ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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SAY WHAT you like about the British Academy Awards (as my colleague Captain Moonlight might put it), they are certainly hot on suspense. All those long hours of watching people you haven't heard of trotting up to collect awards named after other people you haven't heard of, and meanwhile all you want to know is who's won Best Actor. At least, that's how it's meant to work. In fact, I got so bored, 90 minutes in, that I flicked on to Ceefax. And what should I find among the headlines but BAFTA DETAILS. Calling up the relevant page, I was able to see who had won every award in the show. Saved me a lot of time. Say what you like about the BBC, it understands that embargoes are made to be broken.

Awards shows are, of course, easy targets. (Not that that ever stopped me.) I confine myself to two observations. First, Jimmy Nail's rugged charm will never be quite the same after that remark as he opened the envelope for Best Actress - 'I'd give them all one if I had my way'. It wasn't just rancidly sexist: it was dismally lame. Second, what is this business with Emma Thompson? An average all-round entertainer marries well, turns into a decent straight actress, and the world goes crazy. Time magazine this week calls her 'our generation's Katharine Hepburn'. Yes, and I'm our generation's Dorothy Parker.

BUT WHAT of the Oscars, the only awards that mean anything to the man in the Clapham Picture House? They will be presented tomorrow night. William Hill has Unforgiven as the clear favourite for Best Film, shortening from 11-10 to 8-11 over the past two weeks. It seems a reasonable punt: Eastwood's western is perfect Academy fodder, skilfully combining an anti-violence stance with enough graphic depictions of that violence to pull in the crucial 16- to 24-year-old audience. Similarly, Al Pacino's performance as a blind man in Scent of a Woman seems tailor-made for Best Actor. The Academy is a sucker for disability - Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. For Best Actress, the bookies have Katharine Hepburn - sorry, Emma Thompson - as favourite, but I'm putting my retainer on Susan Sarandon at 7-2. Consider the facts. Hotly tipped in 1992 for Thelma & Louise, Sarandon is up again this year for Lorenzo's Oil, in which she plays the brave mother of a sick child; ie, she deserves it, and her character triumphs over adversity. What's more, she got herself arrested last week at a demonstration against President Clinton's policy on Aids-infected Haitian refugees. If she wants the Oscar that badly, I reckon she'll get it.

THE FIRST parliamentary hearing on the subject of CD prices takes place on Tuesday. The all-party select committee on National Heritage plans 'to hear evidence from all sides of the debate'. In practice, it will hear whatever is the collective noun for record executives - a blouson, perhaps - trotting out the same old eyewash about how their industry would collapse if prices came down, with the odd person from the Consumers' Association giving the other side of the story. I trust the MPs will manage to ask the big boys a few tough questions. Such as: why is it cheaper to buy CDs mail-order from America than from your local record shop? Why, if the price is right, have fewer than half of those homes that have record-players switched to CD? And why, when this campaign has made it clear that people feel the price is too high, have the record companies responded with nothing more helpful than insults?