NEW YORK — LOOKING at the Oscar race from a critical distance, I can't say the year's best movie achievements were in the spotlight. Here's how I would have distributed the statuettes if they were mine to bestow: Best Picture: No doubt about it, ``Do the Right Thing'' was the most electrifying movie of the year, and maybe of the past decade. Brilliantly directed by Spike Lee, and raising more important questions than a dozen ordinary Hollywood films, it should have won this race as well as best cinematography, editing, and score, where it wasn't even nominated. I don't think racism played a deciding role in diminishing the movie's presence last night (the winners weren't announced before my deadline); obliviousness to cinematic excellence is a longtime Academy trait regardless of race, creed, or color. But it's suspicious that only its leading white performer was nominated in any of the acting categories. Here's hoping the Academy makes up for this slip in the very near future.
Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor: I consider Danny Aiello one of the two stars of ``Do the Right Thing,'' and I would have named him best actor - an honor he wasn't eligible for, since he was inexplicably demoted to the supporting-actor race. The real best supporting actors of the year were also in ``Do the Right Thing,'' namely John Turturro and Richard Edson, who deserved a joint award in that category. A special statuette should also have been given to Morgan Freeman for his work in ``Glory'' and ``Driving Miss Daisy,'' which consolidated his status as one of the most gifted performers of our time.
Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress: I'm not sure any starring performance by an actress reached the highest level in 1989, although Jessica Tandy's work in ``Driving Miss Daisy'' was very strong. By contrast, superb supporting work came from several quarters. I couldn't choose between two actresses: Rosie Perez in ``Do the Right Thing,'' where she danced as well as acted marvelously well, and Anjelica Huston in both ``Crimes and Misdemeanors,'' for which she wasn't nominated, and ``Enemies, a Love Story,'' for which she was.
Best Screenplay: Mr. Lee takes my prize for Best Original Screenplay with ``Do the Right Thing.'' The runners-up are Jim Jarmusch for ``Mystery Train'' and Woody Allen for ``Crimes and Misdemeanors.'' (Auteurists take note: Those are writer/directors, every one.) There was no first-rate adapted screenplay in 1989, so I'll sit out that category.
Best Score: Did anyone in the Academy see ``Distant Voices/Still Lives,'' with its superb collection of 1940s songs? It wasn't in the running last night, but it gets my enthusiastic vote. Runner-up: You guessed it, ``Do the Right Thing.''
Best Documentary: ``Roger and Me'' is the champ - and come to think of it, this would have made a respectable best-picture nominee, and might have qualified for the original-screenplay slot, too. Its absence from all categories last night was the saddest and silliest Oscar lapse in ages. Fortunately, moviegoers have been flocking to it anyway, giving it the last laugh after all.