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Films and Stars That Deserve Oscars

The Monitor's critic looks at the movies that, nominated or not, represent the best of 1990 ACADEMY AWARDS NIGHT

TONIGHT'S much-awaited Academy Award ceremony will give the Hollywood version of 1990's best achievements. Looking at the year from a vantage point outside the industry, however, things may look a little different - which explains why many moviegoers are sure to disagree with some or all of Oscar's own selections. Here is an alternative list of who and what deserves to win. Best picture: "GoodFellas" is nominated in this category, but it's surely the longest shot in the race for the top prize, since director Martin Scorsese is a maverick who's never settled into the usual Hollywood patterns. His unconventional look at New York hoodlums really was the year's best movie, though. It has significant flaws - it's too long, the last 30 minutes seem to come from a different screenplay, and Mr. Scorsese has explored similar territory in better films. But its performances are aston ishing, its technical mastery never falters, and the self-destructive nature of greed and violence has never been more convincingly exposed. Three cheers.

Best director: It would be logical to choose Scorsese here, but to keep things varied I'll favor another brilliant maverick who isn't among the contenders tonight: Charles Burnett, whose drama "To Sleep With Anger" tells the story of an ordinary Los Angeles family coping with a very peculiar house guest. One of the rare films to treat blacks as just plain Americans, this moving tale gains much of its power from fine performances by Danny Glover and others, and much from Mr. Burnett's cinematic style, as eloquent as it is restrained.

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Burnett isn't a newcomer - he has earlier films and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" to his credit - but last year's accomplishment puts him solidly on the list of top-rank talents to watch.

Best actress: The most unexpected triumph of the year was Kathy Bates as the muddy-minded villain of "Misery," otherwise a crisp but less-than-monumental psychological thril- ler. I find plenty of deserving runners-up in this category, though, including luminous Joanne Woodward in "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge," sensitive Blair Brown in the underrated "Strapless," versatile Meg Ryan in the equally underrated "Joe Versus the Volcano," and even Laura Dern in the weirded-out "Wild at Heart."

Best actor: Speaking of weirded-out, Jeremy Irons makes eccentricity an art form in "Reversal of Fortune," in which he plays real-life murder defendant Claus Von Bulow with a unique mixture of oddball audacity and sheer acting brilliance.

My list of runners-up includes every male with a sizable role in "GoodFellas."

Best supporting actress: Whoopi Goldberg is fun to watch in "Ghost" and quietly touching in "The Long Walk Home," even though neither film is nearly up to her talent. (She really plays a starring role in "The Long Walk Home," but the movie is engineered so that Sissy Spacek gets most of the memorable shots.) Chief runners-up are Mary McDonnell in "Dances With Wolves" and Lorraine Bracco in "GoodFellas," with special mention for Jennifer Jason Leigh in both "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Miami Blues."

Best supporting actor: Bruce Davison gives a deeply compassionate performance in "Longtime Companion," especially when comforting his AIDS-afflicted lover in the drama's most memorable scene. Runners-up include Graham Greene as the holy man in "Dances With Wolves" and Al Pacino in the mostly forgettable "Dick Tracy," plus almost every man with a secondary role in "GoodFellas."

Best screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala took a pair of novels that seemed unfilmable because they had no conventional story - just the detailed chronicle of an ordinary midwestern marriage - and turned them into "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge," one of the year's richest achievements. Credit also goes to Evan S. Connell, who wrote the books, and to director James Ivory, who brought Ms. Jhabvala's screenplay to glowing life. Runners-up include Burnett's gentle "To Sleep With Anger" and Whit Stillman's extraordinary deb ut effort, "Metropolitan."

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Best foreign-language film: "Ju Dou" from China and "Open Doors" from Italy are masterful works, but "The Nasty Girl" from Germany edges them out with its biting yet darkly humorous commentary on the Holocaust and its still-living legacy. Michael Verhoeven directed this unpredictable fable, featuring Lena Stolz in an equally unpredictable performance.

Best documentary: "American Dream," filmmaker Barbara Kopple's look at a strike against a Midwest meat-packing plant has never opened commercially. But it was last year's best nonfiction film, packed with complex and troubling observations about the American labor movement.

If enough people keep saying this, some courageous distributor might actually bring it to theatrical screens. Runners-up are "Berkeley in the Sixties," by Mark Kitchell, an intelligent look at a turbulent subject; "Mr. Hoover and I," the last film by master documentarian Emile de Antonio; and "The Big Bang," an unconventional talking-head movie by James Toback.

Among the technical categories, I'd honor "Edward Scissorhands" for its art direction, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" for Sasha Vierney's cinematography, and "GoodFellas" for Thelma Schoonmaker's split-second editing.

Only the last of these is nominated tonight, which shows why the academy's choices should - like most of Hollywood's activities - be taken with a large dash of skepticism!

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