Oscar winners of old come back on disc

If this year's lineup of Academy Award contenders fails to capture your fancy, never fear. Pick up a batch of new DVD releases of Oscar winners of the past, all supplemented by special features shedding light on their place in movie history.

Jack Cardiff, who will receive a special Oscar this year, earned his first Academy Award for his color cinematography in the 1947 "Black Narcissus," which, though set in a remote Himalayan outpost of Roman Catholic nuns, was shot entirely in a London studio. The movie has now been beautifully transferred to DVD (Criterion Collection, $39.95), with an audio commentary consisting of a conversation between the movie's director, Michael Powell, and Martin Scorsese. New to this DVD edition is a 27-minute excerpt from a documentary on Cardiff's work, which focuses on how he used the bulky Technicolor camera to create the dazzling compositions of the film.

"Glory" (Columbia TriStar Home Video, two discs, wide screen and full screen, $29.95), the Civil War epic that won 1989 Oscars for cinematography, sound and supporting actor Denzel Washington, features a new wrinkle in ongoing audio commentary. Small insert pictures within the larger pictures of the movie show actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick and director Edward Zwick reminiscing about the making of the movie. The film, about the heroism of black soldiers in the Union Army, has been released in time for Black History Month; but Freeman says, in his commentary, "There is only history, of which I am a part, thank you very much."

The production notes accompanying "The Lost Weekend" (Universal Studios Home Video, $29.98), winner of the 1945 Oscar for best picture, inform us that director Billy Wilder picked up a copy of Charles Jackson's novel while stopping over in Chicago on his way by train to Los Angeles. By the time his journey ended, he had read the book and decided to make the movie, and, he told studio bosses, the actor who portrays the alcoholic will surely win the Oscar. Which Ray Milland did, as did Wilder, for best director.

"Bird" (Warner Home Video, $19.98), director Clint Eastwood's 1988 biography of the tortured jazz genius Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, won the Academy Award for sound in recognition of its remixing of recorded Parker performances for the film. The new DVD pays tribute to that honor by featuring an excellent music-only audio track.

"Wall Street," which won a best-actor Academy Award for Michael Douglas, and "JFK," Oscar winner for cinematography and editing, are included in an expansive boxed gift set of six films dubbed "The Oliver Stone Collection" (Warner Home Video, $119.92). Besides such extras as Stone's director's commentaries, "making-of" documentaries and "director's cut" versions of "Any Given Sunday" and "JFK," the collection provides a separate disc on "Oliver Stone's America," which contains a long, toadying interview with the writer/director by documentary filmmaker Charles Kiselyak, who usually knows better.

The 1987 winner for best foreign film, "Babette's Feast" (MGM Home Entertainment, $19.98), comes with the theatrical trailer as its sole supplemental feature; but the movie itself, about a monumental French meal served in the dead of a Danish winter, seems to glow with added warmth and beauty in its DVD presentation.

Two movies that were nominated for but did not win Oscars also have made their way into exceptional DVDs.

"When Harry Met Sally" (MGM Home Entertainment, $24.98), nominated for Nora Ephron's best original screenplay, adds several minutes of never-before-seen footage and outtakes of the movie, plus a charming new looking-back documentary featuring interviews with Ephron, director Rob Reiner and actors Billy Crystal and Carrie Fisher.

"Svengali" (Roan Group Archival Entertainment, $19.98), with John Barrymore hamming it up as the mesmerizing maestro, received Oscar nominations for art direction and cinematography. You can see why in the sharp black-and-white transfer of this 1931 melodrama.

And there's more to come. Lavish special DVD editions of the Oscar-winning "Ben-Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia" are scheduled for March 13 and April 3, respectively.