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What are your favorite examples of great film acting?


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#1 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 06:59 PM

What struck you as great film acting, whether in one scene or throughout an entire film?

There are many famous examples, particularly Oscar winning performances, so I'll
offer some perhaps less recognized ones that occur to me right now.

1. James Woods in "Salvador"

2. Angelina Jolie in an otherwise fairly ordinary film, "Playing by Heart". Dennis Quaid is
also excellent in that movie.

3. Sidney Poiter in "To Sir with Love".

4. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the "Before Sunrise" , "Before Sunset" movies.

5. William Holden in "Stalag 17".

6. John Cusack, Ione Skye in "Say Anything".

7. Paul LeMat in "American Graffitti" (with lots of good work around him.)

8. Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osmond in "The Sixth Sense"

9. Molly Ringwald in "Pretty in Pink". Go ahead,say what you want, she did a lot with that.
Andrew Dice Clay and Jon Cryer in their scenes in the same movie. Cryer's pain was
so real.

10. On t.v.: Andre Braugher in "Homicide"

11. Don Johnson in "Miami Vice". Look past the glitz and the guy did some real acting,
great work mostly unacknowledged.
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#2 Francesco Bonomo

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 07:11 PM

- Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now (and pretty much everything he did)
- Naomi Watts in Mullholland Drive (especially the audition scene, it blew my mind)
- Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
- Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver

...and many many more..
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#3 Hal Smith

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 07:33 PM

Catherine Keener's portrayal of HARPER LEE in "Capote". Didn't surprise me in the least that she received an Academy nomination for that role.
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#4 Dan Goldberg

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 08:55 PM

Well my favourite actor (by far) is Sean Penn. His acting in I Am Sam and Mystic River were actually awe-inspiring to me. So much talent, so much emotion. I love it.

As well, in a recent film, I think Djimon Honsou 's role in "Blood Diamond" should've taken the Best Supporting Actor nomination. I still don't know why he didn't win. What a magnificent job he did. He made the movie everything it was.
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#5 Jesus Sifuentes

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:27 PM

Sir Anthony Hopkins in both Titus & Silence of The Lambs. Few actors can actually morph into a role.

Vincent Gallo in Buffalo 66 playing a disturbed man. well actually he is already a haunting artist

Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog

David Thewlis in Naked

Monica Bellucci in Irréversible

Lauren Ambrose in Six Feet Under - Watching the role Claire evolve was amazing

Min-sik Choi in Oldboy

Gael García Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries

just a few of my single actor performances
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:39 PM

James Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"
Orson Welles in "The Third Man"
Lillian Gish in "The Wind"
Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in "Persona"
Goerge C. Scott in "Patton", "Dr. Strangelove", and "The Hustler"
Paul Newman in "Hud"
Barbara Stanwyck in "Ball of Fire" and "The Lady Eve"
Sidney Poitier in "In the Heat of the Night"
Rod Steiger in "Doctor Zhivago"
Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Lion in Winter"
Peter Sellers in "Lolita" and "Dr. Strangelove"

Alec Guiness in almost anything
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#7 Joseph Winchester

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:45 PM

Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, Faces and Opening Night - She is truly amazing...

Maggie Cheung in In The Mood For Love

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane - and anything he did.

Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters in Lolita

Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love - I know, he sucks in general but was perect for this role.

Martin Landau in Ed Wood

Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's 8 1/2

Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra madre

A quick list...
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#8 Troy Warr

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 09:49 PM

Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter have to be my two favorite examples; Christopher Walken getting choked up in the military hospital when the nurse asks about his parents, and De Niro finally reuniting with Christopher Walken before the final Russian roulette scene - not to mention everyone's performances in the POW scenes.

Also, Jim Caviezel in The Thin Red Line - and apparently he wasn't even intended to be a major character in the film, but was edited as such in post.
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#9 Mike Rizos

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:04 PM

Klaus Kinski in Aguire, and the guy who played Pablo Neruda in The postman. Not for a millisecond did I think I was watching a perfomance.
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#10 Jesus Sifuentes

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:13 PM

Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter have to be my two favorite examples; Christopher Walken getting choked up in the military hospital when the nurse asks about his parents, and De Niro finally reuniting with Christopher Walken before the final Russian roulette scene - not to mention everyone's performances in the POW scenes.

Also, Jim Caviezel in The Thin Red Line - and apparently he wasn't even intended to be a major character in the film, but was edited as such in post.



Speaking of duets Al Pacino & Robert De Niro in Heat, was brilliant. The cocky subtle attitude towards each other, was a film lovers dream come true.

Edited by Jesús Sifuentes, 19 April 2007 - 10:14 PM.

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#11 Jim Simon

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 10:23 PM

To me the single finest acting ever recorded on celluloid was Sir Anthony Hopkins in "The Remains of the Day".

In the study scene with Emma Thompson, playing the maid to Hopkins' head butler, where she finds him reading and wants to know what the book is. His sense of dignity and propriety will not allow him to admit he's reading a romance, but at the same time he desperately wants her to know his vulnerable side. She approaches, he backs away. Finally, with his back up against the wall (literally), she "forces" the book out of his hands and finds him out. Without saying a word, Hopkins manages to convey dread, horror, embarrassment, and finally - relief.

Truly a stunning performance.

In a similar vein, Robin Williams performance as Mrs. Doubtfire, in the scene where "she" is talking with employer/ex-wife Sally Field in the kitchen over tea. The look in his eyes, which are all that can be seen of his real face because of the make-up, when he finds out why she divorced him, again without saying a word, speaks volumes.
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#12 Ken Minehan

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 11:32 PM

My favorites:

Sir Anthony Hopkins- "the fastest Indian"
Kevin Spacey- "Usual Suspects"
Edward Norton- "Primal Fear", "American History X"
Billy Bob Thornton- "Sling Blade"
Andy Lau- "Infernal Affairs"
Tony Leong- "Infernal Affairs"
Helen Mirren- "The Queen"
Kirk Douglas- "Spartacus"

This is what i can think of for now. There are so so so many more.

Ken Minehan
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#13 Jonathan Benny

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 11:38 PM

What struck you as great film acting, whether in one scene or throughout an entire film?


The entire cast of "Network" 1976.

The entire cast of "Glengarry Glen Ross" 1992

AJB
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#14 Bill Totolo

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Posted 19 April 2007 - 11:47 PM

There's a lot of great performances out there:

Here's a few:

Isela Vega- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Ben Gazzara- Too Tired to Die

Dennis Hopper- Blue Velvet

Virginia Cherrill- City Lights

Bjork- Dancer in the Dark

Erich von Stroheim- Grand Illusion

Bill Murray & Scarlett Johansson- Lost in Translation

Woody Allen- Manhattan

The CAST of NETWORK

Anthony Perkins- Psycho

John Wayne- Red River

Jean Servais- Rififi

Dustin Hoffman- The Graduate

Burt Lancaster- The Leopard

Burt Lancaster- The Swimmer

Jack Nicholson- The Shining

Jack Nicholson- About Schmidt

Richard Burton- Beckett

Peter O'Toole- Beckett

Humphrey Bogart- Casablanca

Robert Mitchum- Out of the Past

The CAST of Glengary Glennross

William Hurt- Body Heat

Martin Sheen- Apocalypse Now

Roger Duchesne- Bob le Flambeur

Kevin Kline- A Fish Called Wanda

The CAST of The Godfather

Robert de Niro- Raging Bull

Anthony Hopkins- Silence of the Lambs

Ricky Gervais- The Office (BBC)
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#15 Keneu Luca

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 12:20 AM

I think many of the examples offered above illustrate actors and performers who are entertaining and interesting. But they do not in my opinion necessarily reflect truthful human behavior devoid of self-consciousness.

The process and act of "acting" is overwhelmingly seductive to one's ego and sense of importance. To practically every beginning actor, and even many established ones, it forces them to be quite self-conscious. This often results in overly-dramatic, exaggerated choices and performances. Actors feel obligated to milk every line of dialogue for the highest possible dramatic effect. Even the subtle performances are dramatically subtle.

A line of dialogue will be delivered with deliberate changes in the pacing of the line the actor is reading, often adding dramatic pauses. Yes, it creates an interesting performance, but ultimately is self-conscious and....well....a performance. I'm thinking of David Caruso on CSI Miami. Just one example.

In real life, we do not perform, we behave.

And while movies obviously aren?t exactly real life, actors are able to carry out certain activities exactly as they would in real life. Drive a car. Eat food. Smoke a cigarette. And yes, behave and interact with other people. It is not always necessary to exaggerate these things for dramatic effect. Acting is a piece of the puzzle. When all of the pieces come together, dramatic effect is achieved. It is not the sole responsibility of each individual element. It is the final combination of each element. Acting, music, lighting, props, wardrobe, setting, story, etc?.

Hollywood A ? List actors, I?ll agree, are amusing to watch. And I?m not necessarily denying them of talent and hard work. What I?m denying them of is the ability to resist self-consciousness and ego, in exchange for simple, truthful human behavior.

Truthful human behavior. You?re not showing off. You?re not trying to be interesting. You simply have a goal in the conversation, just as we do in real life. We are either trying to convince someone to do something, influence them, persuade them, lend a caring ear, let them know you care for them, intimidate them, whatever. You simply stick to that goal, but how you get there depends on your immediate circumstances and how the other person is behaving toward you, It is largely give and take. And, just as a side note, usually involves more humor than drama, even in a dramatic film.

But the Hollywood machine has been running strong for decades, and the ?dramatic? tradition is indoctrinated in virtually every acting class in New York and Los Angeles. The art and educational analyses of acting has been unavoidably romanticized.

Paul Greengrass seems to get truthful human behavior out of his actors in BLOODY SUNDAY and UNITED 93. I haven?t seen his BOURNE film. I?m guessing BOURNE relies on traditional acting. The reason is likely that UNITED and SUNDAY are sensitive stories based on tragic real life events and dramatizing them would be in poor taste, whereas BOURNE is a fictional action film. But what about other tragic real life stories helmed by other directors. They too are usually full of the standard dramatized performances. It is because of his direction of actors in BLOODY SUNDAY and UNITED 93 that have more respect for Greengrass than most other filmmakers today.

Anyway. This is all just my opinion. But it does reflect my attitude towards directing. I think I touched upon some of this in an older thread. http://www.cinematog...n...=15132&st=0

Edited by Keneu Luca, 20 April 2007 - 12:22 AM.

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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 12:32 AM

I tend to agree with Kubrick: "Sure, it may be realistic... but is it interesting?"

I think strict realism is overrated, in cinematography and in acting. I'd rather watch Powell's "Matter of Life and Death" rather than "Babel" or "Crash" or even "Flight 93". I enjoy artiface, theatricality. The mechanical reproduction of reality bores me. I can look out my window and see people acting realistically.

Of course, as a style, realism in acting or cinematography is absolutely the correct choice for certain projects. But it is no more "truthful" than Kabuki.

I also think most artists eventually abandon strict realism over time and find their own version of the truth to convey in whatever style they find the most compelling to work in.

I also am reminded of the Olivier quote about sincerity being the most important quality for an actor to have because "if you can fake that, you can fake anything."
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#17 Keneu Luca

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 12:40 AM

I tend to agree with Kubrick: "Sure, it may be realistic... but is it interesting?"

I think strict realism is overrated, in cinematography and in acting. I'd rather watch Powell's "Matter of Life and Death" rather than "Babel" or "Crash" or even "Flight 93". I enjoy artiface, theatricality. The mechanical reproduction of reality bores me. I can look out my window and see people acting realistically.

Of course, as a style, realism in acting or cinematography is absolutely the correct choice for certain projects. But it is no more "truthful" than Kabuki.

I also think most artists eventually abandon strict realism over time and find their own version of the truth to convey in whatever style they find the most compelling to work in.

I also am reminded of the Olivier quote about sincerity being the most important quality for an actor to have because "if you can fake that, you can fake anything."


I don't know if your post was a response to mine. Some of what you said seemed to be.
You wrote, "The mechanical reproduction of reality bores me. I can look out my window and see people acting realistically." That is true. Which is why I said acting is just one piece of the puzzle. Realistic acting combined with an interesting script, characters, directing, etc is what you most likely wont find looking out your window.

I tend to agree with Kubrick: "Sure, it may be realistic... but is it interesting?"
The realistic acting in the context of the other creative elements makes it interesting. The human element, truthful human behavior, being the most important. Of course, thats just my opinion.

Also, side note, Flight 93 was a made-for-cable film. United 93 is the title of Greengrass's theatrical-release film.
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 01:02 AM

The realistic acting in the context of the other creative elements makes it interesting. The human element, truthful human behavior, being the most important. Of course, thats just my opinion.


You're confusing realism with truthfulness. Realism is just a style, a type of artiface, like any other style, and every generation redefines what realism is anyway so your idea of realistic acting in twenty years may seem like a very stylized form of acting to some future viewer. It's best to not confuse the two issues, realism and truthfulness. You could make the most dishonest movie of all time and fool people into thinking it was completely realistic. There is no inherent truth to realism.

Besides, it's called ACTING.

I'm only arguing with you because you seem to be taking exception to all of these well-loved performances over time that we have listed here, out of some notion that our choices fail to meet your personal requirement that a performance has to be realistic to be good. I'm just telling you that it's an arbitrary criteria that not everyone shares -- certainly I don't. I care about the expression of human truths but I can see that in non-realistic performances. "Realism" is just a style, a fashion of the time -- it's not Truth with a capital "T". People raved about the realism of Method actors of the 1950's and now most of us see those performances as stylized. Which is fine because whether or not they were being realistic is less important than whether or not they expressed truth about the human condition.

Saying that acting always has to be realistic to be good is like restricting cinematography to realism. Why does art have to be so limited? The original post was about "great" film acting, not the most realistic film acting. And besides, in a stylized setting or genre, a realistic performance may sometimes be a bad choice. I don't watch "The Red Shoes" to see people behaving realistically.
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#19 Keneu Luca

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 02:42 AM

You're confusing realism with truthfulness.


Perhaps this is semantics. Truth and realism. The truth that the actors bring to the production can result in realism.

I was watching a television show. Something like America?s Funniest Home Videos. An audience member was video-taping a college play. If I remember correctly, the male actor was discussing his love for the female character. In the middle of the scene, a bat flew into the building and began flying around the stage. This was not part of the production.

The actors on stage continued to work through the scene, ignoring the bat, just as they had rehearsed. But where do you think the audiences attention was? The friggin bat.

This scene, if not the entire play, was now ruined. The bat came in and completely altered the reality of the production. And because these actors were trained to deliver lines a certain way and make the sure the scene played out a certain way, without behaving truthfully to their environment, the truth was gone and so was realism.

But, if they had incorporated the bat into the scene and acknowledged it, without pretending it wasn?t there, it would have been gold. They would have been acting truthfully. And they may have even been able to convince the audience that the bat was in fact part of the play.

Kevin Kline on The Actor?s Studio talked about a play where the front row seats were really right up against the stage. This one audience member kept bouncing his thigh up and down, causing a serious distraction. The actors had to compete with it for the audience?s attention. Kline simply moved toward the man and placed his hand on the guy?s thigh to stop him. Kline?s behavior was truthful. And he managed to continue with the play.

I realize that these are examples of acting in a play rather than film. But the principle remains the same. And it?s more than just improvisation. It is training and acting that relies more on the actors environment and the other actor they are engaging with, rather than internalized superficial emotions they are trying to convey. Instead of focusing on what ?interesting? way they are going to deliver their lines and what ?interesting? thing they?re gonna do next, they are focusing on the their environment and the other actor. And we the audience can see the other actor and the environment, therefore we recognize that their acting is truthful because it is based on observable factors.

Realism is just a style, a type of artiface, like any other style, and every generation redefines what realism is anyway so your idea of realistic acting in twenty years may seem like a very stylized form of acting to some future viewer.

Yes you're right. It most likely will. Because the reality of the future world may not coincide with the reality of our current world, which dictates the reality in current films (that strive for reality).

You could make the most dishonest movie of all time and fool people into thinking it was completely realistic.

Im not so sure I see your point here. And you have to be careful with how you phrase things. A dishonest movie can contain truthful acting. Blair Witch. And yes, many people were fooled. Although it now seems many people have disdain for this film. But I digress?..

I'm only arguing with you because you seem to be taking exception to all of these well-loved performances over time that we have listed here, out of some notion that our choices fail to meet your personal requirement that a performance has to be realistic to be good.

I have acknowledged that the performances mentioned required talent and hard work. And that I too find them entertaining and interesting.

I'm just telling you that it's an arbitrary criteria that not everyone shares -- certainly I don't.

Of course. We all have our own opinions and criteria. Otherwise we would all have listed the same examples on this thread. And in my original post I mentioned more than once that I am only stating my opinion.

People raved about the realism of Method actors of the 1950's and now most of us see those performances as stylized.

That?s right. Because acting evolves. Isn?t behaving the way we do in real life the fundamental purpose of acting? Sure there are some rare exceptions and variances. But generally speaking. And that process evolves over time. The Method, compared to what existed before it, was an improvement. But today, acting has evolved, therefore revealing the Method to be insufficient and dated.

Saying that acting always has to be realistic to be good is like restricting cinematography to realism.


I never said it had to be. I was simply stating my opinion of acting.

Why does art have to be so limited? The original post was about "great" film acting, not the most realistic film acting.

My response to the post just happens to be realistic. I decided to not just list actors, but to illustrate my own specific criteria. Is that a bad thing to do on a filmmaking message board?

And besides, in a stylized setting or genre, a realistic performance may sometimes be a bad choice. I don't watch "The Red Shoes" to see people behaving realistically.

I agree. There are always exceptions in life.
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#20 Andrew Koch

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 02:50 AM

I see truth and realism as a very subjective thing. I think there is a difference between actual reality and perceived reality. In The Night of the Hunter, the acting, the sets, and the cinematography are very stylized. If this were a true story, the events obvioulsy would not have happened exactly the way they were portrayed in the film, but this movie is from a child's perspective, possibly from a foggy memory. The movie is showing us the children's memory of a traumatic experience, a man murdering their mother and their father being killed. So a "realistic" performance by Robert Mitchum would not have been necessarily "truthful" to the reality of the children.

Keneu Luca, I understand that you have a preference for a certain type of filmmaking and that you may not agree with some of the performances listed, but I think your approach to showing your disagreement is a bit unfair. I feel that it was innapropriate of you to post a lesson on what makes "good" acting and what makes "bad" acting on a thread where people are trying to show their appreciation for performances that they love. I'm sure you didn't mean it this way, but it came across as though you were saying that the people who posted don't know about good acting and you were here to educate them.

Julia Roberts is not a favorite actor of mine, but she is to many. Should I give a lecture to all Julia Roberts fans about why they are wrong to like her?

I'm sure you didn't mean any harm and that you are probably just very passionate about film acting, (as am I) so I hope you understand that this post is not meant to attack you in any way.

Some of my favorites:

Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc
David Morse, Jack Nicholsan, Anjelica Huston in The Crossing Guard (David Morse is pretty much awesome in everything)
Gunnar Björnstrand in Winter Light
Denzel Washington in Malcolm X, Glory, Hurricane, Training Day (and almost everything else he's in)
Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear
Sylvia Sidney in Sabotage
Minzhi Wei in Not one Less
Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
Eddie Murphy in Coming to America
Peter Lorre in M
Tom Hanks in Big
Michael Chiklis in The Shield (Television)
Jimmy Stewart in a lot of stuff especially Vertigo
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