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My Best Film: 2020


Devon Malcolm
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So yeah, it's been an absolutely megashit year but in terms of cinema, it's actually led to one of the most diverse years on record with so many smaller films having the chance to shine with most blockbusters held back from cinema release. In turn, it does mean 2021 is shaping up to be the worst year for films on record, but let's get vaccined first and see what occurs.

BEST SCENE

Runners-up: Floating Scene (Saint Maud) / Night-time dance and chase scene (The Wild Goose Lake)

Winner: Restaurant scene (The Invisible Man)

 

When I saw this at the cinema I nearly collapsed. It was the culmination of over an hour of some of the tensest, most anxiety-inducing cinema I've seen for ages. No incidental music, no hint of what's to come. Brilliant.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Runners-up: Angel of Mine / Come to Daddy

Winner: EXIT

 

Korea has become too reliant on overlong crime films the last 7 or 8 years but in the last couple of years or so they have started to put out some really fun genre stuff at a manageable length. EXIT is a disaster / action movie that starts slowly but once it gets going it's consistently inventive and exciting. Be amazed if there's not a remake in the pipeline by the end of 2021.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Runners-up: Away / Onward

Winner: Wolfwalkers

Pixar's patchy recent form is not the only reason why Cartoon Saloon are now the most consistently high quality animation studio working in films. All their films to date have been beautiful, emotional pieces of work and Wolfwalkers may be their best to date. I'm really delighted I got to see Wolfwalkers at the cinema, as it really brings out how stunning the animation is but the story is packed with depth and heart. Wonderful.

BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST

Runners-up: Rose Glass (director - Saint Maud) / Gints Zilbalodis (everything - Away)

Winner: Morfydd Clark (actress - The Personal History of David Copperfield / Eternal Beauty / Saint Maud)

Quote

 

Whether she‚Äôs being funny, fierce, passionate or giddily naive, she has a quality that has triumphantly vindicated her nomination as a¬†Screen International¬†star of tomorrow¬†in 2016, which she ascribes not to her own talent but to the Welsh language: ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs this particular word¬†hiraeth, which I feel loads of my characters have. It‚Äôs this longing for somewhere you can‚Äôt return to because it doesn‚Äôt exist any more or never was. That has definitely affected the type of actress I am ‚Äď just that I have that one word.‚ÄĚ

All of a sudden, from a different time zone on the other side of the world, she‚Äôs reciting the words of a Max Boyce song: ‚ÄúTell me then you men of learning, why is hiraeth more than yearning. When the darkness minds to hide me, hiraeth comes and sleeps beside me.‚ÄĚ Such sentiments mean something when you speak a minority language, she points out. ‚ÄúWhen I go back to watch the rugby with my friends I feel very lucky to be from this tiny country and to speak the language. You can also be very romantic in Welsh, and very effusive, which helps with Shakespeare too.‚ÄĚ

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/sep/20/morfydd-clark-welsh-actor-saint-maud-david-copperfield-ianucci-adhd-nurse-nhs-carer

What an amazing year Morfydd Clark had. Managing to stand out in the crowded The Personal History of David Copperfield and out-performing the great Sally Hawkins in Eternal Beauty, her lead performance in the superb Saint Maud turned most heads and quite rightly so. Can't wait to see what she does next.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Runners-up: The Three Deaths of Marisela Escobedo / Beastie Boys Story

Winner: Midnight Family

Obviously this year has seen more discussion about healthcare than ever before, and as such Midnight Family, a Mexican documentary about a family who run a private ambulance service, is especially pertinent. It's the sort of unobtrusive style that I wish more documentaries adopted, constantly asking questions of the audience and those involved.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTING

Runners-up: Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit) / Brigette Lundy-Paine (Bill & Ted Face the Music)

Winner: Gwei Lun-mei (The Wild Goose Lake)

A distinguished near-20 year career in Chinese and Taiwanese cinema preceded Gwei's amazing performance as a conflicted sex worker in The Wild Goose Lake, a splendid Chinese neo-noir which I think is still doing the rounds on Mubi. Unquestionably it is much better for her performance, which is constantly disarming and impossible to take your eyes off.

BEST LEAD ACTING

Runners-up: Haley Bennett (Swallow) / Song Kang-ho (Parasite)

Winner: Mariana di Girolamo (Ema)

 

I'm aware that choosing two non-English language performances in arthose poncedom is very much on point for me, but I couldn't honestly pick a better performance this year than Mariana di Girolamo's in Ema. Pablo Larrain's Chilean drama, about a couple falling apart after a failed adoption, is full of surprise moments and emotion and di Girolamo has to carry one of the most complex and difficult roles of the year. As well as being able to nail numerous dance numbers. If she doesn't end up a huge star, it will be a travesty.

BEST DIRECTOR

Runners-up: Celina Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) / Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho (Bacurau)

Winner: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

 

If 2020 did one thing right it was to have the whole world finally take notice of Bong Joon-ho. He'd been a great director for ages before Parasite of course, but his unclassifiable masterpiece is the perfect example of a director unrestrained by genre and fully consumed by his vision. What a guy.

BEST FILM

Runners-up: The Lighthouse (dir - Robert Eggers) / Bacurau (dir - Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho) / The Assistant (dir - Kitty Green) / The Invisible Man (dir - Leigh Whannell)

Winner: Parasite (dir - Bong Joon-ho)

 

It had to be. It's a rare example of a whirlwind of hype and publicity and praise actually being directed at something that warranted it. Even the fucking Oscars couldn't ignore Parasite, and I think that says a hell of a lot about what truly is a great film - although, notably, not even Bong's best.

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Best Film - Invisible Man. Whilst Parasite was released here in 2020, It was a 2019 film otherwise I would choose that. As @Devon Malcolm said, that scene was absolutely amazing, but the whole film was enjoyable and have watched it a few times now and holds up to repeat viewing.

Best Animated - Wolfwalkers. Soul was good, but can't say there was much competition for this one this year. Onward was awful, Trolls World Tour was what you expect.

Biggest Surprise - The Hunt. I really enjoyed it for what it was. Also the fact Bill and Ted Face the Music wasn't awful is a close runner up. Should also mention that Sonic the Hedgehog being a lot of fun was a big surprise as well. Almost looking forward to a sequel.

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This looks like a good place to do my annual rundown of all the new films I've seen this year to help me make a ranking. Usually the longest post I do all year and completely boring, but I like the figuring out and the looking back, so here it is.

Usual disclaimers that I've seen barely anything compared to the likes of Devon, and even for those films I did see, my opinions are likely to be cobblers, so take no offence if I liked or disliked stuff I shouldn't.

-

As usual I'll go through things chronologically and work out as I go, which should leave me with a list of top films by the end. I saw 34 new release films in 2020 - not bad going for me, as it's normally between 30 and 40, with the main difference being that depressingly few of those were at the cinema. (On the plus side, I saw a whole bunch of classics for the first time this year.)

January - lockdown

Starting at the very beginning at New Year, we had a bring-on-2020 cinema trip and saw Jojo Rabbit. Some excellent moments (the shot of the shoes got an audible gasp in the cinema), and put Thomasin McKenzie in everything, but mid-tier Waititi for me (I'd put WWDITS, Wilderpeople and Boy all well above this). 

A couple of weeks later, another awards frontrunner in 1917. I was expecting to be completely aware of The Gimmick throughout (as I was with Birdman) but didn't feel that at all watching it - I was absolutely sucked in and gripped throughout. First World War movies normally do that for me in a way that WW2 movies never have. I thought this was exceptional (while being absolutely happy with it losing to Parasite at all the awards). 

Speaking of Parasite, let's do that here even though it wasn't until later in the year that we saw it - absolutely crushingly, on streaming rather than the cinema. And it buffered several times during the runtime. Still... What a fucking film, eh? I loved not knowing anything about it going in other than it being excellent, because that scene! And that other scene! And that whole thing! Ah! Superb filmmaking, thoroughly deserving of all its praise. I say this, knowing I'm probably still going to put 1917 above it ... but only just, and probably only because I saw one at the cinema and one at home, and that makes a difference.

Back to January, through, and towards the end of the month we did a contrasting double-feature that's second only to the time we saw Expendables 2 back to back with Brave. Uncut Gems followed almost immediately by A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood. I don't think you could get more contrasting than that. Adam Sandler did a great job in Uncut Gems, but I have to admit I didn't get that nonstop-anxiety-panic-attack feeling a lot of critics described in their reviews. Maybe the fact I live my life worrying and stressing constantly anyway means it doesn't have the same effect on me. I guess if you're a relaxed person it'd land differently. Anyway, I'd take Mr Rogers over Sandler's character any day - and Tom Hanks was perfect casting for him. I thought Beautiful Day worked best when it focused on him, as I found Matthew Rhys' character far less interesting. It helped having seen Won't You Be My Neighbor? beforehand, which is a great documentary if you haven't seen it. 

Skip ahead a little, to the last film we managed to get to before the cinemas shut - Onward. Sadly, a rare Pixar that doesn't do it for me. It's not Cars 2, but it's in that lower "lots of people love this, but it just doesn't click with me" level where I'd also stick the Incredibles films.

(The first thing I saw post-lockdown was Extraction. Wow, Hemsworth killed a lot of people in that film...)

My films of 2020 - up to the end of March (stuck in a spoiler box so this post isn't even longer)

Spoiler

1. 1917

2. Parasite

3. Jojo Rabbit

4. Uncut Gems

5. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

6. Onward

7. Extraction

 

Weirdly, almost in chronological order.

April - June - the furlough months

The end of March brought Disney+, so in that initial flurry of "let's get our money's worth", we tried a couple of their original films in the first few weeks. Lady and the Tramp is about some good dogs, which is good, but other than removing the racism from the animated version, doesn't do a whole lot beyond what you already know. Togo is about some more good dogs, and is everything you'd expect from a Disney film starring huskies, apart from the fact they somehow got Willem DaFoe. It did get me a bit by the end, though (and I know that when my mum watched it she was in floods of tears, which is usually a sign that this is a Decent Film About A Dog).

A couple of months later (the furlough months will all blend into one so I'm not being strict on my chronology) Disney stuck Artemis Fowl on streaming. I can't imagine they ever planned to release it in cinemas, because it's bloody awful. There are a great many things that make it awful and listing them would force me to remember the film, so I'll stick with the two moments that weren't terrible - a fun reference to David Bowie, and Judi Dench saying "top of the morning" in an Irish accent. The other 89 1/2 minutes, cack.

Netflix had a good supply of new films throughout this time. There was the Michelle Obama documentary Becoming, which, while similar in tone and content to her book tour show at the O2 (which they included clips of in the doc), was a welcome fantasy about competent leadership. The Lovebirds benefitted greatly from the chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, which was strong enough that I forgave the film a lot of its problems. If it'd had a stronger script it could have been properly brilliant, but as it is, I can't really put it above 'fine'. 

Extra Ordinary was the kind of thing we'd have normally gone to a small independent cinema to watch after reading lots of good reviews. It'd also have been the kind of thing where we'd have left the cinema in silence, before one of us admitted "that ... wasn't very good, was it?" A few promising moments, and I like Maeve Higgins, but underwhelming overall. That was April or May - can't remember which - but by June a couple of much more publicised films landed. 

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga is objectively not a good film. But at the height of lockdown, with no end in sight, it provided some stupid laughs, a mega-charming Rachel McAdams, and a couple of ear worm songs almost at the level of actual Eurovision. If it hadn't come out when it did, I might not think so fondly of it, but it did, and I do. Da 5 Bloods was another June Netflix release and one I really liked. I didn't feel the 2 1/2 hour runtime as I often do with longer films on streaming. Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman gave particularly strong performances, but the whole ensemble were very good. I don't care if "sheeeeeeeeeeit" is a gimmick now, I still pop for it. And with the protests and events surrounding Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and more this summer, it felt incredibly relevant.

Finally, our only venture onto Prime Video during this time - other than a 'cheer us up please' Parks & Rec rewatch - was My Spy, in which Big Dave carried the film, elevated it, and put it over strong. He's bloody good in it and it's well worth your time.

My films of 2020 - up to the end of June (halfway there... sorry)

Spoiler

1. 1917

2. Parasite

3. Jojo Rabbit

4. Da 5 Bloods

5. Becoming

6. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

7. The Lovebirds

8. Uncut Gems

9. My Spy

10. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

11. Onward

12. Togo

13. Lady and the Tramp

14. Extraction

15. Extra Ordinary

16. Artemis Fowl

July - September - cinemas are back open! (For a bit)

I probably could have stuck July in the above section, but I need to talk about Hamilton. I don't know if it 'counts' as a 'film' or 'not'. I've seen Films of the Year lists with it on, and I've seen lists that have excluded it. I'm going to include it, because if it's not my Film of the Year, it's my All Other Media of the Year. It's both. It's everything. As far as I'm concerned, it may just be a filmed performance of the stage show but it was going to come out in cinemas, it's not just National Theatre style livestream camerawork, it's a film. 

Whatever it is (and if you disagree, just look at my list from number 2 onwards and minus 1 for each number), when this came out at the beginning of July I don't think I knew what kind of state my mind was in after three months of lockdown. Hamilton broke me. I was covered in goosebumps from the moment the Disney logo appears with the '10 Duel Commandments' music over it, and I was captivated, enthralled and awed at every moment to finally be seeing the cast from the soundtrack I'd had stuck in my head for four years. But when 'Wait For It' started, I was destroyed. Something overtook me, and I found myself wracked with sobs, almost struggling to breathe through them. This wasn't opening-of-Up tears; it was beyond even end-of-Coco tears. I have never been that emotionally overwhelmed by any piece of art or culture, ever. I don't think I ever will be again. It was like every anxiety, stress, worry, frustration, fear and feeling that had been building up since March inside my head burst out all at the same time. And this happened two more times before the end of the film ('Stay Alive (reprise)' and 'Who Lives, Who Dies...'). Hamilton did something to me that no other film has ever done or may ever do. 

I watched it three times on that first day. I've watched it once every couple of months since. I still notice new and amazing things. It might be my favourite thing.

But...

I did see some other stuff during the summer that definitely counts as 'film'. Palm Springs hasn't had an official release over here yet, but thanks to some friends we got to see it, and it's super fun and really enjoyable, with a nice spin on the time loop concept, my favourite Andy Samberg movie performance by some distance, and Cristin Miloti being wonderful throughout. I hope they might still bring this out officially in the UK one day - I'd happily rewatch in a cinema.

Greyhound, however, I'm kind of glad I didn't see in the cinema. It is not about a good dog. I think I'd have been quite, quite bored. It was fine ... World War 2, boats, peril, Tom Hanks ... all fine ingredients, but those four things are everything I could tell you about it. Hanks has been in better WW2 films, and he's been in better boat films. Sadly not memorable at all.

By August we got the chance to see Queen & Slim, and I'm really pleased we did. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith were both outstanding, and this is a film you definitely remember afterwards. Incredibly timely when it was initially released, it was even more so by summer. Sadly I don't think it'll feel less timely any time soon.

At the start of September we got to be back in a cinema! I mean, it was for Tenet, but still. Cinema! We'd hoped for big blockbuster spectacle, and there was that, and having missed the big screen experience, that carried me through the deafening sound (that wasn't just because we hadn't had cinema sound for six months, right?) and the inaudible dialogue and the incomprehensibility of ... the whole thing. I let it off slightly because it was nice to see films on the big screen again but by the time we'd got home my opinion of the film had lessened (and continues to do so). Lower tier Nolan, but still not as bad as Interstellar.

Bill & Ted Face The Music, however, was a joyous experience. Slight, maybe, unnecessary, perhaps, but it was a big warm happy hug of a film and that is exactly the kind of thing I needed. Top marks.

There was a film that should have been in cinemas in September but wasn't, so we had to stream Mulan. In the upper levels of Disney's live-action remakes, it's another one that it's hard to say was necessary, but it's well made and it's got some gorgeous visuals that should have been seen in the cinema.

Meanwhile on Netflix, Enola Holmes is a bunch of fun and I hope they get to do another one because Millie Bobby Brown is tremendous in the role, and The Boys In The Band went on there without much fanfare but is definitely worth a look. It's an adaptation of a play, with the cast from the play, and it never feels like it isn't that. But I kind of liked that about it. Strong performances across the board and one I'd recommend.

My films of 2020 - up to the end of September

Spoiler

1. Hamilton

2. 1917

3. Parasite

4. Bill & Ted Face The Music

5. Jojo Rabbit

6. Palm Springs

7. Queen & Slim

8. Da 5 Bloods

9. Becoming

10. Tenet

11. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

12. The Lovebirds

13. Enola Holmes

14. The Boys in The Band

15. Uncut Gems

16. My Spy

17. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

18. Mulan

19. Onward

20. Greyhound

21. Togo

22. Lady and the Tramp

23. Extraction

24. Extra Ordinary

25. Artemis Fowl

 

October - December - no cinemas again

Back to Netflix for a couple of good'uns. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is as Aaron Sorkin-y as can be, right down to recycling lines from The West Wing, and your tolerance for Sorkin will likely determine your enjoyment of the film. I like Sorkin, and I really liked the film. Yahya Abdul Mateen II is outstanding, and the rest of the cast are reliably great, from Rylance to Langella to Jeremy Strong. It takes some liberties with its history but that's fine because it's a very absorbing drama and it makes its points well.

Less serious is Vampires vs. The Bronx which is probably my pleasant surprise of the year. Gentrification by way of vampires, rag-tag group of kids have to stop them. Brilliant fun, a great addition to the vampire movie canon, and one that I may well revisit around Halloween time every year.

Over on Prime, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was the second impressive Sacha Baron Cohen performance of the month, but I think even he might admit he's outshone in this one by Maria Bakalova. They're both absolutely fearless. It's not quite on the level of Borat, but I'm impressed at how close they managed to get to that level.

As October crossed into November, Apple TV+ gets its time to shine. Bruce Springsteen's Letter To You was a terrific accompaniment to the new album, illuminating the stories behind the songs and offering heartwarming footage of Bruce and the band at work in the studio. If I had to pick one or the other I'd pick the album, but I'm glad we have both. Gave me the warm-and-fuzzies all over. On The Rocks is also on Apple TV+. Rashida Jones does what she can. Bill Murray's in it. I wasn't keen, but then I didn't like Lost In Translation either.

Cinemas haven't opened yet so it's streaming all the way to the end of the year. Couple more Netflixes, then. Mank is another one that left me a bit cold. Very well-directed, very well-made, but it didn't grab me, and I didn't find it especially fascinating or anything. Some beautiful shots in there though. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was much, much more my kind of thing. Astounding performance by Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis barely recognisable, such good music throughout, and, while I agree with the reviews that said it felt very stagey - just like with Boys In The Band, I like that about it. The confined spaces and the monologues added to it for me. It's probably already dropped off Netflix's algorithm but it is well worth your time. I'm sad I couldn't see it on the big screen.

To my shame, we only managed to find time for one of Steve McQueen's Small Axe films this year. We fully intend to watch them all, but unless we do so tonight, Red White & Blue is the only one that'll be on my 2020 list. I've heard it's not as good as Mangrove or Lovers Rock, but if that's the case it only serves to show how good those two must be, because this was very good indeed. Vivid, evocative, infuriating and honest. John Boyega's never been better, and those long, lingering shots McQueen sometimes favours work beautifully throughout this.

The last new film for 2020 was Soul on Christmas Day. Better than Onward, but still mid-tier Pixar for me right now, it's one that I think might grow on me with subsequent watches. I had stronger emotional responses to each of Pete Docter's previous films for Pixar, but I appreciate this might not have been what he and Kemp Powers were going for in Soul. It still made me think, it still made me feel, it still made me appreciate things. And it's stunning visually, too.

And that's the lot!

My films of 2020 (still in a spoiler tag to save scrolling, I guess)

Spoiler

1. Hamilton

2. 1917

3. Parasite

4. Bill & Ted Face The Music

5. Jojo Rabbit

6. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

7. Palm Springs

8. The Trial of the Chicago 7

9. Bruce Springsteen's Letter To You

10. Vampires vs. The Bronx

11. Soul

12. Queen & Slim

13. Da 5 Bloods

14. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

15. Small Axe: Red White & Blue

16. Becoming

17. Tenet

18. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

19. The Lovebirds

20. Enola Holmes

21. The Boys in The Band

22. Uncut Gems

23. My Spy

24. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

25. Mulan

26. Onward

27. Mank

28. On The Rocks

29. Greyhound

30. Togo

31. Lady and the Tramp

32. Extraction

33. Extra Ordinary

34. Artemis Fowl

In summary...

 - It depends if you count Hamilton as a film, but if you do, that's my number one.

 - If you don't, the awards front-runners of 1917 and Parasite are right up there.

 - Bill & Ted ended up higher than I might have expected - I wasn't very hopeful at all based on the trailers.

 - Of the films I saw, there were only three I didn't really like, and only one of those I thought was actively terrible.

 - I can't wait until it's safe enough for cinemas to reopen again (again).

Thanks for reading if you read this, thanks for scrolling past it if you didn't. Until next year!

Edited by HarmonicGenerator
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17 minutes ago, tiger_rick said:

Was going to suggest Onward is the only film I've seen from 2020 but Harmy's post reminds me I saw Enola Holmes on Netflix if that counts. Onward was great.

Tremendous OP @Devon Malcolm

Enola Holmes was one of the surprises of the year, probably mostly due to Millie Bobby Brown being superb.

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I just watched The invisible man and boy it was fucking dreadful. I honestly can’t remember the last time I wanted a film to end. It really peaked with that scene in the opening post, that was the only reason I watched it. Maybe I had some pre conceived notion of what to expect going into it and it turned out completely different.

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Film Four at 11am this morning: Carry On Cabby. Pissed it. 

The finest of the Anglo-Amalgamated period (Anyone who says Screaming is full of shite). Also probably the most strong story wise, has a real lot of heart in it too. 

 

And also Amanda Barrie in a short skirt and a pillbox hat. 

Edited by PowerButchi
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29 minutes ago, stewdogg said:
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I thought she was having a meltdown. I don’t know why I thought that but when it actually turned out to be a real invisible man I was kinda disappointed that we weren’t living her nightmare. 

 

Well that's odd. Had you imagined it that way?As that would be much shitter than the actual film which does a terrific job of slowly building a discussion of gaslightling.

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17 minutes ago, DEF said:

Well that's odd. Had you imagined it that way?As that would be much shitter than the actual film which does a terrific job of slowly building a discussion of gaslightling.

Maybe I wasn‚Äôt concentrating hard enough to see some things that might‚Äôve been too subtle for me.¬†I didn‚Äôt see her walking out with the invisible suit at the end either. I don‚Äôt think I‚Äôd¬†give it another watch though. I also didn‚Äôt understand why the cop didn‚Äôt speak to her about why there was paint everywhere in the house and plates smashed, table destroyed etc.¬†¬†ūüėě

Edited by stewdogg
Can’t get rid of that smiley
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