The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, January 07, 2023
HAS IT REALLY BEEN A WHOLE CENTURY?: I have picked the best pictures of
2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, 1962, 1952, 1942, and 1932. You have probably anticipated my next step.

Welcome to 1922. We are in the pre-Oscar era now, so I can't start this my usual way by telling you what won Best Picture. I can say that the top-grossing movie in America this year is Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood—yes, the official title includes the star's name. I have never seen it. But I have seen these:

1. Salomé
Directed by Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova
Written by Nazimova and Natacha Rambova, from a play by Oscar Wilde

Feels more like Kenneth Anger than Oscar Wilde.

2. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Written by Henrik Galeen, from a novel by Bram Stoker

Dracula, but less suave and more goblinny.

3. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, Part 2—Inferno: A Game for the People of Our Age
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou, from a novel by Norbert Jacques

Tired of superhero movies? Here's a vintage supervillain movie.

4. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, Part 1—The Great Gambler: A Picture of the Time
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou, from a novel by Norbert Jacques

It's good that part two is ranked higher. That means the story keeps getting better.

5. Cops
Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline

Buster has a run-in with the LAPD—and I mean all of the LAPD.

6. The Blacksmith
Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair

Yes, it's Buster Keaton again. He was having a good year.

7. Grandma's Boy
Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
Written by Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, Jean Havez, and H.M. Walker

Harold Lloyd was also having a good year.

8. Pay Day
Written and directed by Charles Chaplin

Even Charlie Chaplin was having a pretty good year. I'm not a huge Chaplin fan, but none of my usual complaints about him apply to Pay Day: This is fast-paced, funny, and unsentimental—head-and-shoulders better than anything else the man did before Modern Times.

9. Jumping Beans
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Written by Max Fleischer

A 12-minute tale of space travel and cloning, with allusions along the way to Gulliver's Travels and Jack and the Beanstalk.

10. Witchcraft Through the Ages
Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen

If you don't mind mixing a little 1968 into your 1922, look for the version narrated by William Burroughs.

I haven't got a full list of 10 honorable mentions this time, but I'll give a shoutout to Walther Ruttmann's experimental advertisement Der Sieger. Here we are, barely past World War I, and already ads are absorbing the avant garde—or is it the other way around?

Of the films of 1922 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Phantom.

I have not watched enough movies from 1912, let alone enough good movies from 1912, to do another top 10 after this one. So this post is where this year's list-fest ends. For the record, my favorite movie of 1912 is Wladyslaw Starewicz's The Cameraman's Revenge. My favorite movie of 1902 is Georges Méliès' La Voyage Dans la Lune. My favorite movie of 1892 is Charles-Émile Reynaud's Pauvre Pierrot. And my favorite movie of 1882—if movie is the right word for it—is Eadweard Muybridge's The Kiss. If you have a brilliant fantascope disc from 1872 to recommend, drop me a line.

posted by Jesse 9:30 AM
. . .
Thursday, January 05, 2023
PROSPERITY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER: We've listed the best films of
2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, 1962, 1952, and 1942. Up next...

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1932, it gave its Best Picture award to Grand Hotel, a movie that spawned a thousand imitators (including just about every well-known disaster movie and, indirectly, the whole hyperlink cinema genre). It is, alas, a mixed bag itself. These are all better:

1. Vampyr
Directed by Carl Dreyer
Written by Dreyer and Christen Jul, from stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

Forget Dracula: This is the best vampire movie I've ever seen.

2. Island of Lost Souls
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Written by Philip Wylie and Waldemar Young, from a novel by H.G. Wells

A mad pre-Code picture based on H.G. Wells' best book, starring Bela Lugosi and the great Charles Laughton.

3. Ivan
Written and directed by Alexander Dovzhenko

Suppose you're a brilliant Ukrainian director working in Stalin's Soviet Union. Your last film upset the art commissars, and you've been assigned to put together a propaganda picture about the building of the Dneiper Dam. And then you turn in this crazy masterpiece. You, sir, have brass balls.

4. Freaks
Directed by Tod Browning
Written by Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Al Boasberg, Charles MacArthur, and Edgar Allan Woolf, from a story by Tod Robbins

Keep forgetting Dracula: This is Browning's greatest film. Even its flaws work in its favor: Stiff acting usually drives me crazy, but here it actually adds to the movie's mysterious aura, perhaps because it reminds us that these folks aren't actors in weird get-ups but honest-to-god circus freaks.

5. Love Me Tonight
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Written by Samuel Hoffenstein, George Marion Jr., and Waldemar Young

As good as a Maurice Chevalier movie gets.

6. Horse Feathers
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by S.J. Perelman, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, and Will B. Johnstone

"You've got the brain of a four-year old child, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it."

7. Boudu Saved from Drowning
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir and Albert Valentin, from a play by René Fauchois

The anti–My Man Godfrey.

8. Trouble in Paradise
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones

To see the range of what filmmakers could get away with in the pre-Code era, watch this cheerfully amoral romantic comedy back to back with Freaks.

9. Million Dollar Legs
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Henry Myers, Nicholas T. Barrows, and Ben Hecht

"What a marvelous country. Say, I'll bet you if they laid all the athletes end to end here, why they'd reach—" "484 miles." "How do you know?" "We did it once."

10. Blood of a Poet
Written and directed by Jean Cocteau

Cocteau denied that this was a surrealist film, but that's absurd. It is clearly a surrealist film. Maybe not as surrealist as the Betty Boop cartoons down in the honorable mentions, but surreal enough.

Honorable mentions:

11. Betty Boop, M.D. (Dave Fleischer)
12. Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg)
13. American Madness (Frank Capra)
14. Betty Boop for President (Dave Fleischer)
15. One Hour with You (Ernst Lubitsch, George Cukor)
16. Minnie the Moocher (Dave Fleischer)
17. Red-Headed Woman (Jack Conway)
18. Night at the Crossroads (Jean Renoir)
19. Murders in the Rue Morgue (Robert Florey)
20. The Idea (Berthold Bartosch)


Look, I like Scarface, but it's an uneven movie. Now obviously I can forgive a certain unevenness if the high points are high enough: I listed Murders in the Rue Morgue, after all, and in the case of Freaks I pretty much counted the film's flaws as virtues. But with Scarface, I can't get past that awful crime-doesn't-pay lecture that the studio insisted on inserting into the movie.

Yes, I let in Ivan, and it's full of propaganda for a totalitarian regime—quite a bit worse, morally speaking, than telling viewers not to be gangsters. But Dovzhenko played off the material that he was forced to include, made it part of his art, and subverted it. Howard Hawks just walked off the set for a while, let another director shoot the scene, and shoved the ungainly thing in. So the film falls off the list. If you want to imagine that it's at #21, I can live with that.

Of the films of 1932 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in I Was Born, But...

posted by Jesse 8:33 AM
. . .
Tuesday, January 03, 2023
WE ARE ENTERING A WAR ZONE: We have covered my favorite movies of
2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, 1962, and 1952. Forward, into the past!

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1942, it gave its Best Picture award to Mrs. Miniver. I don't like that one. I do like these:

1. Cat People
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by DeWitt Bodeen, from a story by Val Lewton

The first and arguably greatest of the Val Lewton horror cycle.

2. The Magnificent Ambersons
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles, from a novel by Booth Tarkington

You can tell when the studio's excisions begin, because a perfect picture suddenly becomes a choppy mess. If the director's cut ever surfaces, this movie will almost certainly rise to the #1 spot.

3. The Talk of the Town
Directed by George Stevens
Written by Irwin Shaw, Sidney Buchman, and Dale Van Every, from a story by Sidney Harmon

"What is the law? It's a gun pointed at somebody's head. All depends upon which end of the gun you stand, whether the law is just or not."

4. Casablanca
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, from a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

Whenever I see the beginning of this movie, I tell myself This isn't as good as I remember. By the time I get to the end, I say Oh, right. It is.

5. The Man Who Came to Dinner
Directed by William Keighley
Written by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, from a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

"I became a nurse because all my life, ever since I was a little girl, I was filled with the idea of serving a suffering humanity. After one month with you, Mr. Whiteside, I am going to work in a munitions factory."

6. The Palm Beach Story
Written and directed by Preston Sturges

"Sex always has something to do with it, dear."

7. The Major and the Minor
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, from a play by Edward Childs Carpenter

"Those innocent little panzer divisions in sheep's clothing."

8. La Nuit Fantastique
Directed by Marcel L'Herbier
Written by Louis Chavance and Maurice Henry

A surrealist romance.

9. To Be or Not to Be
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Edwin Justus Mayer, from a story by Melchior Lengyel

Hey, Chaplin: This is how you do an anti-Nazi comedy.

10. The Male Animal
Directed by Elliott Nugent
Written by Stephen Morehouse Avery, Julius J. Epstein, and Philip G. Epstein, from a play by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent

The most political jocks-vs.-nerds movie ever made.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Road to Morocco (David Butler)
12. The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
13. Random Harvest (Mervyn LeRoy)
14. This Gun for Hire (Frank Tuttle)
15. Holiday Inn (Mark Sandrich)
16. Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti)
17. The Early Bird Dood It (Tex Avery)
18. The Hare-Brained Hypnotist (Friz Freleng)
19. Symphony Hour (Riley Thomson)
20. Headlights in the Fog (Gianni Franciolini)

Of the films of 1942 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in O Pátio das Cantigas.

posted by Jesse 8:29 AM
. . .
Sunday, January 01, 2023
'52 CARD PICKUP: So far, I've blogged my favorite films of
2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, 1972, and 1962. Now we enter the '50s.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1952, it gave its Best Picture award to The Greatest Show on Earth. That one is a ludicrous, bloated spectacle, and the conventional wisdom these days is to dismiss it, but I have to confess I kind of like it. Still, there never was a chance that it would make it onto my list.

1. Ikiru
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni

This would make an interesting double feature with It's a Wonderful Life.

2. The Tragedy of Othello, a Moor of Venice
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles, from a play by William Shakespeare

My favorite Shakespeare movie. Or, at least, my favorite that isn't a loose adaptation set in Japan.

3. Singin' in the Rain
Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

This might have made it to the #1 spot but for Donald O'Connor, who wears out his welcome awfully quickly.

4. Viva Zapata!
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by John Steinbeck

"Now I know you. No fields, no home. No wife, no woman. No friends, no love. You'll only destroy. That is your love."

5. The Lusty Men
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by David Dortort and Horace McCoy, from a novel by Claude Stanush

The title makes it sound like it's a gay thing, but that's not what it's about at all. It's about a man and a woman who want to buy their own ranch, you see, but then the guy partners up with a rodeo star and enters the older man's footloose, risky, masculine world, and the woman starts to worry that her husband's losing sight of their domestic dreams, and...oh.

6. My Son John
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by McCarey, Myles Connolly, and John Lee Mahin

There is no other movie like this in the world. It's like someone crossed John Cassavates with Joe McCarthy.

7. Water, Water Every Hare
Directed by Chuck Jones
Written by Michael Maltese

A sequel to Hair-Raising Hare. More dreamlike than the first film, and almost as funny.

8. The Narrow Margin
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Earl Felton, from a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard

Do you like movies about assassins on trains? Here's a hell of a movie about some assassins on a train.

9. Rancho Notorious
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Daniel Taradash

"I'd wish you go away...and come back 10 years ago."

10. Casque d'Or
Directed by Jacques Becker
Written by Becker, Jacques Companéez, and Annette Wademant

Belle Epoque noir.

Honorable mentions:

11. Magical Maestro (Tex Avery)
12. Forbidden Games (René Clément)
13. Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica)
14. A Phantasy (Norman McLaren)
15. Bells of Atlantis (Ian Hugo)
16. Son of Paleface (Frank Tashlin)
17. The Beast Must Die (Román Viñoly Barreto)
18. La Jeune Folle (Yves Allégret)
19. Scaramouche (George Sidney)
20. The Happy Family (Muriel Box)

If you're an aficionado of westerns with gay undertones, you needn't stop with The Lusty Men. 1952 also gave us Anthony Mann's Bend of the River, a movie about whether "that kind" can "change." Officially, the line I just quoted is about robbers. But watch Jimmy Stewart flirt with Arthur Kennedy at the beginning of this picture, and see if you don't think something more is going on here.

Of the films of 1952 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The White Reindeer.

posted by Jesse 10:34 AM
. . .
Friday, December 30, 2022
SIXTY-TWO SKIDOO: We've toured my favorite films of
2012, 2002, 1992, 1982, and 1972. You should be able to guess what's next.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1962, it gave its Best Picture award to Lawrence of Arabia. I don't think that's a bad movie—it made it into my honorable mentions—but I don't think it's the year's best either.

1. The Exterminating Angel
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, from a play by Jose Bergamin

This was the first Buñuel film I ever saw. A couple dozen pictures later, it's still my favorite.

2. The Music Man
Directed by Morton DaCosta
Written by Marion Hargrove, from a play by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey

A real movie musical, completely liberated from the stage, with a sophisticated score and an anti-bluenose streak.

3. La Jetée
Written and directed by Chris Marker

Terry Gilliam remade/remixed this as Twelve Monkeys. I like that one too, but it can't match the poetry of the original.

4. Ride the High Country
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by N.B. Stone Jr.

"You can have one, because the Lord's bounty is not for sale. The rest are a dollar each."

5. The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod, from a novel by Richard Condon

The book is fun, but it's also a mess. The screen version—or at least this screen version—is much better.

6. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe

I'm a fan of Terry Gilliam's Munchausen movie too, but—as with La Jette—I like this earlier take on the tale better. It feels like it's set in a Cornell box.

7. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Lukas Heller, from a novel by Henry Farrell

"You mean, all this time we could've been friends?"

8. Sanjuro
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima

Kurosawa's funniest film, though I wouldn't quite call it a comedy.

9. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Directed by Robert Enrico
Written by Enrico, from a story by Ambrose Bierce

One of two templates for Siesta, Jacob's Ladder, Lulu on the Bridge, Abre Los Ojos, The Sixth Sense, Vanilla Sky, and Donnie Darko.

10. Carnival of Souls
Directed by Herk Harvey
Written by John Clifford

The other template.

Honorable mentions:

11. Pitfall (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
12. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda)
13. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick)
14. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
15. The House Is Black (Forough Farrokhzad)
16. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford)
17. The Trial (Orson Welles)
18. Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski)
19. Hell is for Heroes (Don Siegel)
20. The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit (Gene Deitch)

If you're thinking to yourself, "Hey, didn't Jesse already mention The Fabulous Baron Munchausen when he listed his favorite films of 1961 last year?" then I congratulate you on your capacity for remembering blog trivia. You are correct. Apparently I had the wrong release date. Feel free to mentally revise last year's list by taking out Munchausen, bumping up everything below it, and inserting Jan Lenica's Nowy Janko Muzykant at #20.

Of the films of 1962 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Awful Dr. Orloff.

posted by Jesse 9:28 AM
. . .
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
POLS AND MOBSTERS: I have told you my favorite movies of
2012, 2002, 1992, and 1982. Now we come to one of the great years, for film if not for the McGovern campaign.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1972, it gave its Best Picture award to The Godfather. There are only five times I think the Academy got that prize right—and '72, like '92, is one of them.

1. The Godfather
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, from a novel by Puzo

"Now who's being naive?"

2. The Ruling Class
Directed by Peter Medak
Written by Peter Barnes, from his play

Jesus, Jack the Ripper, and the House of Lords.

3. Images
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Susannah York

This isn't usually classified as a horror flick, but it's one of the few films that genuinely scared me as I watched it.

4. The Candidate
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Jeremy Larner

"You're the Democratic nominee!" "You make it sound like a death sentence."

5. Sleuth
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Anthony Shaffer, from his play

"The shortest way to a man's heart is through humiliation."

6. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière

At this point in his career, Buñuel was mostly horsing around. But he was good at that.

7. The King of Marvin Gardens
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Written by Rafelson and Jacob Brackman

"Do you think that you're the only one who's entitled to be selfish?"

8. Tomorrow
Directed by Joseph Anthony
Written by Horton Foote, from a story by William Faulkner

"I could never have guessed Fentry's capacity for love. I suppose I'd figured, coming from where he came from, even the comprehension of love had been lost out of him back down the generations, where the first Fentry had to take his final choice between the pursuit of love and the pursuit of keeping on breathing."

9. Bone
Written and directed by Larry Cohen

A strange little art-film/blaxploitation hybrid, starring the always enjoyable Yaphet Kotto.

10. Cries and Whispers
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

One of the most painful pictures I've ever seen. Part of me thinks it should be much higher in this list. Another part doesn't want to include it at all.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May)
12. Fat City (John Huston)
13. The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah)
14. Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock)
15. Bad Company (Robert Benton)
16. Play it Again, Sam (Herbert Ross)
17. Love in the Afternoon (Éric Rohmer)
18. Deliverance (John Boorman)
19. The Mechanic (Michael Winner)
20. Junior Bonner (Sam Peckinpah)

Of the films of 1972 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Culpepper Cattle Co. and The Mattei Affair.

posted by Jesse 8:43 AM
. . .
Monday, December 26, 2022
MOSTLY ON THE EDGE: I have reeled off my favorite motion pictures of
2012, 2002, and 1992. Now let's do 1982.

This was a surprisingly good year for movies. I say surprisingly because the '80s were a pretty bleak period for Hollywood, artistically speaking—and sure enough, the big American studios are mostly missing from the list below. Of the top 10, six are foreign imports, one is a documentary, and one is weirdo indie project (by an absurdist theater troupe cum new wave band) that was actually shot in the '70s. The only Hollywood studio efforts are a pair of genre flicks that were critically panned at the time.

But what a great pack of pictures this is. There are movies in the lower rungs of this top 10 that are on par with some other years' #1s. Filmmakers were still doing high-quality work in 1982. It's just that the studio suits usually weren't the people putting it out.

Nor, for the most part, were they honoring it at the Oscars. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1982, it gave its Best Picture award to an excruciatingly bland biopic called Gandhi. You won't find that one on my list, and I say that not just as a movie buff but as an admirer of the man who gave his name to the film.

1. Fanny and Alexander
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

"It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world."

2. Danton
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Wajda, Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacek Gasiorowski, Agnieszka Holland, and Boleslaw Michalek, from a play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska

A movie about the French Revolution. Any parallels to events in the director's native Poland are strictly intentional.

3. Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, from a novel by Philip K. Dick

In a blow to the director-as-auteur theory, this movie owes its greatness less to Scott's direction than to Dick's story and Lawrence G. Paull's production design. That said: If you haven't seen Blade Runner before, it's the director's cut that you should watch, not the studio's somewhat blandified original release.

4. Fitzcarraldo
Written and directed by Werner Herzog

My favorite Herzog, about a mad scheme to build an opera house deep in the Brazilian jungle.

5. Dimensions of Dialogue
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer

Terry Gilliam praised Švankmajer's films for "moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life." And, in this one, seeing them digest and regurgitate each other.

6. Say Amen, Somebody
Directed by George T. Nierenberg

I've never been to Heaven, but I kind of like the music.

7. Veronika Voss
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich, and Peter Märthesheimer

What if David Lynch made Sunset Blvd.?

8. Forbidden Zone
Directed by Richard Elfman
Written by Elfman, Matthew Bright, Nick James, and Nick L. Martinson, from a story by Elfman

What if John Waters made Hellzapoppin'?

9. The Draughtsman's Contract
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway

A feature-length puzzle-box about sex, sketches, and secret societies.

10. The Thing
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John Wood Campbell Jr.

This is it: John Carpenter's best movie. Yes, of course, They Live has the best scenes. But as a movie, start to finish, this one is tops.

Honorable mentions:

11. Burden of Dreams (Les Blank)
12. Moonlighting (Jerzy Skolimowski)
13. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman)
14. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet)
15. Honkytonk Man (Clint Eastwood)
16. Down to the Cellar (Jan Švankmajer)
17. The Atomic Café (Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty)
18. Vincent (Tim Burton)
19. The Return of Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne)
20. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling)

Best mess: Larry Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent.

Of the films of 1982 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

posted by Jesse 8:38 AM
. . .
Friday, December 23, 2022
OUR PEROT YEAR: I have listed my favorite films of
2012 and 2002. And now...

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1992, it gave its Best Picture award to Unforgiven. And you know what? I think I agree.

1. Unforgiven
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by David Webb Peoples

Fun fact: We are now more distant from this picture's release date than it was from the release of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

2. Glengarry Glen Ross
Directed by James Foley
Written by David Mamet, from his play

It's a filmed play, and it shows. But it's also the best Mamet adaptation ever to grace the screen.

3. Brother's Keeper
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

How is it that two moviemakers could go to a small town, start filming the real events transpiring there, and somehow capture a story more engaging, compelling, and mysterious than almost everything produced by people who get to make shit up?

4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Lynch and Robert Engels

The Cannes crowd praised Lynch's Wild at Heart, and then they lacerated this nightmarish prequel to his TV series. They got it exactly backwards.

5. Reservoir Dogs
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Tarantino and Roger Avary

I think I might actually be sold on Mr. Brown's Madonna theory.

6. Porco Rosso
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, from his manga

"I'd much rather be a pig than a fascist."

7. Candyman
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Rose, from a story by Clive Barker

Many horror movies are based on urban legends. This one is about urban legends, and the process of cultural transmission that they represent.

8. Food
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer

Not very appetizing.

9. The Player
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Michael Tolkin, from his novel

"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here."

10. Swoon
Written and directed by Tom Kalin

No Hitchcock remake is better than the movie that preceded it. But only because this isn't, strictly speaking, a remake of Rope.

Honorable mentions:

11. Careful (Guy Maddin)
12. Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris)
13. My New Gun (Stacy Cochran)
14. Prime Suspect 2 (John Strickland)
15. A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris)
16. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
17. L.627 (Bertrand Tavernier)
18. Barjo (Jerome Boivin)
19. Léolo (Jean-Claude Lauzon)
20. Rock Hudson's Home Movies (Mark Rappaport)

Of the films of 1992 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Long Day Closes.

posted by Jesse 9:18 AM
. . .
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
THE YEAR I MOVED TO BALTIMORE: On Monday I listed my favorite films of
2012. Now let's step back another 10 years.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 2002, it gave its Best Picture award to Chicago. I know a number of people who simply do not like that movie, but I think it's fine. It even made it into my honorable mentions. But it isn't the year's best—not by a long shot.

1. The Wire
Written by David Simon, Ed Burns, Rafael Alvarez, David H. Melnick, Shamit Choksey, Joy Lusco, and George Pelecanos, from a story by Simon and Burns
Directed by Clark Johnson, Peter Medak, Clement Virgo, Ed Bianchi, Joe Chapelle, Gloria Muzio, Milcho Manchevski, Brad Anderson, Steve Shill, and Tim Van Patten

Even as the old lines between the big and small screens keep collapsing, some people still side-eye me for putting TV shows on these lists. But come on. Put this together with the other four seasons of The Wire, and you've got the best motion picture of the decade; look at this season in isolation, and you've got the best motion picture of the year.

2. Talk to Her
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar explores the intersection between fetishism, projection, and unrequited love.

3. Mai's America
Directed by Marlo Poras

The best documentary I've ever seen about immigration.

4. The Office 2
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

You know how sometimes the punchline in Peanuts would be more depressing than funny? The final scene of this one is like that.

5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by George Clooney
Written by Charlie Kaufman, from a "memoir" by Chuck Barris

A CIA assassin imagines he's pursuing a more socially beneficial life as the creator of The Gong Show.

6. Decasia
Directed by Bill Morrison

A film built from the shards of older, decaying films. Someday it too will decay.

7. The Quiet American
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan, from a novel by Graham Greene

Proof (a) that Brendan Fraser can act, and (b) that a remake can be much, much better than its predecessor.

8. Dirty Pretty Things
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Steven Knight

"We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks."

9. About Schmidt
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Payne and Jim Taylor, from a novel by Louis Begley

Did you think the British Office was awfully bleak for a comedy? Well...

10. City of God
Directed by Fernando Meirelles with Kátia Lund
Written by Bráulio Mantovani, from a novel by Paulo Lins

"A kid? I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man."

Honorable mentions:

11. Man on the Train (Patrice Leconte)
12. 25th Hour (Spike Leee)
13. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma)
14. In Smog and Thunder (Sean Meredith)
15. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
16. The Girl on the Train in the Moon (Bill Daniel)
17. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
18. 28 days later... (Danny Boyle)
19. Hero (Zhang Yimou)
20. Nixon (Nam June Paik)

Plus a shout-out to the scene in Biggie & Tupac where Suge Knight delivers his "message to the kids."

Of the films of 2002 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Prüfstand VII.

posted by Jesse 11:05 AM
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Monday, December 19, 2022
MAYAN APOCALYPSE NOW: While other outlets mark December by listing their favorite films of the year that's ending, The Perpetual Three-Dot Column prefers to list the best movies of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and so on, heading back until I reach a year for which I can't assemble a good list. This will be the 20th time that I've done this, so some of the lists to come may feel faintly familiar. But don't worry: I have some new things to say about even the years I've done before.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 2012, it gave its Best Picture award to Argo, which manages to be both a spy thriller and a backstage Hollywood comedy. It's an entertaining movie, and I had fun watching it. But I like these better:

1. Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson and Roman Coppola

"I can't offer you a legally binding union. It won't hold up in the state, the county, or frankly any courtroom in the world, due to your age, lack of a license, and failure to get parental consent. But the ritual does carry a very important moral weight..."

2. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
Directed by John Hyams
Written by Hyams, Doug Magnuson, and Jon Greenlagh

It's an action movie released straight to VOD. It's the sixth entry in a franchise where even the first film was kind of ridiculous. It's got Jean-Claude Van Damme in it. And it's a Lynchian masterpiece. Yes, I'm serious.

3. The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and Anonymous

"Actually, the people you tortured felt far worse, because you knew it's only a film."

4. Room 237
Directed by Rodney Ascher

You've heard of outsider art? This is about outsider criticism.

5. Django Unchained
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

Among its other virtues, this film features the best known use of Jim Croce on a motion picture soundtrack.

6. Seven Psychopaths
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh

The closest any Tarantino imitation has come to being as good as a Tarantino film.

7. Barbara
Directed by Christian Petzold
Written by Petzold and Harun Farocki

If the Stasi Movie is a genre now—and at this point I think it is—then this is one of the best specimens.

8. Deceptive Practice
Directed by Molly Bernstein

Ricky Jay tells tales of nearly forgotten magicians—from dusty books, from vaudeville, from Coney Island, from the early days of TV—who shaped his art and taught him his craft. Just completely fucking delightful.

9. Frances Ha
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig

2012 was also the year Girls debuted, and there are more than a few similarities between that show and this film. But the film is definitely better.

10. Veep
Written by Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Sean Gray, Tony Roche, William James Smith, Roger Drew, Ian Martin, and Jesse Armstrong
Directed by Iannucci, Tristram Shapeero, and Christopher Morris

An antidote to The West Wing.

Honorable mentions:

11. The Imposter (Bart Layton)
12. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)
13. Get the Gringo (Adrian Grünberg)
14. Sightseers (Ben Wheatley)
15. Byun, Objet Trouvé (Marie Losier)
16. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
17. Feral (Daniel Sousa)
18. A Scandal in Belgravia (Paul McGuigan)
19. John Dies at the End (Don Coscarelli)
20. Bestiaire (Denis Côté)

Finally, a shoutout to Chris Sandon and Martin Thoburn's Exquisite Motion Corpse, which almost made it into the honorable mentions—I just wasn't sure whether it qualified. Usually I don't have trouble treating pieces of video art as experimental movies, but this one is interactive enough that I'm inclined to think of it as an experimental video game instead. And I haven't convinced myself to start putting video games on these lists. Not yet, anyway. Check back in another 10 years.

Of the films of 2012 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Wolf Children.

posted by Jesse 2:53 PM
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Wednesday, September 07, 2022
THE MINDJACK FILES: In the mid-'00s, I wrote a series of video reviews for a website called Mindjack. That site seems to have disappeared from the internet, but my articles have been saved at the Internet Archive; for the sake of preservation, and because at least a few of them are pretty good, I'll link to those echoes here.

January 13, 2004: my
review of a DVD collecting several Georges Méliès films, from back in the days when you couldn't find dozens of Méliès movies for free on YouTube.

March 11, 2004: my review of Antero Alli's Hysteria.

April 19, 2004: my review of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 2, which doubles as my explanation of why I don't like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

August 16, 2004: my review of Robert Greenwald's documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. Of all my Mindjack stories, this is the one that's most interesting to revisit 18 years later.

November 6, 2005: my review of Other Cinema's DVD The 70s Dimension. Of all my Mindjack stories, this is the one I like the best.

January 25, 2006: my review of Antero Alli's The Greater Circulation.

posted by Jesse 9:43 AM
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Thursday, January 06, 2022
FIVE DIRECTORS DO DOUBLE DUTY: We've toured the best movies of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, 1961, 1951, and 1941. Let's make one more stop.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1931, it gave its Best Picture award to Cimarron, a mediocre western that aspires to be an epic. It isn't on my list.

1. Bimbo's Initiation
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Betty Boop: Final Secret of the Illuminati.

2. Monkey Business
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by S.J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone

Starring the Marx Brothers as Maurice Chevalier.

3. Philips-Radio
Directed by Joris Ivens

Proof that an ad can be art.

4. M
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Lang and Thea von Harbou

Instead of quoting a line from the film, can I quote the sound of a serial killer whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King"?

5. Le Million
Directed by René Clair
Written by Clair, from a play by Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemand

Just a couple years into the sound era, and already Clair has made two great musicals. And he has a third one just a few notches below this.

6. La Chienne
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Renoir, from a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière

A man exploits a woman who exploits another man. In the end they all lose.

7. Frankenstein
Directed by James Whale
Written by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort, from a play by Peggy Webling and a novel by Mary Shelley

"Now I know what it feels like to be God!"

8. A Nous La Liberte
Written and directed by René Clair

You can see why this always gets compared to Modern Times. They both treat the assembly line as a slapstick dystopia.

9. Blonde Crazy
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright

In the world's most half-hearted crime-doesn't-pay ending, only one of the con artists we've been watching goes to jail—and in the meantime, we find ourselves cheering the dissolution of a marriage. This is the sort of story the Powers That Be brought in the Motion Picture Code to stop.

10. Safe in Hell
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Joseph Jackson and Maude Fulton, from a play by Houston Branch

Of all the pre-Code movies in the world, this one just might be the pre-Codiest. It starts with a sympathetic prostitute burning down a hotel, and then it just rolls from there.

Honorable mentions:

11. Marius (Alexander Korda)
12. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch)
13. The Threepenny Opera (G.W. Pabst)
14. Douro, Faina Fluvial (Manoel de Oliveira)
15. Night Nurse (William A. Wellman)
16. Kameradschaft (G.W. Pabst)
17. Mask-a-Raid (Dave Fleischer)
18. A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda)
19. Waterloo Bridge (James Whale)
20. Bosko the Doughboy (Hugh Harman)

Finally, a shoutout to Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde, which might have made it into the top 20 if Robert Williams had dialed back the smug by about 30%.

Of the films of 1931 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Rich and Strange.

And with that, the series stops. For the record, my favorite film of 1921 is The High Sign. But I haven't seen enough good movies from '21 to assemble a full top 10, so this year's crop of lists ends here.

posted by Jesse 10:23 AM
. . .
Tuesday, January 04, 2022
ONE YEAR, TWO DEVILS: I've told you my favorite films of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, 1961, and 1951. Perhaps you have guessed what comes next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1941, it gave its Best Picture award to How Green Was My Valley, a cloying "quality" movie from John Ford. (The first rule of watching a Ford film: The more it's visibly trying to be artistic, the less likely it is to be good art.) That one isn't on my list.

1. Citizen Kane
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz

I don't think it's the best movie ever made, or even the best movie to be made by Orson Welles. But I'm not enough of a contrarian to deny that it's the best movie of 1941.

2. The Maltese Falcon
Directed by John Huston
Written by Huston, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett

Humphrey Bogart never looked or sounded as bleak as he did saying, "All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you."

3. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Written by W.C. Fields

This is Fields' funniest film. That's saying a lot.

4. The Sea Wolf
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Robert Rossen, from a novel by Jack London

This is as good as Edward G. Robinson gets. That is also saying a lot.

5. Meet John Doe
Directed by Frank Capra
Written by Robert Riskin, from a story by Richard Connell and Robert Presnell, Sr.

In this movie's landscape of mutating memes, isn't just the audience that has a life of its own. The fictions that were supposed to manipulate that audience turn out to be beyond anyone's control too.

6. Hellzapoppin'
Directed by H.C. Potter
Written by Nat Perrin and Warren Wilson

Between this one and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, it was a great year for pop surrealism.

7. Schichlegruber: Doing the Lambeth Walk
Directed by Charles A. Ridley

YouTube avant la lettre.

8. The Wolf Man
Directed by George Waggner
Written by Curt Siodmak

This isn't the last good movie in the Universal Monsters series, but it is the last essential one. Unless you count Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

9. Ball of Fire
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder

"It's as red as The Daily Worker and just as sore!"

10. The Lady Eve
Directed by Preston Sturges
Written by Sturges, from a story by Monckton Hoffe

This one narrowly beat out the great Sullivan's Travels for a spot in the top 10 because I wince a bit at that "cockeyed world" speech at the end of Sullivan. But if you want to count them as a tie and call this slot a Preston Sturges double-header, that's fine with me.

Honorable mentions:

11. Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges)
12. Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock)
13. Tortoise Beats Hare (Tex Avery)
14. The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle)
15. Hold Back the Dawn (Mitchell Leisen)
16. Among the Living (Stuart Heisler)
17. Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen)
18. Ladies in Retirement (Charles Vidor)
19. The Devil and Miss Jones (Sam Wood)
20. The Iron Crown (Alessandro Blasetti)

Plus a bonus award to Victor Mature, who had big roles in two pictures bubbling under my top 20: The Shanghai Gesture, a gloriously mad mess that has become a cult favorite, and I Wake Up Screaming, a curious quasi-noir that really ought to be a cult favorite. Mature plays rather different characters in that pair of pictures, but he plays them the same way: as a sleazy Cary Grant. That's just as great as it sounds.

Of the films of 1941 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Swamp Water.

posted by Jesse 12:08 PM
. . .
Sunday, January 02, 2022
HELLO 2022 (AND 1951 TOO): This blog has just covered my favorite movies of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, 1971, and 1961. And now...

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1951, it gave its Best Picture award to An American in Paris, a musical that I neither dislike nor am especially fond of. Any of these would have been a better choice:

1. Ace in the Hole
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels, and Walter Newman

Wilder's darkest, bleakest film. But it's still a funny one.

2. Strangers on a Train
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Czenzi Ormonde, Raymond Chandler, Whitfield Cook, and Ben Hecht, from a novel by Patricia Highsmith

Walker's 32nd Law: You shouldn't bother trying to remake a Hitchcock movie. Corollary to Walker's 32nd Law: If you absolutely must remake a Hitchcock movie, for the love of God don't give your starring role to Billy Crystal.

3. The Thing from Another World
Directed by Christian Nyby and/or Howard Hawks
Written by Hawks, Charles Lederer, and Ben Hecht, from a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.

"An intellectual carrot? The mind boggles."

4. A Streetcar Named Desire
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul, from a play by Williams

Yes, they bowdlerized the play, but I have yet to see a better performance of it. No, not even the one with Marge Simpson.

5. The Tales of Hoffmann
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Written by Powell, Pressburger, and Dennis Arundell, from an opera by Jacques Offenbach and Jules Barbier

Many years ago, I watched this in the middle of the night while my wife was out of town. Our daughter woke up in her crib and started crying, so I let her rest with me and the movie; looking at the dancers calmed her down. The next time someone tells you this is a "difficult" film, remember that a baby can enjoy it.

6. The Lavender Hill Mob
Directed by Charles Crichton
Written by T.E.B. Clarke

"I propagate British cultural depravity."

7. Miracle in Milan
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Written by De Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Mario Chiari, and Adolfo Franci, from a novel by Zavattini

A strange hybrid of neorealism and fantasy, with squatters using witchcraft to battle the authorities. My favorite De Sica film.

8. The Man in the White Suit
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Written by Mackendrick, and Roger MacDougall, John Dighton

Unions and corporate chieftains join forces to suppress an invention that would make their industry unnecessary. Screw Star Wars: This is Alec Guinness' best science-fiction movie.

9. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Written and directed by Albert Lewin

The high point in Jack Cardiff's career as a cinematographer.

10. Bellissima
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, and Francesco Rosi

For a comedy, this made me awfully sad.

Honorable mentions:

11. People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
12. The African Queen (John Huston)
13. Four Ways Out (Pietro Germi)
14. Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson)
15. On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray)
16. He Ran All the Way (John Berry)
17. Susana (Luis Buñuel)
18. Rabbit Fire (Chuck Jones)
19. The Man from Planet X (Edgar G. Ulmer)
20. The Tall Target (Anthony Mann)

Of the films of 1951 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Venom and Eternity.

posted by Jesse 10:57 AM
. . .
Thursday, December 30, 2021
JFK YEAR ONE: I've posted my favorite films of
2011, 2001, 1991, 1981, and 1971. And now for something completely different:

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1961, it gave its Best Picture award to West Side Story, a musical with vivid cinematography, an excellent score, and a lousy script. I prefer these:

1. Yojimbo
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett

It was based on Red Harvest, it inspired A Fistful of Dollars, and it managed, impressively, to be better than both.

2. Lola
Written and directed by Jacques Demy

The Short Cuts of the French New Wave.

3. Yanco
Directed by Servando González
Written by González, from a story by Jesús Marín

I'm not sure if this Mexican movie is available with English subtitles, but that doesn't really matter: There's hardly any dialogue, and when the characters do occasionally talk the words aren't all that important. The movie's sound, on the other hand, is very important indeed.

4. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Directed by Karel Zeman
Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe

This film feels like it's set in a Cornell box.

5. Chronicle of a Summer
Directed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin

A documentary thorough enough to include a scene where the cast critiques the movie.

6. The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Rossen and Sidney Carroll, from a novel by Walter Tevis

"You have the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning, that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey."

7. The Innocents
Directed by Jack Clayton
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer, from a novel by Henry James

A slow-burning horror flick inspired by The Turn of the Screw.

8. The Exiles
Written and directed by Kent MacKenzie

Life in L.A.'s Bunker Hill before the planners tore it down.

9. The Ladies Man
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond

If you really want to know why "the French" love Jerry Lewis, this is the picture to watch. The sets could have come from a Tati film, the story shatters more narrative conventions than anything by Godard, and tracking all the Freudian undercurrents could serve as a cineastes' full employment act. Beyond that, it's pretty damn funny. I could do without a couple of sappy scenes with Pat Stanley, but otherwise this is Lewis in peak form.

10. Eugene
Written and directed by Ernie Kovacs and Joseph Behar

Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy, experimenting with television the way an earlier generation of clown-artists experimented with film. That inventive spirit is on display in this surreal ABC special, which obviously owes a lot to the silent era but looks forward much more than it looks back.

Honorable mentions:

11. Blast of Silence (Allen Baron)
12. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel)
13. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi)
14. Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller)
15. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
16. Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
17. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
18. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
19. Killers on Parade (Masahiro Shinoda)
20. Zoo (Bert Haanstra)

Of the films of 1961 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in La Notte.

posted by Jesse 10:38 AM
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