Most years around this time, at least one film gets a special Academy Awards push via home video. The practice started in 1977, when frequent showings of "Annie Hall" on the Z Channel -- an all-movie cable channel broadcast only in Los Angeles and widely watched within the film industry -- were deemed largely responsible for that movie's Best Picture award.

Though "Dirty Dancing" did have a single showing on the Z Channel earlier this month, the emphasis lately has shifted from cable to cassette. Three years ago, for example, a membership card in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got you a free rental of "The Emerald Forest" at several L.A. video outlets (not that it helped that movie enormously).

This year Tri-Star has mailed out 1,258 cassette copies of "Gaby -- A True Story," one to each member of the Academy's Actors' Branch. The cassettes won't be in stores for the foreseeable future, but Tri-Star knows that few people have seen the low-budget drama, and it's hoping for a boost for supporting-actress nominations for Rachel Levin and Norma Aleandro. The cassettes were mailed out late last week, around the same time as Oscar ballots -- but voters don't have much time to make up their minds, since the ballots must be returned by a week from today.

The Boom Goes On

Last weekend, "Good Morning, Vietnam" became the first movie ever to earn $10 million on two consecutive January weekends -- and overall, business is still booming for this time of year. The week, in fact, saw the biggest one-week gross ever earned between New Year's and Memorial Day. Total earnings were more than $100 million; before, there had never been even a $90 million week between January and Memorial Day.

Hail, Columbia's Whoever

The best summation yet of the recent rocky times in the executive chair at Columbia Pictures came from Steve Martin last week, in his acceptance speech for the Best Actor award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Martin, who won for the Columbia-distributed "Roxanne," first thanked Guy McElwaine, "the president of Columbia, who gave the project the go." Then Steve Sohmer, "the next president of Columbia, who oversaw it during the casting phase." Then David Puttnam, "the next president of Columbia, who was behind us all the way." Then Dawn Steel, "the now president of Columbia, who supervised the release on cassette." And, he concluded before the gathering, "I just hope that each of you will be as supportive when you're president of Columbia."

Steel Getting Started

Speaking of Dawn Steel, she's just given the green light to her first official project as Columbia's chief: "Casualties of War," a drama about the Vietnam war written by playwright David Rabe, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Michael J. Fox. The rumor mill says Sean Penn may costar, but nothing's been announced yet.

Short Takes

Emilio Estevez will play a youthful Billy the Kid in "Young Guns," a drama that begins shooting in about 10 days. Other stars include Estevez's brother Charlie Sheen, plus Keifer Sutherland and "La Bamba" star Lou Diamond Phillips; Terence Stamp and Jack Palance are the older members of the cast. Set in the late 1800s, the movie's about a real-life group of kids -- which included William Bonney in his precrime, prenickname days -- who are hired to guard a ranch ... The team responsible for "Moonstruck" is reteaming to shoot "January Man," a black comedy from writer John Patrick Shanley and producer Norman Jewison, both of whom worked on the current Cher hit. Unlike "Moonstruck," though, Jewison won't be directing the new film; he's turned that assignment over to Pat O'Connor, who'll begin shooting in New York in early March. The film features Kevin Kline as a policeman who falls in love with the mayor's daughter, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.