By Christopher Hicks, Movie Critic

More than a third of all Utahns believe "Rain Man" deserves to be the big winner at the 61st Academy Awards Wednesday evening, according to the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll.

But 50 percent don't know which film should win.The Academy Award is the granddaddy of film honors, though it competes with a number of other award shows these days. The awards are voted by the 4,600 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Traditionally, movies that win the Oscar see a boost in their box office take in the weeks following the awards ceremony as well as finding prestige in film history books.

But in recent years Academy voters have been criticized for ignoring popular movies, such as those made by Steven Spielberg, including last year's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," in favor of prestigious pictures that are self-consciously dignified, opulent and/or socially significant.

That and the fact that the Oscar program itself is often self-consciously overblown and boring have contributed to the TV broadcast showing a considerable drop in the Nielsen ratings in recent years. And that has resulted in a lessening of awareness among the general moviegoing public regarding Oscar-winning films.

"Rain Man," the story of an autistic savant with amazing memory abilities who is "kidnapped" and taken on the road by his long-lost brother, qualifies as a film that is both quietly dignified and hugely popular. And most movie-industry insiders consider the film a shoo-in for the Oscar. (Dustin Hoffman, who is nominated for best actor, plays the savant, a character based partially on a real-life Salt Lake man.)

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found 39 percent of Utahns feel "Rain Man" should win the best picture Oscar. The poll also showed, however, that 50 percent don't have any idea which film deserves to win.

Of the other films nominated for the best picture Oscar, 5 percent of Utahns said they thought the award should go to "Mississippi Burning," 3 percent said "Working Girl" and none said "Dangerous Liaisons."

The awards will be presented during the Oscar broadcast Wednesday, beginning at 7 p.m. on Ch. 4.

*****

(POLL)

In your opinion, which of the following movies, nominated for best picture ofthe year, deserves to win the Oscar?

Rain Man.....39%

Dangerous Liaisons.....0%

Mississippi Burning.....5%

Accidental Tourist.....1%

Working Girl.....3%

Other.....1%

Don't Know.....50%

Sample size: 607; margin of error plus or minus 4%