because of Lange. Kudos for this one belong to star Dustin Hoffman, as the actor who disguises himself as a woman to get a plum TV role, and to director Sydney Pollack.

Don't be lured by the cast--Lange, Sissy Spacek and Diane Keaton--in the 1986 black comedy "Crimes of the Heart," about three oddball Southern sisters. Performances are fine but the movie suffers from strained kookiness. Other Lange movies to skip: "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1981), with Jack Nicholson; "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1985), with Tommy Lee Jones; "Everybody's All-American" (1988), with Dennis Quaid, and "Night and the City" (1992), with Robert De Niro.

If seeing supporting actor winner Martin Landau in "Ed Wood" inspires you to see another of his movies, try "Crimes and Misdemeanors," a 1989 Woody Allen movie filled with interlocking comic and tragic tales. In an even better performance, Landau plays a distraught married man who's trying to end an affair.

There aren't a lot of great movies in the career of Dianne Wiest, the supporting actress winner for "Bullets Over Broadway." But retailers have dusted off "Hannah and Her Sisters," the 1986 Woody Allen comedy-drama that earned Wiest her first supporting actress Oscar. This is by far her best movie, but she's also good in "Parenthood" (1989), director Ron Howard's entertaining, star-studded film that examines parenthood from many angles.

Though it missed out on the major awards, the nominations really boosted interest in "Pulp Fiction," which has been steadily piling up money on the second-run circuit. It's doing so well in theaters that its video release has been delayed until late summer. Meanwhile, the film's success has turned many onto the other movie by writer-director Quentin Tarantino: his brutal 1992 drama, "Reservoir Dogs." Some retailers report that this has been a popular rental since the nominations were announced in early February.

When are the other Oscar winners coming to video?

The big one, Paramount's "Forrest Gump," is due April 28; Touchstone's "Ed Wood" and Orion's "Blue Sky" are coming April 18, and Miramax's "Bullets Over Broadway" is scheduled for May 16.

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Special-Interest Videos: This is a great year for documentaries on video, with New Line's "Hoop Dreams" coming up and Kino's "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" just out. Another brilliant documentary came out this week, "Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer," on Fox Lorber/Orion. On one level it's a chilling look at this lesbian prostitute who killed some of her clients in Florida in 1989-90. What makes it special, though, is its cynical take on what happened to those surrounding Wuornos during the media blitz.

Another outstanding documentary is "World War II--Breadlines to Boomtimes," which shows how the United States spiraled out of the Depression in the late '30s to prosperity as a result of the economic boost provided by the war in the early '40s. It includes some fascinating old footage. From Monterey, the three-tape set sells for $70--or $25 per tape.

In case you missed any of that fine, comprehensive "History of Rock 'N' Roll" series shown recently on TV, it's available on video through Time-Life. Each tape in the 10-tape set sells for $24. Information: (800) 241-2400.

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