Cries & Whispers

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CALLING all film buffs. A question for you. Has the organisation Hollywood laughingly calls the Academy ever come up with such a good set of Best Picture nominations as it did on Wednesday? Schindler's List, I gather from the preceding pages, is an all-time great. The Fugitive is a cracking thriller. In the Name of the Father, as Quentin Curtis writes in the news section, is powerful. The Piano, of course, is a wonder of the modern world. And The Remains of the Day is very good as English Heritage movies go.

Not that Oscar has got it all right. Martin Scorsese's Age of Innocence deserved better than just a Best Supporting nomination for Winona Ryder. And while it is (of course) right that Holly Hunter is nominated for The Piano - so right that one wonders why they bothered naming four others - not even I know why she is also up for Best Supporting Actress for The Firm. This was a cameo. Perhaps some of the Academy's less academic members heard that Holly was bound to win this year, from their waiter at Spago or their masseur, and didn't want to be left out, and the only thing they could remember her being in was Sidney Pollack's floppy pulp thriller.

A few other categories suggest themselves. Unluckiest Actor: Harvey Keitel (The Piano), Best Supporting nothing. Second: Ben Kingsley (Schindler), ditto, pipped by Ralph Fiennes. Luckiest Actress: Emma Thompson - jolly nice girl, but really, her mantelpiece deserves a break. Best Bet at Wm Hill: Stockard Channing, 25-1 for Best Actress. The Academy has a weakness for charming veterans, and may want to make up for 1979, when Channing was not even nominated for the memorably sneering and yet somehow touching Rizzo in Grease.

YOU CAN hardly open a paper these days without seeing one of the stars of the BBC's Middlemarch: gorgeous, pouting Juliet Aubrey (Dorothea), gorgeous, pouting Rufus Sewell (Will) and gorgeous, pouting Stamford, Lincs (Middlemarch). But the droolings have overlooked one of the most interesting aspects of the production: its staggering budget. Staggeringly small, that is. All that has been said is that Middlemarch is the BBC's most expensive drama ever, and that pounds 6.5m is an awful lot of licence-payers' money, blah blah. In fact, it's a song. The series lasts six and a half hours. Just think what six and half hours of period feature films cost (approx): The Remains of the Day (134 min) is said to have cost pounds 7.7m; The Age of Innocence (139 min) about pounds 20m; and Kenneth Branagh's forthcoming Frankenstein (say two hours) pounds 26m. Tot these up and you get pounds 53.7m. Feature films may offer a higher grade of star, but the BBC yields nothing in terms of acting, script and texture. We may be hopeless at football, cricket, and hanging on to the motor industry, but at value-for-money, classic adaptations, we surely lead the world. And Middlemarch is a co-production, so the bill is shared; and it will sell all over the world, so we'll probably make a profit on it. That old boast on the BBC's postmarks - 'The best bargain in Britain' - may be irritating, but it isn't empty.

IN CASE you don't take the Times's Saturday magazine, here (abridged) is an item that caught my eye. It's by Anne Robinson, a pounds 200,000-a-year columnist on Today, who still finds time to moonlight on affiliated titles.

'The daughter who (went to) New York University Film School said I would love it. My hairdresser insisted it was the best time he'd ever spent in a cinema. I only wish I'd known that the film critic of the Independent considers it a work everyone interested in culture ought to see. That would have rung alarm bells.

''As it was, I couldn't wait to get to The Piano. For the benefit of others (classy touch, that) who hate the sight of blood, violence or people being horrid, let me tell you that 10 minutes before the finish I fled in anger and panic.'

There's not much you can say to that, except that it's flattering to be noticed, even more flattering to be taken for a film critic, and deeply reassuring to find your views in such stark opposition to those of the hostess of Points of View.

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