The top 25 must-see movies of 2013
Next year’s full to bursting with potentially brilliant geek movies, so to help, here’s our pick of 25 must-see movies out in 2013…
UPDATE: We've now put together our list of the top 25 must-see movies of 2014. You can find it here.
Let's start with an explanation of what's not coming over the course of this article. There are lots of films we’re really looking forward to that we couldn’t fit into the list for a variety of reasons. For instance, we’ve left the second Hobbit movie off, partly to make room, and partly because we hopefully covered that in our salute to it last year. It's a slight cheat, perhaps, as we've very much looking forward to it.
Furthermore, we couldn’t squeeze in the glorious-looking Epic, the reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise under the watch of Kenneth Branagh, Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby, Bryan Singer’s delayed Jack The Giant Slayer, the also-delayed and fun-looking Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, possibly Ryan Reynolds sleeper R.I.P.D., nor Sam Raimi’s could-go-either-way Oz The Great And The Powerful.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reteaming with Sylvester Stallone in The Tomb got edged out too, as did Walter Hill’s Bullet To The Head. Then there’s the mighty Jason Statham. His films may not be in this list, but we’re looking to buy day one tickets to see both Parker and Hummingbird.
Furthermore, there are films that haven't had a 2013 release date confirmed yet that, inevitably, we can't include at the time of writing. The Muppets 2, for instance, we didn't have a solid enough date for in time, else it would comfortably had crashed this list.
We’ll be saluting a host of British movies – including the eagerly-awaited Alan Partridge film – in a separate piece to come. For now, here’s our 25 to watch for 2013…
25. Anchorman: The Legend Continues
There’s no formal release date announced for Anchorman 2 yet, but it’s widely expected to turn up in 2013. It’s comfortably our most eagerly-awaited comedy of the year, and looks far, far more worthwhile than something like The Hangover Part III.
The Channel Five news crew is back together for the sequel, led by Will Ferrell in his finest screen role as Ron Burgundy. Crucially, Steve Carell’s excellent comedy creation, Brick Tamlin, is reporting back for duty too. Expect loud noises.
Adam McKay is returning to direct, and if he can control the ensemble the way he managed to with the first movie, then expect Anchorman: The Legend Continues to have the belly laugh quotient to beat in 2013. It's due on December 20th.
24. A Good Day To Die Hard
Perhaps it’s the optimist in us, but the last trailer we saw for the return of John McClane in A Good Day To Die Hard looked really quite promising. Clearly, Die Hard 5 is about as far removed from the one man against some people in a building setup of the first film. This time, it’s John McClane and son, saving the entire world while sojourning Moscow.
There are lots of reasons to be wary, not least the decision to appoint John Moore to direct. Moore has his moments, but his finest film perhaps remains Behind Enemy Lines, and that in itself wasn’t too much to get excited about. His Max Payne movie still makes us shudder.
But then, Die Hard 4.0 turned out fine (thought it’s best not to consider it a Die Hard movie), and the appointment of Len Wiseman to direct that was widely questioned. Turns out, he did a decent job, and John Moore may yet surprise a few people.
Finally, there’s Bruce Willis, in his most iconic screen role. A Good Day To Die Hard firmly rests on his shoulders, and if he can deliver, then Valentine’s Day 2013 – for that’s when it’s out – might turn out to be really rather fun.
23. Evil Dead
Remakes - particularly of the horror variety - seldom give us much cause for celebration, but the forthcoming Evil Dead has a better pedigree than most. Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez came to Sam Raimi’s attention about three years ago, following the appearance of his sensational short film Ataque de Panico! on YouTube.
Made for just a few hundred dollars, the film depicted a giant robot attack on Uruguay’s capital, and given the limited resources Alvarez had available, it’s a remarkable achievement. Raimi perhaps saw something of his own creative verve as a young filmmaker, since he’s seen fit to hand over the keys to the franchise that made him such a success in the first place.
A remake of as beloved an 80s film as The Evil Dead is always going to be controversial, but with Alvarez at the helm, Diablo Cody behind the script, and the first trailer displaying some strikingly creative gore, we’re willing to take next year’s riff on the classic cabin-in-the-woods horror on its own merits.
22. World War Z
The prolonged and troubled production of World War Z has been played out in the public eye probably far more than the filmmakers would have liked. Still, if we’re going to get panicky about films that have late reshoots, that’s a good many blockbusters we’ll have to discount.
The broader problem with World War Z, based on the work of Max Brooks, is that – as strong as the source material is – it doesn’t immediately lend itself to a movie (the same can be said of Daniel H Wilson’s Robopocalypse, which Steven Spielberg is bringing to the screen in 2014). Perhaps that’s why late writing work was done on the final act of the film.
Brad Pitt is starring in this one, with Marc Forster directing (his first blockbuster since 007 misfire Quantum Of Solace). Forster’s CV includes strong movies such as Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball, and he has the capability of turning in a very strong film. We hope he’s done so again with World War Z, not least because follow-ups have already been planned.
21. Captain Philips
Since Green Zone underperformed at the box office in early 2010, we’ve not had a new film from director Paul Greengrass. Green Zone came at the end of a prolific few years that included the terrific United 93 and The Bourne Ultimatum.
Captain Philips is something a little different, though. Starring Tom Hanks and working from a script by Billy Ray, the movie is the story of the captain of the title, whose ship encounters Somali pirates. Based on a true story (the source material is the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days At Sea), it’s hard to think of anyone better than Greengrass to tackle such a subject. It’s serious subject matter, set in a very enclosed area, and may just be one of the first real contenders for the 2014 Oscars. We’re going to have to wait until October 2013 before we get to see it, though.
20. Ender’s Game
There have been rumblings of an adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s award-winning sci-fi novel for several years, with The Phantom Menace’s Jake Lloyd rumoured to be playing the young lead back in 1999. But after years in the pre-development wilderness, an Ender’s Game movie has finally been shepherded through production by director Gavin Hood.
The adaptation features a great cast, including Asa Butterfield in the lead as officer-in-training Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and Ben Kingsley. The script, which aims to fit Card’s sprawling alien invasion story into a feature length, has already received approval from the famously vocal author.
There’s no shortage of sci-fi and fantasy films out next year, and with Ender’s Game currently scheduled for release in November, it’s dangerously close to the launch of Thor: The Dark World and Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. But if the movie can match up to the quality of its cast and filmmakers, there’s every chance that positive reviews and word of mouth will entice the audience it needs.
19. Monsters University
We’re not on the bandwagon that’s suggesting the glory days of Pixar are over. Cars 2 was a misfire, certainly, but we had a lot of fun with Brave. Furthermore, Monsters University looks a lot of fun: the teaser trailer for the film is a hoot.
We’re sure we’re not alone, though, in preferring something a little bolder, and outside of a franchise, from Pixar. Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille… these were films setting the standards for others to live up to, even in spite of their respective imperfections. While Pixar has shown it can deliver outstanding sequels, a prequel to Monsters Inc perhaps wasn’t the project we most wanted from the studio.
That said, though, it’s a film that’s impossible to resist, and we’re looking forward to it greatly. It takes Sully and Mike back to their university days, and tells the story of how they came to be such friends, in spite of an initial rivalry. Expect the animation to be first class, and expect the film to be a family treat.
18. Fast Six
By rights, the ageing Fast franchise should be propping up the bottom shelf of straight-to-DVD releases. But with Fast Five, director Justin Lin managed to supercharge a franchise that was rapidly running out of fuel, altering its trajectory from the street racing subgenre (a bit like The Cannonball Run with neon underlighting) to macho heist movie.
Dwayne Johnson added further to the testosterone and absurdity, and the movie’s infectious sense of fun made it one of 2011‘s surprise blockbusters. Lin is therefore faced with the unenviable task of bettering his own high watermark, and with next year’s Fast Six, he’s sending the franchise off on a globe-trotting adventure that takes in London, Glasgow and the Canary Islands.
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster are the usual suspects behind the wheel, and they’re joined by a returning Michelle Rodriguez (who’s somehow cheated death), and Luke Evans as the villain of the piece. What it’ll all be about is anyone’s guess, but Universal’s confirmed it’ll be another heist picture, and the presence of Gina Carano among the supporting cast ensures there’ll be quite a lot of hand-to-face combat to take in.
17. The Last Stand
With his relatively brief appearances in the Expendables films, Arnold Schwarzenegger dipped a dainty toe back into the action movie world. The Last Stand, meanwhile, will see the former Governator take the lead in a gun-crazy film for the first time since Terminator 3 almost a decade ago.
Arnie plays Sheriff Ray Owens, who enjoys a quiet life in a sleepy US border town, until one day he’s charged with preventing a group of vicious escaped convicts from crossing the line to freedom in Mexico. He’s joined by Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman and Genesis Rodriguez on the side of law and order, while Peter Stormare also stars, presumably as a villain.
The Last Stand is the Hollywood debut of director Kim Ji-woon, the South Korean director of A Tale Of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil. The latter proved Ji-woon’s prowess as an action director, and The Last Stand’s additional budget means it’s packed full of gunfights, explosions and various vehicles skidding out of control.
With talent like that at the reins, we’re hoping The Last Stand will be a late-career return to form for Arnold, the erstwhile titan of the action genre.
Few people left cinemas excitedly talking about Tron: Legacy’s forgettable story, but one thing was for sure: it was a visually stunning film. Director Joseph Kosinksi will no doubt bring some of that shininess to Oblivion, another science fiction movie, this time about a repairman in a post-apocalyptic future.
That repairman is played by the endlessly energetic Tom Cruise, who will star alongside Olga (Quantum Of Solace) Kurylenko, whose character is a catalyst for some sort of war between aliens and the surviving dregs of humanity. Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Game Of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are also among the supporting cast.
Further plot specifics are vague, but one Universal executive has described the script as “one of the finest we’ve ever come across”, though we suppose they would say that. At any rate, a marriage of Kosinski’s visual skill and a story worth telling may make Oblivion one of next year’s more pleasant surprises.
15. The Croods
The DreamWorks Animation slate is hardly an empty one, but there are some promising projects amidst the twelve active films it recently confirmed. The Croods might just be the most interesting.
This was a film that was originally co-scripted by John Cleese, and Aardman was putting it together as a stop-motion project back when it had its deal with DreamWorks in place. When Aardman and DreamWorks went their separate ways, the latter kept control of The Croods. It kept Kirk DeMicco on board (who'd been working on the project with Aardman), and brought the excellent Chris Sanders – of Lilo & Stitch and How To Train Your Dragon vintage – in to co-write and co-direct.
The voice talent includes the likes of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone, and the film is set in prehistoric times, as a protective caveman faces up to big changes. And while we’ll always be curious as to just what Aardman could have made of all of this, this is arguably the most promising DreamWorks Animation movie on its known slate.
14. After Earth
Yes, it’s an M Night Shyamalan movie. But before you pull the power lead out of the back of your computer, bear this in mind: unlike his previous films, which were disappointing to say the least, Shyamalan has left the script for others to write this time.
Syriana scribe Stephen Gaghan and Book Of Eli writer Gary Whitta have joined forces to write this futuristic sci-fi movie, in which Will and Jaden Smith play a father and son stuck on a deserted planet Earth. With the father injured, the son must traverse a dangerous landscape to get help.
That Will Smith’s character’s called Cypher Raige has dampened our enthusiasm somewhat, but it’s important to remember that, way before the suicide-inducing winds of The Happening, or the dodgy kung-fu fantasy of The Last Airbender, Shyamalan was a storyteller of considerable skill. Will After Earth see the director reclaim his directing mojo? We live in hope.
13. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
It was no mean feat, taking the dark material of The Hunger Games and turning it into such a compelling, well-made piece of cinema. A huge global hit, the pressures of hitting a November 2013 release window nonetheless meant that original director Gary Ross passed on the sequel. In though came Francis Lawrence to direct Catching Fire. He’s subsequently agreed to make Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 as well.
Lawrence is a good choice. He’s shown glimpses of brilliance across I Am Legend, Water For Elephants and Constantine, although he’s got his hands full with the complex narrative of the remaining Hunger Games books. Joining the cast for Catching Fire, in the pivotal role of Finnick Odair, is Sam Claflin. Philip Seymour Hoffman has also been added to the cast.
Catching Fire may be a slightly harder immediate sell than The Hunger Games, but it has the ingredients for quite an edgy piece of PG-13-rated cinema.
12. Kick-Ass 2
It’s already more than two years since the anarchy of the DIY superhero movie Kick-Ass, and although the cast’s a little older and a bit more famous, the sequel promises to be as irreverent as ever.
Jeff Wadlow takes over from Matthew Vaughn as director, and it’s said that the former’s spec script impressed the latter so much that he got the filmmaking gig almost straight away. Aaron Johnson once again stars as David Lizewski, whose enthusiasm for playing the crime-fighting alter ego Kick-Ass far outstrips his abilities. Chloe Moretz reprises her role as the sweary young assassin Hit-Girl, who this time finds herself struggling to fit into ordinary life at school.
Then there’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who’s now a full-fledged villain of dubious sartorial taste, while Jim Carrey and John Leguizamo round out the supporting cast. Anyone who’s read Mark Millar’s comics will have an idea of what to expect from the sequel, which is two-parts comedy to equal parts disquieting violence. Will a shark named Margaret Thatcher also make a cameo appearance?
Dedicated devotees of Disney animation will probably be viewing Frozen in quite a divided way. On the upside, this is arguably the last of the very long-in-gestation projects that’s been bubbling around the studio for decades. It’s the studio’s long-awaited take on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which last time fell apart just over a decade ago, when work had begun on it as a hand-drawn project.
It’s come back to life now as a CG musical under the eye of director Chris Buck (he also co-directed Tarzan), with Idina Menzel voicing the Snow Queen herself, and Kristen Bell lending her pipes to her estranged sister. Broadway composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are working on the songs. Getting Broadway composes in in itself harks back to Disney of some 20 years ago.
We’ve thus far seen some early art for Frozen on a brief trip we made to Walt Disney Animation Studios, as well as some character design work. It’s impossible to call the film off the back of that, of course, but we remain desperately excited to finally see The Snow Queen on the big screen. It’s been a long, long time coming.
10. Thor: The Dark World
The second of Marvel’s 2013 releases, and the second of its phase two films in the build-up to 2015’s The Avengers 2, Thor: The Dark World may end up being the best comic book movie of 2013. Certainly the original Thor was strong, and Game Of Thrones’ Alan Taylor is an intriguing choice to replace Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair.
But where can the film go next? We know that Chris Hemsworth, an allegedly-reluctant Natalie Portman, a rumoured Tom Hiddleston and a definite Anthony Hopkins are returning. Furthermore, on villain duties this time around is Christopher Eccleston. Further geek points have been earned by adding Chuck himself, Zachary Levi, to the cast.
Lots of promise, this one, in a year that has no shortage of movies in the genre.
9. The World’s End
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy gets its concluding chapter in the potentially fantastic apocalyptic comedy, The World’s End. Wright’s usual collaborators, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are joined by Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Martin Freeman, as a group of old friends gets back together to enjoy a pub crawl before the apocalypse.
Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz were both truly special fusions of genre and comedy, and we’d be truly stunned if Wright and his friends didn’t have something equally inspiring in store for their third feature together.
8. The Wolverine
If there’s one lesson that Skyfall taught the blockbuster movie world in 2012, it’s that it’s possible to turn continued production delays to your advantage. Certainly the time it’s taken to bring a follow-up to 2009’s X-Men: Origins: Wolverine to the screen has not been without incident. At one stage, Darren Aronofsky was all set to direct The Wolverine, before he vacated the director’s chair, with James Mangold stepping in.
There’s a real sense of trying to properly do Wolverine justice this time, too. Promising not to be as melancholy as the previous film, the basis of The Wolverine is a 1982 run of the comic from Frank Miller and Chris Claremont, that took the character to Japan. That’s what the film’s doing too, although we’re not going to say any more about the plot than that.
Christopher McQuarrie, who’s contributed to X-Men screenplays in the past, has co-written this one, and there’s the impression that The Wolverine has learned the lessons of last time around. It’d be a shame, after all, if the final good memory we had of Jackman’s Wolverine was a cameo in another film…
And just how good does this look? Stoker is the first English language film from director Park Chan-wook. Why should that be of interest? Well, Chan-wook gave the world the wonderful Oldboy for starters. That should be enough to prick the old ears up.
Furthermore, the screenplay has heritage, too. It turned up on the Black List of the best unproduced scripts back in 2010, and it’s from the pen of Prison Break star Wentworth Miller. It’s a mix of thriller, horror and drama, as a young girl finds herself living with her uncle and mother after the death of her father. It strikes us as the perfect film to go and see knowing no more than that.
The trailers thus far have been incredibly impressive, and the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode.
Oh, and we also get a new Clint Mansell score with this one. We like Clint Mansell scores.
6. Man Of Steel
Gut feeling suggests that Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise, Man Of Steel, won’t be the finest comic book movie of 2012. But heck, it’s the one we’re most intrigued about seeing.
Henry Cavill is pulling on the blue tights this time around, to do battle with Michael Shannon. The lesson of the Richard Donner Superman movies has been digested, as Man Of Steel also pulls together a terrific ensemble cast: Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane all have roles of varying sizes here.
There’s also the hand of Christopher Nolan involved. He, along with David S Goyer, came up with the story that finally unlocked the return of Superman to the big screen. Nolan is one of the producers, too. Zack Snyder, meanwhile, has much to prove with Man Of Steel. Some of his work on Watchmen remains quite brilliant. Much of his work on Sucker Punch wasn’t.
Yet it’s hard not to be excited about Superman’s latest return. He’s the character who proved that big comic book movies can work, and in 2013, we sincerely hope he continues to do so. Expect Superman to be back on the big screen within two years of Man Of Steel’s release, too…
5. Iron Man 3
Marvel’s phase two gets formally underway with the fourth big screen outing for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark (five, if you count The Incredible Hulk cameo). Outside of The Avengers, this is Marvel’s most valuable franchise right now.
And perhaps that’s why it’s taken the boldest gamble of any major 2013 comic book movie: it’s brought in Shane Black to write and direct. Shane Black has only directed one film to date, the exquisite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and his appointment to Iron Man 3 was something of a surprise. But what a pleasant surprise: Black’s scripts for the likes of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout are simply great fun to read, even before you get to the films. And Black’s balance of humour and action seems a bang-on fit for Iron Man.
The challenge will be to push the character a bit harder this time (as well as explain away the lack of Avengers to help him). As such, in comes Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, hopefully channelling his fearsome Don Logan character from Sexy Beast as much as a PG-13/12A rating will allow.
Expect a lot of money to head in the direction of Iron Man 3 at the box office. Hopefully, it’ll also put the standalone Iron Man franchise firmly back on track, after the slightly disappointing Iron Man 2.
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
There’s a section of devoted Star Trek fans who really don’t like what JJ Abrams did with his reboot. But then, arguably, it was never set to be a film for the hardened Trekkie/Trekker. Instead, Abrams managed to make a broad, accessible science fiction film in a franchise that had relied heavily on fan appeal for its last couple of entries. As a piece of action cinema, Star Trek was also something quite special.
Abrams has taken his time to bring the crew of the Enterprise back together – it’s been four years since the first film – and this time, he’s also added some more British talent to the cast. Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve and Noel Clarke are amongst the talents on show.
The plot is being kept a heavily guarded secret, and Abrams shot the bulk of the film on studio sets, meaning Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t papped anywhere near as much as recent blockbusters. If he manages to keep the vast bulk up of his film under wraps until release date, that’ll be some achievement. Either way, this is the sequel to beat next year.
3. Pacific Rim
Few directors can fuse a knowledge of fantasy and science fiction and individual artistry as well as Guillermo del Toro, and that’s why, in spite of only having seen one or two images from the set of Pacific Rim, we’re excited enough about the film to put it near the top of our must-see movies list.
del Toro’s “beautiful poem to giant monsters”, Pacific Rim is all about humans clambering into massive robots to battle creatures from the ocean. While movies like Transformers and Battleship dealt with vaguely similar destructive premises, we’re looking forward to seeing what a director as adept with special effects and framing can do - del Toro has previously said that he’s taken inspiration from the painter Francisco Goya, which certainly isn’t something you’d get from Michael Bay.
Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam and, of course, Ron Perlman are among the movie’s ensemble cast, while the script’s been worked on by, among other writers, the UK’s own Neil Cross, whose TV work includes Spooks, Luther and Doctor Who.
Whether or not del Toro can bring extra layers of human complexity to the distinctly visual kaiju genre remains to be seen. But even if it does prove to be just a big, beautiful-looking B-movie, we’re confident that it’ll be among the best big, beautiful-looking B-movies of next year.
Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was a huge hit when it appeared three years ago, earning back around seven times its $30million budget. More importantly, District 9 fused intelligent storytelling and sci-fi action in a way that was impossible to resist, immediately putting the director and first-time actor Sharlto Copley on the map.
This time, Blomkamp’s been given a much greater budget ($120million), a starrier cast, including Matt Damon in the lead, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, and William Fichtner. Like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Elysium introduces a future where the gulf between rich and poor is greater than ever; the wealthy are holed up in a posh space station up in the stratosphere, while the other 98 per cent scratch a miserable living on Earth.
From what we’ve read, Matt Damon plays a lead character almost as morally ambiguous as District 9’s prawn-hating Wikus van de Marwe - Damon stars as an ex-convict is drawn into a society-levelling mission due to self interest rather than a concern for the poor, though we can probably expect to see a redemptive arc to his character as the story unfolds.
As his earlier short films proved, Blomkamp has a remarkable ability to create extraordinary worlds on a miniscule budget. With $30million, he managed to depict a convincingly grungy ghetto of alien refugees in District 9. We can’t wait to see what he has in store for us with the expanded resources he’s been given for Elysium.
As you will have noted by now, 2013’s schedule is positively awash with superhero movies, science fiction and fantasy. But if we had to choose just one such film as our most anticipated, it would have to be Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity.
Cuaron, of course, was the director of 2006‘s stunning Children Of Men. Gravity marks his return to the sci-fi genre, and his first movie in more than six years. On the strength of what we know about the director and this film, we’ve a feeling it’ll be worth the wait.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as a pair of astronauts who, when their orbiting space station falls apart after a catastrophic incident, must fight for survival in debris-strewn space.
When the movie was still at the scripting stage, word got out that it was intended to unspool in a single, unbroken shot, with the camera moving in and around the action without an obvious edit. That same free-flowing concept appears to have found its way into the finished movie, with rumours of the opening scene comprising a single 17-minute shot, and the entire film containing only 150 or so shots in total.
All of this could be written off as so much gimmickry were it not for Cuaron’s track record of using cinematography to heighten drama. His work on The Prisoner Of Azkaban is widely regarded as one of the high points of the Harry Potter series, while the extraordinary unbroken action set-pieces in Children Of Men (including a breathtaking car chase and a sprint through a building under fire) are examples of a master filmmaker at work.
Children Of Men’s critical acclaim didn’t, sadly, trigger a stampede at the box-office. Here’s hoping that 2013 proves to be Cuaron’s year, and that Gravity finds the audience it deserves.
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