Best Screenplay 1978

1927/28 through 1997

What was the best screenplay of 1978

Autumn Sonata(Ingmar Bergman)
7
20%
Coming Home(Nancy Dowd, Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones)
1
3%
The Deer Hunter(Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn, Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker)
4
11%
Interiors(Woody Allen)
0
No votes
An Unmarried Woman(Paul Mazursky)
7
20%
Bloodbrothers(Walter Newman)
0
No votes
California Suite(Neil Simon)
2
6%
Heaven Can Wait(Elaine May and Warren Beatty)
1
3%
Midnight Express(Oliver Stone)
12
34%
Same Time, Next Year(Bernard Slade)
1
3%
 
Total votes: 35

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Kellens101 » Sat Apr 25, 2015 7:16 pm

Thank God Same Time, Next Year didn't beat Days of Heaven for Best Cinematography. That would've been the biggest WTF in Oscars history ever!

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Apr 25, 2015 4:23 pm

The Adapted Screenplay race is indeed pretty dire -- perhaps the worst we've encountered so far.

I'll just have to take Mister Tee's word for it that Same Time, Next Year was enjoyable on stage. Because, on film, I honestly thought it was pretty excruciating. The concept feels schematic in the most simplistic way -- and those PowerPoint level "passing through time" montages certainly didn't help. A lot of the dialogue struck me as painfully expository, and much of it was played at a level that really amped up the silliness (the Burstyn-as-hippie/Alda-as-hawk sequence the most egregious offender in this regard). And any time it seemed like the material was headed toward an honest exploration of how being in this type of relationship might actually feel (as in the ending), it was instantly undercut by more goofy humor. This just felt like a bad filmed play to me (and this is a conversation for another day, but that Cinematography nomination has got to be one of the most WTF ever).

Bloodbrothers is a movie I'd never heard of, and I watched it last night to be able to vote here. As someone who values plot pretty highly in screenwriting, I have to say that this is the kind of movie that just doesn't engage me all that much. I kept waiting for a storyline to kick off, for the movie to go much of anywhere, but it just seemed content to show this working-class extended family hanging out, and shooting the breeze. Oh, and beating each other up, which there was WAY too much of for my taste. And when Richard Gere finally makes a big decision at the end of the movie, it didn't really seem to build from anything specific. In fact, I'd describe the whole affair as pretty generic stuff.

Since we'll be dealing with him a lot coming up, I might as well just say it: I'm not much of a Neil Simon fan. I respect his ability to write a good joke, but so much of his work feels like one joke stretched out way past its welcome for me. (Of course, the one screenplay he wrote that I think is really funny throughout, The Heartbreak Kid, was somehow boxed out of an Oscar nod. Go figure.) As for California Suite, I agree with what has already been said: the Smith/Caine scenes are acceptably frothy comedy. Everything else? Blech. The Fonda/Alda scenes were just sort of boring to me, but the Matthau/May plot line is like something out of a bad sitcom, and the Pryor/Cosby scenes are gruelingly unfunny slapstick.

When I look at Heaven Can Wait on the Best Picture ballot, where it's my least favorite nominee, it looks pretty slight -- the other nominees all feel very much of the era, but Beatty's film is a total throwback, a virtually pointless remake of old material that, while perfectly enjoyable in 1941, wasn't exactly a movie I felt demanded another incarnation. And yet, I agree with Mister Tee -- when I look at it on THIS ballot, it looks like a movie that's well-plotted, has decent laughs, and engaged me. This is not enough for me to give it my vote, but given the competition, it's hard to say it was undeserving of citation.

My vote goes without any hesitation to Midnight Express, and though I agree in a more competitive field it probably wouldn't have been my victor, it's hardly a desperation choice. I think it's a pretty tense thriller throughout, right from the opening set piece that leads to Brad Davis's capture, to his final escape. And the scenes depicting the bond that grows between Davis and John Hurt are quite touching, and give the movie a sensitivity that offsets some of its more lurid aspects. I've voted for Oliver Stone plenty in our game here, and though he was obviously never a subtle filmmaker, his later work is admittedly much more complex than Midnight Express. But, even with this early writing credit, he shows a real knack for exciting, urgent storytelling, and I join the consensus in picking him here.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby flipp525 » Fri Apr 24, 2015 2:42 pm

Big Magilla wrote:For me Kelly (AKA Carole) Bishop will always be the girl who sang "At the Ballet" in the original Broadway run of A Chorus Line for which she won a Tony.

God, I love that song. So emotionally satisfying.
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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Kellens101 » Fri Apr 24, 2015 12:42 pm

True, that was her most famous role before Gilmore Girls.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Big Magilla » Fri Apr 24, 2015 12:31 pm

For me Kelly (AKA Carole) Bishop will always be the girl who sang "At the Ballet" in the original Broadway run of A Chorus Line for which she won a Tony.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Kellens101 » Fri Apr 24, 2015 9:05 am

Off-topic: It was so nice seeing a pre-Gilmore Girls Kelly Bishop in An Unmarried Woman. It was kind of distracting, because I felt like I was watching 1970s Emily Gilmore!

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Apr 20, 2015 5:53 pm

My reaction to the Original slate surprised me. I like most of the movies nominated. I think all five are terrifically acted. I think all five are directed by filmmakers I find exciting. But when it came time to pick a winner here, I can't say I thought the writing was the key element in any of these movies. Even my favored alternate -- Days of Heaven -- would present this issue as well. But a choice must me made, so here we go:

Interiors is the first nominee I move past. There's an obvious intelligence to the dialogue -- I don't think this is fully successful Woody Allen, but it's not LAZY Woody just yet. But I think the tone is way off -- in trying to mimic Bergman, Allen completely zapped his own comic sensibilities to the extent that entire film plays as suffocatingly self-serious. For me, any merit the movie does has is mainly due to a bunch of good actors struggling valiantly to keep a script on the verge from tipping completely into self parody.

And Interiors looks like even more of an imitation when placed alongside an actual Bergman (which, almost paradoxically, has a lot more humor than Allen's film did). Autumn Sonata has a lot of fiercely written scenes that allow both actresses to soar very high. The familial tragedy here is quintessentially Bergman -- complex, cruel, haunted by the past -- and a worthy nominee in this category. But unlike many, I won't go so far as to make it the winner. The concept just isn't as original as Bergman's greatest triumphs, nor does this two-hander operate on as broad a canvas. Given that I've already chosen Bergman before, and have better opportunities to do so again, I don't feel bad passing here.

I see that An Unmarried Woman swept the critics' prizes for screenplay, and I guess I can understand why. It's a compelling character drama -- with a richly detailed protagonist at its center -- and has a lot of good dialogue in the conversations between the players. It's often funny, but its portrait of a newly single woman in New York in the late '70's still feels like a serious attempt to capture the zeitgeist in terms of changing gender roles in the American family of the era. (And to respond to Mister Tee's comment, seeing the movie from a distance made it no less compelling for me, as the time capsule quality of it felt engaging rather than dated.) But I must say that the storyline is a bit wispy -- the stakes don't really seem that high (Clayburgh is dealing with a lot of rich people problems), and when she's presented with the opportunity to move forward in a major way (with Bates), she just...doesn't. So despite liking a lot of the writing within scenes, I find myself less inclined to vote for a script with such overall plot aimlessness.

The Academy made a choice this year that's similar to the kinds of selections I've made in our game -- if Best Picture & Director go to a visually exciting, action-driven film, then the Screenplay race is the place to honor a more character-driven effort. And that's a selection I could have made this year, seeing that I like Coming Home more than many of you. It's possible watching it out of context meant I didn't feel inundated with the Jane Fonda radicalization narrative that might have felt more ubiquitous at the time, surrounded by so many other similar films. But I genuinely feel that the movie is a work of sensitivity and nuance -- I don't think that it glamorizes Voight or demeans Dern to a degree that feels simplistic, and I think the inner conflict in Fonda's character makes her journey a lot less reductive than it could have been. But in thinking about voting for it in this category, I have to acknowledge that the writing overall doesn't quite feel like the work of a singularly fresh voice -- usually the kind of efforts I like to choose in this category -- and the ending (which feels flat-out stolen) is a significant originality problem.

That leaves The Deer Hunter, which as I said up top, isn't exactly the kind of movie I'd usually vote for in this category. It's certainly more director-driven than script-centric, and indeed, some of the earlier portions of the movie (especially the wedding) drag on a bit. But, like Reds in its year, it's easily the most ambitious and bracing movie on the ballot. And I wouldn't want to denigrate the portions of the movie that actually are very impressive in this area. There's some beautiful writing in the post-war scenes between DeNiro and Streep, the Russian roulette sequence is a dizzyingly constructed set piece, and the final moments, culminating in "God Bless America" strike me as the perfectly ambiguous way to end the film, as characters who feel shattered and betrayed nonetheless try to pick themselves up and move forward. I've often passed on war movies in the Screenplay races -- including in the '79 race we just covered -- but this time, I don't think there's a more inventive piece of dramaturgy that's making a great argument for my vote instead. So, a not-certain vote for The Deer Hunter, but seeing as it doesn't have much support here, I'm happy to throw a bone in its direction.
Last edited by The Original BJ on Sat Apr 25, 2015 1:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby The Original BJ » Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:44 pm

Big Magilla wrote:Bloodbrothers was a much better Robert Mullligan movie than Same Time, Next Year. I haven't noticed it being shown on TV in a while, but it was one of the first Warner Archive titles released back in 2009 and is probably available for streaming either through the Archive or some other streaming service.


It's easily available for rent on iTunes.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Big Magilla » Sat Apr 18, 2015 5:47 pm

Bloodbrothers was a much better Robert Mullligan movie than Same Time, Next Year. I haven't noticed it being shown on TV in a while, but it was one of the first Warner Archive titles released back in 2009 and is probably available for streaming either through the Archive or some other streaming service.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Apr 18, 2015 4:46 pm

Ah: being forced to look again at the contenders of 1978; to recall anew what a dreary year it was (especially by 1970s standards).

Under adapted, I’d most strongly advocate for the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. After that…The Brinks Job and The Big Fix were modestly entertaining comic/crime films, though in the latter case poorly directed by the dependably bad Jeremy Paul Kagan. (And I’m loathe to cite Fix writer Roger L. Simon, since he evolved from 60s radical to current right-wing jerk)

But something’s got to give, because the adapted slate is one of the worst of modern times, featuring at least three films I’d never have imagined gaining slots.

You’d never believe it, but Same Time, Next Year was pretty delightful on-stage. It was a gimmick-based script (adulterous couple meets at a hotel once a year for 24 years), but it was cannily written, and beautifully performed by Charles Grodin and Tony-awardee Ellen Burstyn. On screen, though, the gimmick felt more hollow (skipping five years at a pop works as theatrical device, but onscreen feels like…well, like a theatrical device); attempts at showing the actors aging looked more desperately contrived; Alan Alda, who never became as good an actor onscreen as he was on TV, was a poor substitute for Grodin; and Robert Mulligan, not exactly a master of comic timing, directed flatly. Everything that had felt effervescent in the theatre laid there dead on the screen. I have no idea how this secured a nomination.

All you people who voted under adapted: I’d love to hear your considered thoughts on Bloodbrothers. Which, yes, is my way of saying I doubt most of you have seen it. I saw the film when it opened in NY 37 years ago, and haven’t caught a trace of it since. It was one of a string of movies attempting to turn Richard Gere into a big star – a process that never really succeeded (Gere had a few movies that broke through, but never got near the Nicholson/Pacino/DeNiro level studios seemed to have in mind). This film in particular – a standard-issue “sensitive Bronx boy breaks free from his loud and suffocating family” – disappeared almost overnight, except for this (seemingly random) nomination.

The Maggie Smith/Michael Caine scenes in California Suite are bearable – the laugh lines actually evoke laughs – but the rest of the film is a shambles: even Jane Fonda at her peak can’t make her scenes play, the Cosby/Pryor scenes are embarrassingly buffoonish, and the Matthau/May sequence falls totally flat. Yet another “how did this get nominated?” entry.

Heaven Can Wait was, in this company, a model of polish – it was well-structured, well-acted, and full of moments that at least amused. The problem was, if you’d seen Here Comes Mr. Jordan, you knew the movie going in; it followed the blueprint pretty much to the letter. For Warren Beatty, at the peak of his power, to expend so much energy on a frivolous remake seemed the height of wastefulness (that he then used the success to push Reds through only partially offsets that sense). Still…in such a dreadful year, it’s hard to deny this film its spot on the ballot. It’s one of the two nominees here I don’t completely begrudge.

The other, of course, is Midnight Express, and I think my take on it is the same as a lot of people here: I’ve reached the end of this slate; I conclude I probably have to give it my vote; and I marvel at just how crappy a year it must be for something this turgid to get my support. In fairness, I haven’t seen the film since 1978, but it’s not likely my opinion of it would have appreciated over the years. I found the movie gripping at times, but not remotely subtle, and, with the exception of scenes involving John Hurt, lacking much in the way of writerly intelligence. I suppose I could give the category a pass, but it’s not like Midnight Express or Heaven Can Wait are so bad that abstention as protest works. No: I’ll bite the bullet and vote for Oliver Stone. But I reserve my American right to bitch and moan about it while I do.

Under original, I endorse Magilla’s support for Movie Movie – the film’s light as a feather, but full of genuinely off-center laughs. However, I rebut his dismissal of Animal House: the Landis film may have been a movie that launched 1000 terrible slob comedies, but by itself it was wonderfully funny, and one of the few sheer happy movie experiences I had in 1978. I’d also advocate for the Italian Bread and Chocolate, which I assume has drifted into obscurity, but which gave me a great deal of pleasure.

I find most of the actual nominees under original don’t much resonate, for me. I wouldn’t call any one of them actively bad (like their adapted counterparts), but they mostly don’t excite me.

I feel like I’ve listed my issues with Coming Home so many times I barely need to repeat them now. It was the archetypal “Jane Fonda re-enacts her political radicalization” movie of the era: anyone who supported the Vietnam War was deluded and/or evil; those opposed were sensitive, smart, and dynamite in bed. That all this played into my own prejudices made me dislike the film even more. Apart from the gentle Voight performance, I thought the film had nothing to offer; it may, in fact, have been the worst script in the category.

The miracle of Interiors is it’s not a complete shambles – something a fair number of people expected when Woody announced he was making a full-on serious film. But I can’t say the movie is much to my taste; there’s an antiseptic air about it that I find stultifying. Everything (except the Maureen Stapleton scenes) was played at such a solemn, no-smiling-allowed level that I couldn’t take it seriously. (A Jewish friend of mine said he thought it was a Jew’s fantasy of how WASPs behave in private) I think Manhattan, with all its laughs, is a far greater, far more serious drama than this.

It’s clear many people here rate Autumn Sonata far higher than I. Perhaps it’s contextual: in 1978, Bergman had just passed through an extraordinary ten year period, beginning with the great Persona, and culminating in the breakout successes of Cries and Whispers/Scenes from a Marriage/Face to Face. The latter had seemed like a bit of drop-off – memorable far more for the Ullmann performance than the film itself. To me, Autumn Sonata represented the same, only moreso. I found nothing particularly new in the film’s mother/daughter fights – I’d heard them before in other films, and I didn’t think there was enough compelling cinema (as in Cries and Whispers, and even Face to Face) to offset that familiarity. In fact, I’d say singling out the script here is honoring its least distinguished element.

The Deer Hunter is easily my favorite film of this batch, and it has many moments I admire. But, like Apocalypse Now and many Malick films, it strikes me as primarily a director’s achievement, not a writer’s. There are, in fact, a couple of bum notes in the story (the thudding over-emphasis on “one shot”, the cornball “if you spill wine on the wedding dress, your life will know tragedy”) that have to be ignored to fully enjoy the film. The film does achieve some sort of splendor in the end, but the script is simply not the reason.

I have no real answer for those who say An Unmarried Woman doesn’t look like much divorced from its time -- because I, of course, DID see it in its time, when it was a breakthrough for the portrayal of females on screen. Even at the time there were quibbles: why should audiences care about a rich lady’s problems? Why is Erica so stubborn about not marrying Saul? But mostly we were grateful to have a full-bodied portrait of a modern woman that seemed to match reality (even Pauline Kael, not a huge fan, noted how refreshing it was that Clayburgh’s character slept in a t-shirt and panties, rather than the fluffy nightgowns movies had always given females). This is, of all ten nominees in 1978, the one that seems most the work of a writer; for that alone, I offer it my semi-enthusiastic vote.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby ITALIANO » Sat Apr 18, 2015 2:51 pm

I haven't seen Bloodbrothers, so of course I can't vote in Adapted. Of the four I have seen, it's between Midnight Express and Heaven Can Wait - and as neither is a writing masterpiece, I'm not sad that I have to abstain. Midnight Express is effective, certainly, but more than a bit sensationalistic, and its racist aspects prevent me from truly liking it. Heaven Can Wait is a harmless comedy - I would have probably voted for it, but only by default.

The level is much, much higher in Original. And it's not easy. With the exception of Coming Home - which isn't exactly terrible (the Jon Voight charater is quite sincerily written), but it's definitely simplistic - the other movies are all at least interesting. An Unmarried Woman is a film of its time, certainly, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing - from a historical point of view, its portrayal of the central (female) character is quite relevant. And The Deer Hunter is, of course, an important movie - though its screenplay isn't perfect. Both Interiors and Autumn Sonata are more script-centered, and both have some unforgettable lines (like it or not, "At the centre of a sick psyche there is a sick spirit" IS unforgettable). Interiors is admittedly heavily influenced by Bergman, but it's better to be influenced by Bergman than by, say, Tano Boccia, isn't it? It's an intelligent script, though maybe a bit too literary. Plus, there's the REAL Bergman in the race, and Autumn Sonata - especially the long, central confrontation between mother and daughter, with its echoes of Strindberg - is just too strong, too powerful to be ignored. My pick, but not as easy as I'd have thought.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Apr 15, 2015 7:25 am

I could only vote in original and it was a tough choice between Coming Home & Interiors. I voted for Coming Home though from what I have read the screenplay was a shambles and some of it was being re-written as they were filming.

Whatever weakness it may have in screenplay form are covered up by overall excellence in everything else about the film. As for Woody Allen there aren't too many writer/directors who had such a great run (3 for 3 great films in a row - Annie Hall, Interiors & Manhattan).

As for the adapted line-up, what a weak bunch they are. I read Midnight Express before seeing the film and whilst the book was quiet readable the film is a rather weak adaptation as well as a week film in general. It may be the best of the bunch but nowhere near good enough for me to consider voting for it.

It's hard to be too critical of the Academy's nominations in the adapted category as there was very little of quality eligible for 1978. After having a quick look at by list of the better films of the year I could only come up with two much preferred English language candidates: Stevie & Death on the Nile.
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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Apr 14, 2015 3:31 pm

Original

This is the stronger category this year. Of the ten films nominated for the two WGA original categories this year (one for drama, one for comedy), the Academy went for the best four plus the one great screenplay that wasn't WGA eligible.

Of those hey ignored, I've never seen Once in Paris and based on IMDb. reviews have no desire to do so even though its screenwriter is Frank D. Gilroy (The Subject Was Roses).

National Lampoon's Animal House had an actual screenplay? Really?

House Calls was a tired British comedy.

A Wedding was minor Altman.

The problem with Days of Heaven is that it's impossible to tell what was in the screenplay and what was improvised. According to Linda Manz, whose voiceover tells the bulk of the story, all of her voiceover was improvised by her. His only direction was to tell in character what she was seeing as the film was being screened for her.

Movie Movie was a first-rate spoof of three 1930s genres - boxing films, aviation films and backstage musicals. It would have been an excellent nominee if there were a sixth slot available.

Of those that made the cut:

The Oscar winning Coming Home is the weakest of the lot. While several scenes are totally riveting, others are lackluster and the A Star Is Born send-off of one of the major characters seems calculated.

An Unmarried Woman[/[i] is mostly strong but loses points from me for having at least one too many ladies' lunch scenes,

[i]The Deer Hunter
is another film with some great stuff, but with several scenes that go on too long.

Interiors is one of Woody Allen's best despite its reputation of being Bergman lite. It would be my choice were it not for the real thing. Autumn Sonata is one of, if not the most accessible of Bergman's films and easily gets my vote here.

Adapted

Something went haywire here.

The WGA had some inspired nominees that the Academy overlooked in favor of three of their lesser picks.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Superman, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, Who'll Stop the Rain? and Go Tell the Spartans were all far better than Same Time, Next Year, Heaven Can Wait and all but the Maggie Smith-Michael Caine segment of California Suite and just as good as the script for Blood Brothers. Best, though, was the winner, Midnight Express which heralded the writing, but not yet directorial, career of Oliver Stone.

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Re: Best Screenplay 1978

Postby CalWilliam » Tue Apr 14, 2015 4:23 am

I haven't seen Bloodbrothers, so I'll abstain in Adapted, but between the other four Midnight Express is clearly the standout. It's a powerful film, full of unforgettable moments, and a worthy winner in this category. The other Robert Mulligan movie, Same Time, Next Year, is just nice material, far from being offensive, but near pointless. And that paper mache esthetics are really discouraging and annoying. Heaven Can Wait is funny at times, thanks to Dyan Cannon and Julie Christie, but this is another harmless Warren "Gorgeous" Beatty vehicle. I haven't seen Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but everything seems this was an unnecessary remake, wasn't it? At least California Suite is more intelligent, even if the four stories (were they four?) are unbalanced among themselves, though it IS funny. The Caine-Smith is the best one, I enjoyed the Fonda-Alda conversation, and Cosby's absurd slapstick is hilarious.

In Original is more difficult, but not too difficult in the end. There is the Vietnam group, and the Bergman efforts. The lonely An Unmarried Woman is very long considering what it offers, and I found it rather dated, as it is Coming Home, only watchable today because of Jon Voight. The cultural and political context back then may have helped, I presume, 'cause it's puzzling how this movie could have won here when you have three far better choices. And next to go is The Deer Hunter, a film I love, but from a narrative point of view kind of erratic, though notorious and heartbreaking as well. But this is between the two Bergmans, and I voted for the real one, of course. Autumn Sonata is not Bergman's best effort, and the last act is not precisely subtle (there's no hidden word or emotion left, my God), but in the end it resonates in a profound way, and only that piano scene is worthy of this prize. I really esteem Interiors, but it looks more relevant and serious than it actually is. Autumn Sonata doesn't.
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Best Screenplay 1978

Postby Kellens101 » Mon Apr 13, 2015 5:37 pm

What was the best screenplay of 1978?


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