The final dollar has been counted, and 1990 came up just short of its record-setting predecessor at the box office. According to Daily Variety's figures, $5.02 billion was spent on movie tickets last year, just short of the $5.03 billion spent in 1989.

While the total number of tickets sold was down 7 percent, the figure of slightly more than 1 billion admissions is on par with the average of the past three decades. Incidentally, Variety pointed out that the year's grosses appeared likely to fall short of the $5 billion mark until "Home Alone" came along and almost singlehandedly turned the Christmas season into a box-office bonanza. The trade journal also suggested that the movie has a chance to wind up high on the list of the top-grossing films of all time, though more likely it'll simply pass "Ghost" to become the biggest moneymaker released last year ... And if "Home Alone" does wind up in the all-time Top 10, that'll be familiar territory for John Williams, who scored the movie: He's written the music for eight of the 10 biggest moneymakers of all time ...

One 1990 movie is already in the all-time Top 10, but it's in a different chart. "Cinema Paradiso," the Italian picture released last year by Miramax, is now the seventh-biggest-grossing foreign film at the American box office. To date, the movie has earned $11.3 million, or a little less than "Home Alone" made last weekend -- but still, that's enough to put it between "Emmanuelle" and "Das Boot" on the list. Also in the Top 10 are Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2," Costa-Gavras's "Z," Lelouch's "A Man and a Woman" and, at the top of the list with a $19 million gross, the 1969 Swedish sex film "I Am Curious (Yellow)" ...

At the foreign box office, meanwhile, things were better than ever in at least one country. More tickets were sold in Great Britain during 1990 than in any of the previous 10 years, according to a report from Rank Screen Advertising. The total of 91 million admissions isn't as high as the 102 million tickets purchased in 1980, but it's a considerable rebound from the mid-'80s slump that bottomed out in 1984, when only 54 million tickets were sold ...

Early Honors

And the winner is ... high-tech underwear? The Motion Picture Academy announced its scientific and technical awards this week, and among those who'll take home Academy Certificates for Technical Merit are the inventors of the Actor Climate System and the Cool Suit System, both composed of thin undergarments that use circulating liquid to keep actors either warm or cool depending on their needs. Fifteen other award winners were also announced: The year's sole Academy Award of Merit -- the only technical award that brings with it an Oscar statuette -- went to the Eastman Kodak Co. for improvements in the grain, sharpness and speed of color films; plaques, which are given to winners of the Scientific and Engineering Award for "achievements which ... are important to the progress of the industry," went for work in the fields of composite shots, color negatives, film transport systems and film printers; and Certificates for Technical Achievement, handed out for "accomplishments which contribute to the progress of the industry," were awarded for advancements in exposure meters, lenses, subtitling equipment, underwater lighting and, of course, underwear. A certificate also went to a Soviet firm that has been showing 3-D movies to Russian audiences for the past 25 years ...

High Hopes

As always at this time of year, here are some more Academy Award ads from the wishful-thinking file. In the past week, advertisements have appeared in the Hollywood trade papers touting the following movies for Best Picture nominations: "Jacob's Ladder," "Besty's Wedding," "The Freshman," "Q&A," "The Hunt for Red October" and "Havana." Universal is pushing hard for the last film, even though the Sydney Pollack drama is the year-end's most expensive flop. The studio's lineup of private screenings for Academy members this month includes one showing of "Back to the Future III," four of "Kindergarten Cop," five of "Mo' Better Blues," six of "Henry and June," eight of "White Palace," and 14 of "Havana." By the way, Fox took out an ad suggesting "Home Alone" for Best Picture, too.