Best Writing (Original) – 1980

Official Nominations: Melvin And Howard. Brubaker. Fame. Mon Oncle D’Amerique. Private Benjamin.

Be honest – how many of these films have you, or has the average person heard of. Fame should be a given, Private Benjamin is probably there too. There others? Unless you were there at the time and an Oscars nerd most people won’t be aware of the other three nominees. That’s not to say they’re not good choice or good scripts, but it does suggest that better or more viable options were overlooked. Melvin And Howard won a number of Awards this year – it’s a fine standalone and it hasn’t aged as badly as even some of the bigger comedies of the era. Even so, it’s not that funny – it’s the light sort of self serving humour The Academy always falls back on when they absolutely have to nominate a Comedy. It does get credit for being one, maybe one of the first, of those biopics about some random person with no discernible talent who meets with a stroke of bizarre luck, or whose story is so offbeat and little known that it just about deserves to be told.

Brubaker is a lower tier prison movie – by this point we’d seen a lot better and we would see better again in the future. Not happy with winning Best Picture, Robert Redford had to through his acting hat into the ring with this one but up against the titans who were nominated, Brubaker got relegated to Best Writing. The category was a little different in 1980, but given that it was clearly based on a book and it not an original story, it shouldn’t really be here. Fame tried to bring back the Musical by focusing on a younger set of characters and audience. It’s tolerable, cheesy, dated as hell as all Musicals tend to be within a few years of release. It doesn’t do nearly enough to rally against the dangers of fame to impressionable youth and those scavengers ready to exploit them. At least it broaches these topics and it’s merely a collection of songs and dances in pretty clothes. It’s not strong enough to be here.

Mon Oncle D’Amerique – you always know The Academy’s desperate or up to some funny business when it nominates a foreign movie here. Both Resnais and Depardieu were high on the list of ‘lets give these guys awards’ for The Academy which surely played a part in this being nominated, but it is a fairly interesting film both for the topics discussed, the real life people involved, and its structure. French Philosopher and Scientist Henri Laborit is the lead character, taking the audience on a virtual tour of his brain (and by extension the human psyche) via connected fictional stories. It’s the sort of nonsense you could see Charlie Kaufman tackling now. Private Benjamin is one of those classic fish out of water stories, elevated by a few funny moments and a star turn by Goldie Hawn. It’s a crap selection of movies all round and I’m not sure any deserve the nomination, never mind the win. I’ll go with the most entertaining one.

My Winner: Private Benjamin

See the Cast of 'Private Benjamin' Then and Now

My Nominations: 9 To 5. The Big Red One. The Blues Brothers. Caddyshack. The Empire Strikes Back. The Fog. Heaven’s Gate. The Long Good Friday. Used Cars.

The problem with this category this year is that there’s no stand out. There isn’t a single film you can point to as having the originality and the the dialogue and the one-line zingers you would normally expect a winner to contain. What you do have is you pick of comedies to choose from. Rather than go through each, as in truth they all strike the same anarchic nerve and each have their classic zingers – The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Used Cars – each have more memorable dialogue than any of the official nominees, while 9 to 5 surely deserves a nod if Private Benjamin gets one. I’m no fan of 9 To 5, but fair is fair.

That leaves us with a selection of unlikely heroes which were never going to be nominated. Heaven’s Gate had no hope even before it was released, and it was such a disaster that it basically destroyed the Auteur system until the 90s Indie scene offered some new hope. Upon re-evaluation, it’s a damn strong movie. It’s no Deer Hunter, but had the original vision been allowed to be seen, and had the thing been kept on budget, the last 40 years of cinema could have been very different. It plods, it’s bloated, but it’s somehow worth it. The Big Red One has seen less re-evaluation and is both less famous and less infamous than Heaven’s Gate, a Sam Fuller War movie with an interesting cast and one which questions the value and human cost of war before the swath of Vietnam movies would ask the same questions later in the decade.

The Long Good Friday is that rare example of a British gangster movie which I enjoy, and an Irish crossover movie which doesn’t embarrass. It didn’t make a huge splash in the US, but was popular enough that it set up Bob Hoskins for life. The Fog sees John Carpenter continue the unbelievable run kicked off with Assault On Precinct 13. It’s the perfect campfire ghost story blown up for the big screen, a terrific example of a simple, hokey premise given weight, drama, and scares thanks to a script which keeps things simple yet offers some self aware smarts over a decade before that became the norm.

My final choice is hardly unexpected. As the sequel to A New Hope, Empire had some big shoes to fill. The script more than lives up to the original by complicating relationships, offering new characters, worlds, and languages, peppering the movie with one-liners still in regular use today, and providing more of what people enjoyed about the first movie. Plus there’s the small matter of one of the greatest twists in movie history. As much as a Star Wars fan as I am, I would like to pick something else here – but I don’t see any other viable choice.

My Winner: The Empire Strikes Back

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Best Writing (Original) – 1979

Official Nominations: Breaking Away. All That Jazz. And Justice For All. The China Syndrome. Manhattan.

As strange as it may seem, this is both a very 70s selection of films and a very Oscar selection of nominees. You know you’re getting a court movie (And Justice For All), you know they’ll do anything to get a musical in there (All That Jazz), you know they’ll go for a Woody Allen (Manhattan), you know they’ll go for an All American Coming Of Age story (Breaking Away), and you know they’ll throw in a topical political thriller (The China Syndrome). There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices and they’re all good films with solid screenplays – it’s that there are no real surprises in the choices or the films themselves. Any is as worthy a winner as any other, but I’ll stick with my personal favourite.

My Winner: And Justice For All

You're out of order!”: …and Justice for All (1979) — The After Movie Diner

My Nominations: And Justice For All. Alien. The Jerk. Mad Max. Life Of Brian.

I punt for the more interesting choices, again there was no way The Academy would have ever voted for any of these – possibly Alien due to its unavoidable success is the front-runner of the ‘could have been nominated’ category. While it’s not the most quotable movie in the world, it does a stellar job of world and character building and somehow presents itself as a truly grounded and realistic science fiction horror movie rather than the more operatic and fantastical offerings of the preceding years. There are also plenty of surprises and revelations within the script which have reverberated through Cinema in the decades since. The Jerk is silly and vulgar and just the antidote to the usual sour-faced drama or up-market comedy The Academy usually goes for, while Life Of Brian pulls off the same trick while also being highly quotable, controversial, and ridiculous. Finally, Mad Max flips notions and expectations of US action movies and apocalyptic dramas over, and knocks them rolling fourteen times down a dusty lost highway. The characters are rarely given a voice to be heard over the growl of engines, a personality beyond a name, or emotions beyond merely trying to survive in a bewildered thousand yard stare fashion.

My Winner: Alien

Let us know in the comments which film you would pick as winner!

Best Writing (Original) – 1978

Official Nominations: Coming Home. Autumn Sonata. The Deer Hunter. Interiors. An Unmarried Woman.

A couple of expected nominations from the Best Picture list, a Woody Allen, a Bergman, and a random. Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman edges feminist or female led narratives out of the dark ages and into the more liberal modern age, his script brought to life by Jill Clayburgh’s performance. Autumn Sonata is a latter day Bergman drama, again dealing with the relationship between women – this time dealing with a mother and daughter rekindling after years apart. His usual ponderings on life and death are simmering here, but there’s little said that he hadn’t already covered. Interiors sees Allen largely leaving comedy behind and trying his hand at Bergman, but the writing feels a little flat and lacking in Allen’s voice. Coming Home was a fine winner this year, being unique at the time as it viewed the Vietnam war and its aftermath through the eyes of the women who waited for their husbands to come home. Edging it for me, unsurprisingly, is The Deer Hunter, dealing with the before, during, and after of three men and their relationships with others and each other – the differing impacts all shades of the same tragedy.

My Winner: The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter - Wikipedia

My Nominations: The Deer Hunter. Coming Home. Big Wednesday. Dawn Of The Dead. The Driver. Eyes Of Laura Mars. Girlfriends. Halloween. Animal House.

I take the two Vietnam movies over to my list, and add the forgotten one from the loose trilogy – Big Wednesday doesn’t have the big ideas of the other two, instead based on Milius and Aaberg’s youth in Malibu as war abroad loomed large. While it does race through several staples of war movies – the innocent beginnings, the recruiting, the scenes of war – it does so with a less po-faced approach with a lot of humorous one-liners, and feels more authentic at times with War being this nuisance or distraction to the ultimate goal of hitting that ideal wave. Dawn Of The Dead, in the midst of its satirical leanings, manages to throw out some classic horror dialogue, from the classic ‘when there’s no more room in hell’ line, to the more straightforward arguments between scientists and journalists as everyone falls apart. Halloween proves that 1978 had more than one horror movie pumping out dialogue still quoted daily today, usually coming from the mouth of Loomis with his ‘Death has come to your little town’, and ‘what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil’. More than a series of quotes, Halloween is a fine example of a screenplay finely honed to produce maximum scares and atmosphere, in turn almost single-handedly creating/perfecting a genre.

John Carpenter was already on a roll by 1978, his script for The Eyes Of Laura Mars one of the finest Giallo examples – certainly one of the finest US examples. The central idea of a woman, one used to exploiting or at the very least using carnage and violence for her own gains, who ‘gains the power’ of witnessing real life murders through her own eyes is one which has been used notably since, while The Driver plays a similar trick with the noir genre – a genre which had been dead for a couple of decades by this point. The script dispenses with exposition and dialogue and padding, and instead is as streamlined as you can get – refusing to even name its characters – meaning the plot is a series of fraught exchanges which upend noir character tropes while moving the plot along. My final two nominations are at different ends of the comedy scale – Animal House the uproarious and anarchic vehicle of future stars and Girlfriends the precursor for much of the offbeat Indie comedy the US began producing in the 90s, which then spilled into the free-form Apatow style blockbusters of today.

My Winner: Dawn Of The Dead

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Original Screenplay -1977

Official Nominations: Annie Hall. The Goodbye Girl. The Late Show. Star Wars. The Turning Point.

As is usually the case with this category, it closely matches the Best Picture nominees. Annie Hall – not that different from the usual Woody Allen shtick although there are enough one-liners and rambling speeches to highlight. A modern viewer will find much of it hackneyed and cliched, but only because it has been copied so many times. The Goodbye Girl is standard Neil Simon fare – romantic comedies don’t do much for me, even when they are as well written as this, but it needs to be exceptional for me or speak on a personal level for me to rate it any higher than average. The Late Show is the anomaly of the bunch – the film no-one remembers. It’s another unfortunate case because it’s an interesting film merging noir with lighter moments and it’s certainly the type of film you don’t say anymore. The Turning Point doesn’t offer anything new and plays out like a standard soap drama. Star Wars created an enduring universe with a multitude of characters and places and dialogue which has become part of culture and daily dialogue, never mind the number of imitators which the story spawned.

My Winner: Star Wars

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My Nominations: Star Wars. Annie Hall. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Desperate Living. Eraserhead. High Anxiety. Martin.

Desperate Living…. I just like the idea of something like this getting nominated. Have you seen it? There’s more humour and weirdness in a couple of pages of this script than there are in many comedy writers’ careers. It’s… not for everyone. Close Encounters gets another nomination, Spielberg subtly working in Jewish and Christian allusions and more overarching themes of exploration, knowledge, and tolerance. Eraserhead also gets another nomination – a screenplay created almost entirely to allow for Lynch’s visuals and atmosphere. Mel Brooks knocks out another great script – it’s very difficult to get parody right but he does it once again with High Anxiety, while Martin was one of the first movies to bring vampires out of European castles and Victorian streets and into American suburbs, while at the same time subverting the vampire myth and offering insight into pained adolescence.

My Winner:  Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1976

Official Nominations: Network. Cousin Cousine. The Front. Rocky. Seven Beauties.

Two big hitters, two foreign oddities, and a Woody Allen movie that he didn’t write or direct make up the list this year. Paddy Chayefsky won his third Writing Oscar this year (an unbeaten record) for Network, a film known for its impassioned speeches and angry one-liners. More than that, the script is replete with social satire which has only become more prescient over time. Rocky is famously the script that everyone wanted to buy, but Stallone wasn’t selling unless he could star. The gamble paid off and Stallone created one of the most famous, enduring heroes of Hollywood. The story borrows heavily from notions of The American Dream and from early rags to riches stories, but updates it to modern day and does so with such charm that it’s impossible to not love.

It’s not often that foreign movies get nominated in this category, but we got two this year – a sign that the daring indie movement of Hollywood was being mirrored elsewhere. Cousin Cousine has a knack for understanding and representing forbidden and budding romance while Seven Beauties is a dark, long spanned tale of one despicable character living through an even more despicable landscape which both shapes and nurtures him. Finally, The Front is a movie about the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s made by people who were blacklisted – while good, while funny, and while an interesting subject, it feels like an apologetic nomination.

My Winner: Network

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My Nominations: Network. Rocky. Seven Beauties. Murder By Death. The Omen. Silent Movie. Taxi Driver.

Three Official choices make my list, joining a couple of spoofs, a horror classic, and a hefty snub. If we start with the snub, it seems unusual in retrospect that Taxi Driver was not nominated, given the reverence it has received over the years. I think that it deserves a nod over one of the foreign movies, definitely over The Front. It’s an incisive look into a character’s moral viewpoint of a dirty world and quotable dialogue is scattered from page to screen. Murder By Death is that rare Neil Simon comedy that I fully enjoy, riffing on those mansion mysteries of old while I find that Silent Movie is one of the more clever comedy screenplays of the era despite the fact that only a single word is spoken. Finally, The Omen’s impact on film and on popular culture should not be underestimated, providing successive generations who vaguely preach ignorance from behind the pulpit with misinformation they purport as truth, and fans with a succession of lines to quote at each other.

My Winner: The Omen

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1975

Official Nominations: Dog Day Afternoon. Amarcord. And Now My Love. Lies My Father Told Me. Shampoo

I’m surprised they didn’t pick Shampoo as the winner here, but Dog Day Afternoon is the correct choice. Making criminals look like what they actually are… humans. Flawed humans. That was revolutionary in the 70s and in today’s ludicrous black and white culture it would be ludicrous now. Dog Day Afternoon depicts the chaotic botched robbery of a bank and spends most of its time showing the crooks in a sympathetic light. Maybe sympathetic is not the right term, but we spend so much time with them and thanks to a tight script and great performances you can’t help but either take or understand their side. Even though it was an Original script, it was based off real life events and the guys it was inspired by were given some of the royalties of the film. The banter between the bad guys and their hostages was apparently true to life, and many of the film’s best quotes were improvised – that shouldn’t stop the screenplay from winning the award – it’s certainly more memorable than anything else nominated.

Amarcord is funny, weird and funny, and while it’s autobiographical, Italian, and farcical, there’s enough wisdom in the screenplay to make any audience understand what it’s all about. If Amarcord was an odd choice for The Academy, then And Now My Love goes even further, seeming almost like The Academy was overcompensating for years of ignoring foreign films. The film as a whole is good, an epic of sorts, but its the editing which makes the screenplay standout. I’m not convinced Lies My Father Told Me should really be here, given that it was designed decades earlier in a different form, eventually becoming a film – either way it’s a fine story of childhood but one with an inherent distance from me as it features the growing pains of a Canadian Jewish Boy. Shampoo is the runner up here, smart, funny, and preoccupied with the freewheeling sexual politics of the time.

My Winner: Dog Day Afternoon

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My Nominations: Dog Day Afternoon. Shampoo. The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. Nashville. Night Moves.

In hindsight it’s not surprising The Academy officially nominated so many foreign films this year – there’s little else to choose from. Most of the notable entries were adapted from another source. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is touch and go given that it’s based off an existing literary character, sort of. It’s a long forgotten Gene Wilder film, very much in the vein of the stuff he was doing with Mel Brooks at the time – if you like those, you’ll like this. Nashville missed out on getting a nomination here which always seemed odd, while Night Moves is a cool neo-noir with a good lead performance from Gene Hackman. The film eschews much of the power and characteristics of the old school detectives – they’re still macho, but rendered powerless, impotent, and with an even more skewed moral compass.

My Winner: Dog Day Afternoon

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1974

Official Nominations: Chinatown. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Day For Night. Harry And Tonto. The Conversation.

Coppola was a busy boy this year, with The Conversation and The Godfather Part II. He also wrote the screenplay for The Great Gatsby. While his entry here could have won another year, it’s up against Chinatown – one of the greatest screenplays ever written. Day For Night gets the vote for trying, successfully, something different, while Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is one of the great examples of the new feminist movement. Harry And Tonto is charming enough, but not on par with the others.

My Winner: Chinatown

My Nominations: Chinatown. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Day For Night. The Conversation. Blazing Saddles. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia. Dark Star. A Woman Under The Influence. Thunderbolt And Lightfoot.

We only drop Harry And Tonto and add Blazing Saddles in its place for planting 1970 US speak into the Old West and being filled with the lewd, the satirical, the juvenile, and more. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is a violent and often confused mystery peppered with a variety of grim characters while Dark Star makes a mockery of 2001. A Woman Under The Influence is a gritt, almost overwhelming character study, while Thunderbolt And Lightfoot is a shining example of a genre which would quickly be lampooned as the decade drew to a close and beyond.

My Winner: Chinatown

Let us know which film you pick as winner!

Best Writing (Original) – 1973

Official Nominations: The Sting. American Graffiti. Cries And Whispers. Save The Tigers. A Touch Of Class.

The Sting was the deserving and expected winner this year, even though the story was heavily inspired by real life events which had been previously documented. Nonetheless, it’s the nuances of the script, the dialogue, and the rapport between Gondorff and Hooker which helped the film become such a hit – you feel that even with lesser names than Newman and Redford the movie still would have been acclaimed, if not as financially successful. American Graffiti deserves a nomination more for its loose, near improvised feel which would go on to inspire many future directors, writers, and the slacker film movement. The script is both nostalgic and innocent, yet eternally prescient – the cars, the moves, the style, the lingo may have changed, but we grow, we explore, and we seek friendship, a mate, and the desire for freedom in an exciting and uncertain future.

Cries And Whispers doesn’t need to be here given that it was released in 1972, suffice it to say, it’s another dense exploration by Bergman, dealing with family, sexuality, life, and death. Save The Tiger is kept afloat by Jack Lemmon’s performance and in many ways it’s the perfect dramatic script for him, the everyman drowning in a world passing him by with the script highlighting his isolation and inability to stay relevant. Finally, A Touch Of Class feels like a film which would have had a greater impact in the 60s, with its depiction of marriage, affairs, sex etc. Its characters are finely drawn, though thoroughly unlikable even with the witticisms  on display.

My Winner: The Sting

My Nominations: The Sting. American Graffiti. Badlands. Day For Night. High Plains Drifter. The Holy Mountain. Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid.

Only two make it over to my list. Joining them is Terence Malik’s screenplay for Badlands – one of the finest examples of being sparse yet dense at the same time; when the characters aren’t talking, the pictures do the rest. Nevertheless, his two central characters and their dispute with the world is both universal, timeless, and symbolic of the USA in the early 1970s. Spacek’s narration feels innocent and alarming, while Sheen’s infrequent outbursts and speeches feel like they deserve iconic status. There aren’t many great films about making movies, or the love of movies, but Day For Night experiments with both of these themes playfully and cynically. Fresh off his work on The French Connection, Ernest Tidyman makes one of the great new US Westerns – new as in being influence by Leone, a story which throws out most notions of the glorious Wild West where enterprising individuals built North America. The Holy Mountain… well, I’ve got to nominate it for something. Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is a Peckinpah film which is only now getting reevaluated after an initial critical mute response – a film with a torrid production, not least between writer and director with Peckinpah rewriting Wurlitzer’s script – a harsh, downbeat story.

My Winner: The Sting

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Original) – 1972

Official Nominations: The Candidate. The Discreet Charm Of The Borgeouisie. Lady Sings The Blues. Murmur Of The Heart. Young Winston.

So this year they continued the official title of ‘Best Screenplay based on Factual Material or Material not Previously Produced or Published’ or in other words ‘We don’t have a clue what we’re doing’. Anyhoo, The Candidate won this year, Jeremy Larner’s script one of the more detailed and accurate portrayals of American politics whose irony is lost on many a misguided viewer. Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm Of The Borgeouisie was probably his most loved film due in great part to a biting script which is quotable as well as being dense with the merging of dreams, reality, and the usual Bunuel oddities. Lady Sings The Blues wouldn’t normally be here but of course they made that garbled mouthful of a category name. It’s mostly based on Billie Holiday’s autobiography but goes all the way to the end of her life and of course is fairly gritty.

Murmur Of The Heart is one of the more bizarre entries selected by The Academy – aside from being a 1971 release, it’s a film about underage sex, more sex, and incest. It’s good, but incredibly odd that The Academy nominated it. Finally, Young Winston is another based on an Autobiography – this time focusing on Churchill’s early days… some people are into that sort of thing.

Official Winner: The Candidate

My Nominations: The Candidate. The Discreet Charm Of The Borgeouisie. Images. The King Of Marvin Gardens. Last Tango In Paris. The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean.

Only two of the official nominees make it to my list, leaving plenty of room for personal favourites. Images delivers some strong work by Susannah York and Robert Altman, but it’s the writing (also by Altman and York) which makes this more than a mere Repulsion clone. Bertolucci and Franco Arcalli crafted the daring, boorish Last Tango In Paris and while some of the more controversial pieces were improvised or loosely written and several pieces of dialogue retain high impact. My final two choices continue the theme of unnecessarily long movie titles, with The King Of Marvin Gardens seeing Brackman and Rafelson construct an almost soap-opera like assortment of characters and problems, while in The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean John Milius crafts an unlikable, yet enviable character who was nevertheless transformed into something more palatable for the screen, yet there are enough snippets of deadpan dialogue to remind us what a visionary force Milius was.

My Winner: The Candidate

Best Writing (Original) – 1971

Official Nominations: The Hospital. Investigation of A Citizen Above Suspicion. Klute. Summer Of ’42. Sunday Bloody Sunday.

At least two films which seem like obvious choices, with Klute being the one most people remember today and getting my vote. The official winner was The Hospital, all but forgotten now, saw Paddy Cheyevsky getting his second Oscar. It moves between hilarity, insanity, frustration, merging dark topics with both realism, lightness, and farce. Investigation of A Citizen Above Suspicion is a great movie and just as satirical as The Hospital though with the more unlikely story of a cop killing a woman and leading the investigation by planting evidence and leading everyone else a merry dance for his own amusement. Summer Of 42 is the sort of nostalgic movie which always goes down well with critics and audiences – ironically the book adaptation was released before the movie and became a huge hit too. Finally, Sunday Bloody Sunday is the Academy further accepting more fringe works, with Penelope Gilliatt’s script an honest portrayal of sexuality without being infatuated, obsessive, or pandering.

My Winner: Klute

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My Nominations: The Hospital. Investigation of A Citizen Above Suspicion. Klute. Summer Of ’42. Sunday Bloody Sunday. Dirty Harry. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. THX 1138. Vanishing Point.

Oddly, I’m happy with all of the official choices – they’re all good and all deserve a nomination. They all pale (from a quotable perspective) in comparison to Dirty Harry – a film which would continue to influence the dialogue in action movies and thrillers up to today. Not quite as influential and with dialogue not as absorbed into the public consciousness is Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, though it’s on a similar level. Vanishing Point has an iconic speech and further quotable lines but is a lesser seen movie now, while THX 1138 gets credit for creating an interesting vision of the future, though does borrow from previous works of a similar vein.

My Winner: Dirty Harry

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