HOME ENTERTAINMENT : Not Every Oscar Winner's a Critical Gem

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some Oscar winners don't wear well.

With this pre-Oscar weekend being one of the biggest of the year for renting classics--many showcased in impressive displays--here's a few you should think twice about before renting.

Jane Fonda won the 1971 best actress award for "Klute," playing a prostitute who falls for a cop (Donald Sutherland). It now seems like a routine thriller. She was also the 1978 best actress winner for "Coming Home," for her role as a woman who falls for a disabled Vietnam vet, played by Jon Voight--named best actor. What then seemed like a tender, relevant drama now plays like an overwrought TV movie.

Speaking of which, that's also what 1984's "Places in the Heart" seems like now. Sally Field won the best actress trophy for playing a widow struggling in Texas during the Depression. This one grows cornier as the years go by.

And was there ever a sappier Oscar winner than "Terms of Endearment," the 1983 best picture winner? This is a shameless tear-jerker about the relationship between a dying woman (Debra Winger) and her mother (Shirley MacLaine). Its only redeeming feature is Jack Nicholson's hilarious performance, which took the best supporting actor award, as an obnoxious astronaut.

Feel-good movies tend to date very quickly--like the 1981 best picture winner, "Chariots of Fire," about two English runners who competed in the 1924 Olympics. Watch this drama now, with its drippy sentiment, and you wonder how it was ever named best picture.

Director Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi," which won eight Oscars in 1982, including best picture and best actor (Ben Kingsley), doesn't seem so great now. More than three hours long, it's solemn, tedious and irritatingly reverent. If you want to spend that kind of time watching an Oscar-winning biography, rent 1962's "Lawrence of Arabia," which is 40 minutes longer and infinitely better.

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Video Bits: Disney hasn't officially announced it yet but distributors are saying that the company's big fall animated feature will be "Cinderella," which first came out on video in 1988. There's been a big demand for it in recent years and copies are scarce. The sales market in those days was much smaller so fewer copies were made.

Have you noticed that rental prices of some hot titles have been inching up in the past few months? That's because retailers have been paying more for rental copies of certain movies, and some are passing the increase on to customers. In some stores, you'll pay more than the standard rental fee for titles such as "True Lies," "The Client" and "Stargate"--which just came out. Look for this to happen more often this year.

The annual CBS Video release of the NCAA's current basketball tournament, focusing on the Final Four teams, is due April 28--as usual, about a month after the championship game. Price will be $20. . . . Repricings: FoxVideo's "True Lies," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be available at $20 on May 23 and MGM/UA's "Getting Even With Dad," with Macaulay Culkin, will be $20 on May 9.

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Special-Interest Videos: If you're looking for effective aerobic exercises to do at home without a machine, check out "Denise Austin's Trimwalk Indoor Workout." Centered around walking, the exercises on this one-hour tape are low-impact, not too tough and can probably fit into most schedules. From Parade at $15; information: (201) 344-4214.

Children are preoccupied with lions these days, thanks to the recent release of "The Lion King" home video. They'll be fascinated by "Lions: Kings of the Serengeti," a half-hour tape featuring exhilarating footage of lions at home on the Serengeti plain in Africa. From Quality at $10; information: (612) 893-0903.

Just out on Kino is Ray Muller's "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl," a terrific German documentary about the filmmaker noted for making two Nazi propaganda movies in the 1930s, "Triumph of Will" and "Olympia." Intimate look at the life and work of a woman, now 91, who insists she never supported the Nazi ideology. Three hours, but this is such provocative stuff that it seems like half that length.

What's New on Video: "The Specialist" (Warner): An explosives expert (Sylvester Stallone) is hired to hit some Miami mobsters by a woman (Sharon Stone) looking to avenge the murder of her parents. For action-movie fans, it's worth seeing for the bang-up action sequences, which make up for some bad acting and the lack of chemistry between the stars. James Woods, Rod Steiger and Eric Roberts play the bad guys but only Woods delivers a convincing performance--the only one in the whole movie.

"Only You" (Columbia TriStar): In director Norman Jewison's romantic comedy, a flaky young woman (Marisa Tomei) is in Italy chasing a man she's never met, but eventually clicks with a young stranger (Robert Downey Jr.). Modern-day fairy tale is overly cutesy but passable entertainment if you're in the mood for a romantic movie.

"The New Age" (Warner): An agent (Peter Weller) and his wife (Judy Davis) quit high-profile jobs to open a boutique in this satire on shallow, upper-crust L.A., where people do nothing but scheme, shop and have affairs. Writer-director Michael Tolkin makes strong points but the characters are so unlikable that the movie is often a chore to watch.

"Angels in the Outfield" (Disney): When a father promises to take his son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) out of a foster home if the bumbling Angels win the pennant, the youngster prays for the baseball team to become a winner. So the Angels wind up getting real help from real angels and start winning. Danny Glover plays the crotchety Angels manager who figures out that the youngster is somehow the key to the turnaround. This remake of a 1951 fantasy is great fun for baseball-minded youngsters.

"Second Best" (Warner): In a Welsh village, a reserved, middle-aged bachelor (William Hurt) adopts a 10-year-old boy (Chris Cleary Miles). Small, quiet, simple movie that's sometimes touching but often slips into sentimental excesses.

"Sleep With Me" (MGM/UA): Two friends (Eric Stoltz and Craig Sheffer) battle over a woman (Meg Tilly) in this so-so romantic comedy about cynical, twenty-something Generation Xers in Los Angeles. It's occasionally witty but not often enough to consistently hold your interest. The best thing in it is director Quentin Tarantino's hilarious bit as a party guest.

"Arizona Dream" (Warner): Johnny Depp as a New York weirdo who goes to Arizona to work in a car dealership owned by his uncle (Jerry Lewis) and encounters others weirdos. Long, pretentious, confusing movie that never got major theatrical release. Interesting cast, though, including Faye Dunaway and Michael J. Pollard.

"Almost Dead" (Monarch): In this terrible supernatural thriller, Shannen Doherty stars as a woman being haunted by her dead mother. Those who saw her nude scenes in the video "Blindfold: Acts of Obsession" and expect more of the same will be disappointed.

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