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`THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' GETS LION'S SHARE OF OSCARS

The grisly horror yarn "The Silence of the Lambs" made a sweep of the top five Oscars Monday night, only the third film to do so in the 64-year history of the Academy Awards.

Jodie Foster, who was honored as best actress for "The Accused" just three years ago, won her second award, this time as rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs." Her co-star, British actor Anthony Hopkins, won as best actor for his chilling performance as Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter - and received one of the evening's two standing ovations from the star-studded audience.Though Foster was favored to win this year, Hopkins was something of a surprise. Many insiders speculated that, given his limited screen time in the film, he should actually have been in the best supporting actor category. (Nick Nolte had been favored to win for "The Prince of Tides.")

In addition to the top acting awards, "Lambs" won for best picture, best director (Jonathan Demme) and best adapted screenplay (Ted Tally). The only other films to take home all five top awards were "It Happened One Night" (1934) and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975).

"Lambs" also made history as the first winner already released on video; it's also being shown on cable television."Terminator 2: Judgment Day," which was 1991's hottest box-office hit, was the next big winner with four awards (all technical), followed by "Beauty and the Beast," "JFK" and "Bugsy," each winning two. "Bugsy" had the most nominations this year, with 10.

Best supporting actress was Mercedes Ruehl, for her flamboyant role as Jeff Bridges' girlfriend in "The Fisher King."

Jack Palance, who played the crusty veteran cowpoke in "City Slickers," won as best supporting actor, which was the evening's first award. Palance came out on stage, offered a brief, if vulgar speech, then proceeded to demonstrate his physical prowess, despite his age , by doing one-handed pushups.

This provided plenty of fodder for host Billy Crystal (who gave Palance the job in "Slickers"), as he ad-libbed cracks about Palance throughout the show.

Crystal's wit was sharp, despite his recovering from the flu (at the end of the 31/2-hour show he thanked his wife for making soup) and his opening song about the nominees for best picture, as well as a song-and-dance with Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy (thanks to video special effects), were real highlights. He tended to be a bit self-congratulatory about his own ad-libbing abilities, but that was certainly in keeping with the pomp and circumstance that is the Academy Awards.

And what are the Oscars without some politics? Most surprising was an acceptance speech from Debra Chasnoff, who won the best short documentary award for "Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment," as she called for a boycott of GE. In addition, there were anti-war statements, pleas for more government-funded AIDS research and several comments on Barbra Streisand's not being nominated for best director for "The Prince of Tides." (In the end, her film was shut out.)

The program was well-paced, with shorter hokey introductions and lots of historical movie clips, but in the end there was simply too much and it couldn't stay within its three-hour time slot.

Some memorable moments:

- Crystal made his entrance strapped to an upright hospital bed, wearing the Hannibal Lecter mask, then went into the audience and told Hopkins he was having some friends for dinner.

- As usual, the evening's class acts were Hollywood's old guard - Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. They were especially refreshing after such upstarts as Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey, of the current box-office hit "Wayne's World," who made jokes about "hurling" and "blowing chunks."

- The evening's first standing ovation went to Hal Roach, the 100-year-old film pioneer who teamed up Laurel & Hardy and created "Our Gang." When he tried to offer a brief speech, there was no microphone near. Crystal observed that it was appropriate since Roach began in silent films.

- When "Star Wars" creator and special-effects wizard George Lucas was presented with the prestigious Irving Thalberg award for his contributions to film production, he received a videotaped salute from the orbiting crew members of the space shuttle Atlantis.

- Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray accepted a special Oscar from his hospital sickbed, after a stirring string of clips from his work.

- Many celebrities wore red ribbons to demonstrate their support of AIDS victims. Composer Alan Menken paid tribute to his late lyricist partner Howard Ashman when they won for best song (the title song from "Beauty and the Beast"). Ashman died of AIDS last year.

- Tom Hanks offered a hilarious introduction to the technical awards, which included clips demonstrating the magic stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, who received a special award.

- Those who sang the nominated best songs in their respective films performed them live on the Oscar stage, allowing fans of "Beauty and the Beast" to see what the actors looked like.

- "Thing," the hand with a mind of its own in "The Addams Family," presented an envelope to presenters Christopher Lloyd and Rebecca De Mornay.

- An animated "Beauty and the Beast," along with the little cup "Chip," presented the best animated short award.

- The wildest dresses of the evening were worn by Ruehl, a nearly backless black gown, and Geena Davis, a weird tutu, complete with ruffles. Foster actually wore a blouse this year.

- On the men's side, nearly everyone wore tuxedos, except Palance, in an old gray suit, and Robert Duvall, dressed in a dowdy Western outfit with string tie.

- Demme offered a stammering, rambling acceptance speech late in the show, which was heartfelt but too long.

- Robert De Niro was the only no-show among the major nominees.

- It was repeatedly noted that Orion Pictures, which produced "The Silence of the Lambs," in addition to last year's winner "Dances With Wolves," is in bankruptcy.