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AMONG OSCAR NOMINEES, ONLY COENS’ `FARGO’ IS NOW AVAILABLE ON VIDEO

SHARE AMONG OSCAR NOMINEES, ONLY COENS’ `FARGO’ IS NOW AVAILABLE ON VIDEO

This year's Oscar nominations haven't given home video much to work with. Frequently, several of the biggest films are already on tape when the nominations are announced in February. But this time there is just one: "Fargo," the Coen brothers' ode to Minnesota winters, which was nominated for best picture and six other awards.

The only other best-picture nominee with firm video prospects is "Secrets & Lies," which is to be released by Fox on April 15.Other best-picture nominees, "Jerry Maguire" and "The English Patient," will be along in due course, but this year's field still suffers from what might be called box-office gap. Video thrives on big moneymakers, which are in scarce supply among Oscar nominees this year. From "Jerry Maguire," the only megahit in the field, having grossed some $128 million, there is a huge drop to the next film, "The English Patient," which has earned about $48 million.

And if "Secrets & Lies" were to win right now, it would show a relatively paltry $8 million in box-office revenue.

But independent films like "Fargo" ($24 million in theaters) and "Shine" ($20 million and climbing), the other best-picture nominee, are often particularly welcome on home video because they haven't been widely seen in theaters.

Meanwhile, several independent films with moderately good reviews from their theatrical releases are coming out this month, although none was nominated for an Oscar.

New Line will release "Normal People," a true story directed by John McNaughton and starring Ashley Judd as a disturbed young woman who helps her husband (Luke Perry) rob banks. In an unusual routing, McNaughton's film was shown on HBO before making the trip from theater to video store in the very fast time of just under four months.

Other recommended small films just out on tape include Matthew Broderick's "Infinity," about a physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb; "The Big Squeeze," an uneven but entertaining comedy about a woman (Lara Flynn Boyle) out to con her husband; and "Girls Town," Jim McKay's provocative film starring Lili Taylor as a tough-talking teen mother in a clique of high school girls.

- SEISMIC WAVES FROM THE "Star Wars" phenomenon (in which a 20-year-old monster hit is put back in theaters, whereupon it earns another $100 million) naturally reverberate to the very bedrock of home video. Other than a "Lion King," "Independence Day" or other fresh new juggernauts, there are few more prolific properties than a big old title like "My Fair Lady" that can ride a theater rerun to a splashy rebirth on videocassette.

Having undergone a major video rejuvenation in 1995, "Star Wars" and its two sequels, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," all of which will have their own theater runs, have not been scheduled for another reissue on tape.

But one famous old film that recently completed the rerun from theater to video is "Giant," George Stevens' Texas saga with James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, which was reissued on cassette by Warner in November. Yet to come is the restored version of the Hitchcock classic "Vertigo," shown in theaters last fall and to be rereleased March 25 by Universal Studios Home Video.

Next up is "The Graduate," Mike Nichols's 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, which is currently enjoying a theatrical revival in New York. No new video release has been announced. On March 21, Paramount will refloat Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather," a film that has certainly had its share of video promotions over the years and apparently will get another one this time around, though the studio will not divulge its plans.

"The Graduate," which had a 25th-anniversary release in 1992, when the film belonged to New Line Home Video, is currently out of video distribution. Video rights are now owned by Epic Productions, a Los Angeles distributor. A new video release is anticipated, but this week the company would not comment.

The situation points up a condition of particular irritation to videophiles: prominent old movies that are no longer distributed on tape. "Usually it's rights," said Irv Slifkin of Movies Unlimited, a large mail-order company in Philadelphia. "They expire. Also, when the films were out originally, the video market hadn't developed, so they just decided not to reduplicate the stuff."

Among the most requested among the unavailable, he said, are "You Can't Take It With You," "West Side Story," "Carnal Knowledge," "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and "The Hustler."

Slifkin said it is sometimes hard to tell why some films are out and others are not. "It would be really great if some of these companies got in communication with the public out there," he added.