Monday, January 25, 2010

A List For Australia Day

Today is Australia Day here in, you guessed it, Australia. It's a day where people celebrate by drinking the worst-tasting beer they can find, wearing ratty blue singlet tops with Australian flags as a cape, eating burnt "snags" from the "barbie" and listening to the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown on the radio from the plush confines of a deck chair placed in a kiddie's wading pool. It's all very high class, isn't it?

If you're wanting to spend the day away from the heat and the flies and delicious-but-just-don't-think-about-what's-in-it meat products then perhaps you can stay inside and watch some Aussie flicks. Being that 2010 is now here why don't we take a quick look at the best Aussie films of the last decade. I didn't see all of them - even once I did start trying to see as many Aussie films as I can a year, around 2006, it's impossible to watch them all - but I think I saw most of the movies that were any good. Whether you like crime dramas, romantic comedies, period costume dramas, aboriginal mythologies or gritty movies about druggies, there's something here for everyone. And even if you're not Australia, why don't you do yourself a favour and add a few of these to your respective country's DVD queue.

**You will note that I have not included movies like Moulin Rouge! Despite technically being Australian I thought I'd put them on the bench for this list since it's an Australia Day thing and those movies have absolutely nothing to say about Australia, its people or anything remotely connected to us.**

25. Australia (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2008)
Baz's epic period romance didn't work out the way anybody wanted, but I sit firmly in the positive side. It has bravura and a magnetic electricity that captivates even when it's floundering about without a clue as to where it's going. Anybody who spent more than one sentence on reviewing Nicole Kidman's botox rather than reviewing the movie really don't have any right to be called a critic.
Available on Netflix

24. The Tracker (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2000)
David Gulpilil had quite a decade and nothing was better than his performance in Rolf de Heer's methodical The Tracker. Featuring a beautiful score and set of original songs from Archie Roach, de Heer would only get better in his dealings with Aboriginal culture, but The Tracker was a wonderful start to the decade for Australia's most prolific director (he also had the sublime The Old Man Who Read Love Stories and Dr Plonk, which didn't make the top 25).
Available on Netflix

23. Wolf Creek (dir. Greg McLean, 2005)
One of the most instant calling cards by anyone this decade was made by Greg McLean and his truly terrifying, visceral horror flick Wolf Creek. Spending what feels like an incredibly tense amount of time introducing us to our outback travellers, McLean quickly shifts gears and takes us on a truly disturbing and horrific journey. Bonus points for providing one of the few true Aussie cinematic icons of the decade in John Jarratt's "Mick Taylor". That's not a knife...
Available on Netflix

22. Chopper (dir. Andrew Dominik, 2000)
Many film lovers may have discovered Andrew Domonik from his American debut The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but his first film was this crime thriller based on the life of the notorious underworld figure Mark "Chopper" Reed. Featuring a truly astonishing performance by Eric Bana (who has never been better) and a bevy of local supporting talent, Chopper is a firecracker.
Available on Netflix

21. Mary and Max (dir. Adam Elliot, 2009)
Adam Elliot's first feature, after the short films like Oscar-winner Harvey Krumpet, is a touching and sad portrait of two lives. It is, however, filled with such wonderfully human moments and genuinely absurdist comedy that all the doom and gloom is hardly off-putting. A standout vocal performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Bethany Whitmore as the titular sad sacks tops off this monochrome-coloured plasticine cake.

20. The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (dir. Paul Cox, 2001)
One of the most visually captivating Australian films of the decade was Paul Cox's unconventional documentary on the life of famous Russian ballet master Vaslav Nijinsky. Overflowing with eye-popping images and cinematic frou frou, The Dairies of Vaslav Nijinksy can be a bit of slog if you're not feeling it, but it is unmissable for fans of the genre.
Available on Netflix

19. Macbeth (dir. Geoffrey Wright, 2006)
Probably the title on this list that most people despise. I, on the other hand, found its deranged and absolutely classless take on Shakespeare's tale - featuring the original dialogue, but reset into Melbourne's gangland wars - tickled my fancy. Outside of the immaculate costumes and sets there is probably nothing here worth recommending, and yet here I am placing it on this list. It's clinically insane, and that's why I enjoyed it so much. It features Sam Worthington sans a shirt for a lot of the running time, too, so it has that going for it in this post-Avatar world.
Available on Netflix

18. Looking for Alibrandi (dir. Kate Woods, 2000)
It's such a shame that the success of this movie didn't spring the Australian film industry into action to make more classy movies based on popular teen-lit. This spirited adaptation of the popular high school young adult staple is so well put together that adults will get as much enjoyment out of it as the youngens (Anthony LaPaglis and Greta Scacchi co-star), and while her career has been all over the place since, you can't deny that Pia Miranda most definitely gave her breakthrough everything she had.

17. September (dir. Peter Carstairs, 2007)
This one got ignored in every single way, which is such a shame. It's a beautiful film to look at, superbly acted and directed and a rare look at some oft-ignored parts of Australian life. See it for the magical cinematography and the performances by soon-to-be-huge-overseas Xavier Samuel (Twilight: Eclipse) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland).

16. Kenny (dir. Clayton Jacobson, 2006)
It's just funny, is what it is.
Available on Netflix

15. Ten Canoes (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2006)
A landmark moment for Australian cinema, Rolf de Heer's film was the first to ever be filmed in an Aboriginal language. With its comical take on the domestic lives of Aborigines both in the distant past and the very-very distant past, Ten Canoes charmed audiences and proved to be one of the defining Aussie films of the decade, meanwhile Rolf de Heer finally got the mainstream respect he deserved.
Available on Netflix

14. Japanese Story (dir. Sue Brooks, 2003)
If you're looking for the best performance in an Australian film for the decade then you should probably look no further than Toni Collette in Sue Brooks' Japanese Story. While "the twist" ramps up the emotion to levels that were previously undeserved, Toni Collette steers it with a performance that, if given in an American film, would have won every award under the sun.
Available on Netflix

13. Beneath Clouds (dir. Ivan Sen, 2002)
A precursor to Samson & Delilah was Ivan Sen's Beneath Clouds. Two Aboriginal youths trek the countryside highways whilst barely speaking. It is a poignant and moving account of two lives going in opposite directions coming together.

12. Alexandra's Project (dir. Rolf de Heer, 2003)
I know quite a few people who don't like this movie at all, but it hit me like a punch to the gut. Helen Buday gives a searing, angry performance as Alexandra, a housewife who has a truly maniacal birthday present for her husband (Gary Sweet). If this were Korean and featured scenes of Alexandra cutting off her husband's feet with piano wire (or something equally gory) then it would have been praised to kingdom come around the globe, but I have gotten used to that these days.
Available on Netflix

11. Rabbit-Proof Fence (dir. Phillip Noyce, 2002)
I dare you to not be moved to tears by Noyce's account of three Aboriginal sisters trying to make their way home. If the first 90 minutes don't get you with Everlyn Sampi's performance then the final minutes will with the real stolen sisters will be the nail in your teary-eyed coffin.
Available on Netflix

10. Look Both Ways (dir. Sarah Watt, 2005)
A wonderful new name behind the cameras this decade was Sarah Watt, moving up from animated shorts she blew me away with this comic take on the dangers lurking around every corner. Whether it be a man being hit by a train, a woman who imagines being eaten by sharks or her boyfriend with cancer, Look Both Ways plays delicate games with the concept of death and shares a similar vibe to Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know in its exploration of deeply wounded people experiencing life's jokes the best way they can.
Available on Netflix

9. Black Water (dir. Andrew Traucki & David Nerlich, 2008)
The best Aussie horror flick of the decade was definitely this lo-fi killer croc movie, Black Water. Tense from start to finish and with multiple set-pieces that give me shivers just thinking about them (how about that scene set entirely to the rhythm of faraway lightning) and featuring one of the best horror movie performances in a very long time in the form of Maeve Dermody.
Available on Netflix

8. The Horseman (dir. Steven Kastrissios, 200?)
That Steven Kastrissios' violent revenge flick The Horseman hasn't received a local theatrical release yet is shameful. I saw it in 2008 as a part of the Melbourne International Film Festival and my opinion hasn't wavered one iota. The Horseman is an exhausting and truly nerve-racking experience, and featuring one of the best male performances of the decade (from any country) by Peter Marshall. The Horseman got a UK release last year, so I hope it comes out here at some point because people need to see it. It's a movie that dares you to sit through it, ala Romper Stomper, and make it through to the end.

7. The Dish (dir. Rob Sitch, 2000)
It's just so enjoyable and inspiring and gives me a big smile and a lump in my throat every time I watch it. The team at Working Dog really need to make another movie some time soon, please!
Available on Netflix

6. Not Quite Hollywood (dir. Mark Hartley, 2008)
The most fun I've ever had in the audience of an Australian movie - excluding Moulin Rouge!, which I did exclude from this list - was definitely watching Not Quite Hollywood. A lovingly-produced tribute the wild and crazy days of Aussie genre filmmaking. From the sex comedies and biker flicks of the '70s to the uber-gory horror movies of the '80s. Edited at an unparalleled pace, this documentary features a bevy of Aussie and international icons spinning memorable tales - Dennis Hopper discussing how he technically died on the set of Mad Dog Morgan comes to mind - makes this movie a riot.
Available on Netflix

5. Samson & Delilah (dir. Warwick Thornton, 2009)
I have written more than enough on this movie. If you don't know about it by now then I don't even know what you're doing here.

4. Three Blind Mice (dir. Matthew Newton, 2009)
Amid all the talk about Samson & Delilah, the best Aussie film of the year got lost. Not that critics were calling it that, which I think is a damned shame and, quite frankly, truly baffling. Matthew Newton's film plays like a prequel to The Hurt Locker as three young men go about their last night of shore leave before heading back to Iraq. Filled with comedy, drama and perhaps the finest ensemble cast to ever grace an Australian film, Three Blind Mice should be at the top of everyone's must see list from 2009.
Available on Netflix

3. Noise (dir. Matthew Saville, 2007)
A taut thriller that plays with arthouse ingredients, Matthew Saville's debut feature was such a surprise. It deserved better than it got - a recurring theme with many films on this list - but I'm glad that those who did see often cite it as an example of superb filmmaking, even though who usually don't care for Australia's specific form of suburban middle-class woe. A stunning film.
Available on Netflix

2. Jindabyne (dir. Ray Lawrence, 2006)
Mature, reserved and superbly made, Ray Lawrence's adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story (previously adapted in Robert Altman's Short Cuts) was like some exquisite beacon. There are few directors who make such fine films for and about adults as Lawrence and it's just a shame he doesn't work more regularly, but with Jindabyne he got miracles out of Laura Linney, Deborah-Lee Furness and Gabriel Byrne while playing his audience like a violin.
Available on Netflix

1. Lantana (dir. Ray Lawrence, 2001)
A movie that is regularly cited as the best Australian film ever made, from one of the greatest directors we've ever produced and featuring a cast of actors so expert that it makes one forget about the criss-crossing plot structure that was all the rage at that time. Everything about Lantana - Ray Lawrence's first film in 16 years - just works. Whether it be the romance, the chilly thrills, the cop procedural or the domestic drama. With a cast including Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Geoffrey Rush, Vince Colosimo, Barbara Hershey and more, Lantana became an instant icon for what our industry can and should be doing more. A masterpiece through and through.
Available on Netflix

And to think I didn't even get to mention movies such as Forbidden Lie$, Lake Mungo, Crackerjack, The Square, The Jammed, Gettin' Square, Somersault or Walking on Water, which are all wonderful titles too.

If you wanna see something new then Bran Nue Dae is packin' them in at the cinemas and there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than in the company of that vibrant, colourful musical. The film has sailed past box office milestones that many others don't even get close to and the soundtrack has even made the top 30, a very rare feat for an Aussie film. Or there's still time to check out Jane Campion's Bright Star (note to self: See that immediately!) if you're in the mood for corsets and poetry.


Anonymous said...

Great read Glenn! Very good choices too.

Noise, September and Beneath Clouds are definitely three very underappreciated films.

Brenton said...

Loved the list! Good to see a Paul Cox film included. 'Man of Flowers' is my favourite Australian movie and 'Unfolding Florence' my favourite documentary. Though 'Bastardy' is running a very close second at the moment! Everyone go out and either see an Australian movie or buy an Australian DVD!

Angeleno said...

Happy Australia Day from Los Angeles!

Thanks for the great list! I'm one of those Americans who love Australian movies, and I've seen about half of your list, but I certainly look forward to checking out the other half. I was really glad to see that you at least added "Somersault" to your honorable mentions (I kept wondering where it was as I read your list) -- just exquisite filmmaking that covers difficult emotional terrain with great delicacy.

Two others not on your list that spring to mind are John Hillcoat's "The Proposition" and "Dirty Deeds" with a terrific performance from Brian Brown. I really liked both.

Personally, I think we need an annual Australian Film Festival here in Los Angeles!

Glenn Dunks said...

I'm not that big on The Proposition, actually. Fine performances (especially by Winstone and Watson), but couldn't really get into it.

Paul Martin said...

FWIW, Glenn, of your choices, I agree with:
- Chopper
- Ten Canoes
- Beneath Clouds
- Samson and Delilah
- Three Blind Mice
- Lantana

And disagree with:
- September
- Japanese Story
- Look Both Ways
- The Dish
- Not Quite Hollywood

The others (those I've seen, that is), I could take or leave them.

Others that I'd include:
- Tom White
- Em 4 Jay
- Boxing Day
- La Spagnola
- Finished People
- Jewboy
- The Proposition

So, my top 10 might look li

R-Co said...

Good list, though I'm definitely in the anti-Macbeth camp. And I'd have Boxing Day up there at the top. And probably Men's Group as well.

So many people are putting Jindabyne up there on noughties lists that I think I'm going to have to rewatch it. Maybe it'll play better on the small screen. Or maybe I was just expecting it to be as good as Lantana, something that's never going to happen.

Jan-Ice said...

Enjoyed your list.Agreed with a lot of your choices,especially Jindabyne which I found very moving and haunting but my friends found to be boring!Here's hoping the next !0 years will be as good..or better!

Glenn Dunks said...

Paul, do you mind me asking what you didn't like about The Dish? Was it the genteel quirky small town stuff?

Of the films that you would have included, none of them threatened the top 25. Especially Tom White and Finished People, which would threaten a worst 25 list. I think you got cut off though!

R-Co, I seriously think I'm one of the only people on the planet who likes Macbeth. I like it for all the same reasons that I like The Black Dahlia, another movie that many people loathe.