Okay, if you’re looking for an analysis on who wore what on the red carpet, then move along, there’s nothing to see here. That said, it was good to see the major TV network news and current affairs programmes taking an interest in the 2018 AACTA Awards, even if their focus was more on issues sartorial than cinematic. And you could practically hear their viewers scratching their heads collectively and saying, “Sweet Country? Never heard of it!” when talk eventually turned to who won what.
But Warwick Thornton’s poetic, elegiac western was undoubtedly the big winner last night, taking out the gongs for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing. Looking more rock star than film director with his long hair, beard, and Gram Parsons inflected black jacket, Warwick Thornton (quite possibly the coolest dude in the room) used the occasion for a little political agitation, calling out the government for its stance on Nauru and Manus Island. “As a country, we should grow up,” Thornton said. “This prison that we’ve created for these people – this idea that they can’t come here because legally we have to look after them…why is society being this childish? We’re not that dumb. We know the difference between right and wrong. We’re just being told by certain people who create fear in our history that this is bad. Who gets an award because they stop the boats?”
Accepting Sweet Country’s award for best film, quiet powerhouse of a producer, David Jowsey (Jasper Jones, Mystery Road, Goldstone, Satellite Boy) said that the utterly gripping local western “is a Trojan horse. We drive through your gate, and there in our belly is a story about our history, a story about the birth of our nation. Sweet Country is really about our identity.” It was a big night for David Jowsey, whose brilliant ABC-TV mini-series, Mystery Road – inspired by Ivan Sen’s majestic 2013 film of the same name – deservedly picked up the Best Series award.
Young actress-on-the-rise, Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man: Far From Home), who picked up the Best Actress Award for her sweet, subtle turn in Bruce Beresford’s classy period drama, Ladies In Black, meanwhile, used the podium to hint at the current conversation around gender in the film industry. She said that Ladies In Black was “about what girls can do when they’re supported and encouraged, and I’ve been supported and encouraged my entire life and I’m so grateful for that.” The gender conversation also raged on the red carpet, with practically everyone dropping in their two- bobs’ worth. “It’s the only thing anyone is talking about right now,” said Janet King star, Marta Dusseldorp, of the gender representation issue in the arts.
Despite being a man with more high profile local bombs on his resume than just about any other actor, Stephen Curry (The Cup, Save Your Legs, Takeaway) did a good job hosting, with just the right amount of pith and gush. International glamour, meanwhile, was provided by Nicole Kidman, who picked up the Best Supporting Actress Award (for the second year in a row, after scoring a win for Lion last year) for her powerful turn in the US-financed-and-filmed Boy Erased. Intriguingly, writer/director, Joel Edgerton’s drama about gay conversion therapy – with its very American themes and setting, it’s not an “Australian movie” by any stretch of the imagination – was included in the AACTA Awards because of its substantial local input. Interesting…on that basis, we wonder if Aquaman will pick up any major nominations next year? “I don’t know about bending the rules…I’m just grateful the film is being seen,” Kidman said on the red carpet of Boy Erased.
The major highlight of the evening was Bryan Brown’s presentation with The Longford Lyell Award, the highest honour that the Australian Academy can bestow upon an individual. The gong (previously awarded to local icons like Jack Thompson, John Meillon, George Miller, Jacki Weaver and Paul Hogan) recognises a person who has made a truly outstanding contribution to the enrichment of Australia’s screen environment and culture…or, according to Jack Thompson on the red carpet, it’s the “yeah, I’m still here” award. The clips package of Bryan Brown’s body of work was a telling reminder of just what an essential part of the local cinema landscape Bryan Brown is, and his wonderfully laconic but heartfelt acceptance speech further bashed it home. “I love making Australian movies, and I love playing Australian blokes. I hope I can do some more.” So do we, Mr. Brown…
Click here for a full list of 2018 AACTA Award winners.