1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) With the whirling, hyperactive juggernaut that is Mad Max: Fury Road, Australian action pioneer, George Miller, returned from years of animated niceties and threw down the gauntlet to his much younger peers, letting them know that when it comes to crunching metal, shredded tyres, terrifying villains, and flawed anti-heroes, he is the king. In an unparalleled feat, the critically lauded and box office busting Mad Max: Fury Road still felt fresh even after hundreds of cinematic imitators (many of them from Italy) had carved their own pop cultural inroads in the decades since Mad Max became a cult sensation upon its release in 1979. “Well, it’s Mad Max, isn’t it?” British actor, Tom Hardy, replied when FilmInk asked him what drew him to Mad Max: Fury Road. “It’s the V8 interceptor. It’s Mel Gibson. It’s wicked. I’m grateful and happy to be part of that.” Along with Charlize Theron as the imposing Imperator Furiosa, Hardy anchored the cinematic anarchy of this extraordinary film, which hotwired the enthusiasm of critics around the world, barrel-rolled the box office, and even made major inroads at the Oscars, taking home six major technical gongs. An action masterpiece and possible new franchise kick-starter, Mad Max: Fury Road was further proof (not that any was needed) of both George Miller’s genius, and the right-to-the-edge abilities of Australian creatives.
2. CHOPPER (2000) “I’m just a bloody normal bloke…a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture.” Chopper is a quintessential Australian film, riding shotgun with the rough-as-guts likes of Mad Max, Sunday Too Far Away and Stone in terms of its iconography, sense of mythology, and lip-smacking understanding of local vernacular. Written and directed with admirable subtlety by debut feature filmmaker Andrew Dominik, the film takes the real life character of career criminal, hardened convict and notorious stand-over man Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, and turns him inside out. Dominik scratches at this thug’s hard outer shell and finds something truly strange and unsettling underneath. The director is helped immeasurably by the brilliant Eric Bana in the title role – the former comedian embodies the character in such a fierce, highly committed way as to prompt legitimate comparisons with Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. It’s a bravura turn, and the film is a hard-jolting masterpiece: eminently quotable, both hilarious and horrifying, and utterly unforgettable. “It obviously went beyond my wildest dreams,” Eric Bana told FilmInk of the movie that made him a superstar. “At the back of my head, I knew that if the film was great, then it was obviously going to do great things for me. I wasn’t so naïve as to think that wasn’t the case, but it even went beyond what I’d envisioned.”
3. LANTANA (2001) While its rich sense of style (courtesy of director Ray Lawrence, who helmed the 1985 classic Bliss) and downbeat, artistic leanings marked Lantana as a strictly arthouse proposition, its accessible story and familiar faces (Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Vince Colosimo) saw it break out and become a commercial hit of rarely glimpsed proportions. Boasting a rich script from Andrew Bovell, densely layered cinematography from Mandy Walker, and evocative music from Paul Kelly, Lantana is a slick, stylish drama seething with dark and passionate undertones. It gets right inside the concepts of love and marriage, and skillfully paints a picture that bristles not just with paranoia and betrayal, but also with hope and compassion. Lantana is an engrossing drama that broils with emotions distinctly real and recognisable, and stands as a true original. “A good film is a balance between entertainment and intelligence,” director Ray Lawrence told FilmInk. “That’s a difficult balance, but I think that I managed it with this one. If I hadn’t made it, I’d like to see it. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I actually love the film.”
4. THE PROPOSITION (2005) From Mad Dog Morgan through to Ned Kelly, the iconic figure of the bushranger has provided thick, meaty grist for Australian filmmakers. The best movie on the subject, however, is John Hillcoat’s arid, bloodstained masterpiece The Proposition. Driven by hallucinatory cinematography from Benoit Delhomme and a tersely poetic script by musician/author Nick Cave (who also teams with Warren Ellis for the stirring, unconventional soundtrack), the film pits brother against brother in the brutal, unforgiving outback, as hard bitten outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) attempts to haul in his demonic elder sibling, Arthur (Danny Huston), in order to save his younger brother, the simple-minded Mike (Richard Wilson), who is shaking – alone and desperate – in the gaol of the highly compromised Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). “I’m a big fan of the westerns of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, and I could see that Australia had its own history for that,” John Hillcoat told FilmInk of his inspirations for the film. “The landscape is certainly perfect for the setting.”
5. ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010) 2010 was a surprisingly strong year for Aussie film, but the quietly intense crime drama, Animal Kingdom, was the pride of the pack. While Bran Nue Dae and (yes…) The Kings Of Mykonos: Wog Boy 2 might have made more money, and Tomorrow, When The War Began was undoubtedly the blockbuster of the year, when it came to critical acclaim and the chance for future “classic” status, Animal Kingdom towered above its contemporaries. This was backed up in no uncertain terms at The AFI Awards, where the film picked up a whole swag of gongs after literally getting nominated in every category that it was eligible for. It was a well-deserved haul: a stunning debut for writer/director David Michod, Animal Kingdom remains a big, brave, powerful work, and it now stands tall alongside Chopper, The Boys and Lantana in terms of its lasting resonance. And, of course, its international success is now well documented: Jacki Weaver picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her stunning performance; Ben Mendelsohn is in the next Star Wars movie; and David Michod’s upcoming film, War Machine, stars Brad Pitt. All hail the first family of on-screen Aussie crime.
6. RABBIT PROOF FENCE (2002) Using his prodigious gifts as a creator of highly accomplished commercial successes, director, Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Bone Collector), made the explosive Rabbit-Proof Fence as exciting and accessible as it was timely. Following the extraordinary journey undertaken by three young Aboriginal girls caught up in the horrors of The Stolen Generation, the film is about innocence subsumed by outside forces, and essentially children in danger, making it a visceral, instantly engrossing film that works from an emotional, rather than polemic, base. Noyce puts you right inside the plight of his central protagonists, taking the audience on an adrenalised ride that totally skirts the potential preaching that a subject like this could have inspired. Tightly made and richly rewarding, Rabbit-Proof Fence speaks in universal terms about an important issue, while also going straight for the heart. “It was great to be free of the star system, and having to negotiate every scene based on the whims of the star,” Noyce told FilmInk of working in Australia for the first time in many years.
7. CHARLIE’S COUNTRY (2014) “I didn’t know if it was going to work overseas, and it did, which is very pleasing,” prolific director, Rolf De Heer, told FilmInk of his acclaimed drama, Charlie’s Country. “People at The Cannes Film Festival cried. The majority of people that I spoke to were just so enthusiastic about the film. They were attracted by the humour, but they engaged with the issues too, and they also responded to it as a piece of filmmaking. It’s the best way that it can be.” Co-written by Rolf De Heer and his star, David Gulpilil (who ripped the story from the muscle and bone of his own turbulent life), Charlie’s Country is a truly haunting tale of the Aboriginal experience, and the displacement and anxiety that naturally come with it. Like all of De Heer’s best work, it says a lot without ever feeling like a protest piece or a message film. It’s an instant classic.
8. NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2009) It might not have set the box office alight in the way that it ideally should have, but director Mark Hartley’s rollicking, beautifully crafted documentary Not Quite Hollywood remains a truly vital Australian film of great importance. It’s rare that we re-evaluate our cinematic history on screen, and Hartley’s film not only does that, but also explores a chapter in Australian film – namely the exploitation boom of the seventies and eighties – that most people had forgotten. “I don’t think we’re ashamed of these films…we don’t bother to talk about them at all,” Mark Hartley told FilmInk. “These films are totally dismissed. There was a whole hidden history of stories that had never been documented. They were pretty much just dismissed.” As entertaining as it is culturally relevant, Not Quite Hollywood is a stellar work that should be compulsory viewing for anyone with an interest in Australian film or, damn it, an interest in Australia in general. “We all hoped that the film would be entertaining,” Hartley said, “but then it dawned on us that it might possibly be a bit more important than that.”
9. AUSTRALIA (2009) It’s by now been well documented that Australia drew a metaphorical line in the sand. For the cynical, it was pure poison. For those who prefer movies that hit the screen with a stylistic flourish, and that unapologetically wear their hearts on their sleeve, Australia was a cinematic tonic. Rich, ambitious and often brave, the film reached, with desperately clawing outstretched hands, for greatness. Within the scope of its intent – namely to be a classic, melodramatic epic like Gone With The Wind and Giant – it succeeds wonderfully. Australia is unashamed in its full-throttle emotion and grandiosity, and director Baz Luhrmann’s famous chocolate-box visuals immediately set the film in a wholly different world. With its vivid colours, purple prose and archetypal characters, Australia exists on a plane of nostalgic joy. It remains a stunning experience, unless, of course, you’re just not down with candy-coloured sunsets and long, passionate kisses in the rain. “A film like this only comes along once in a blue moon,” Hugh Jackman accurately told FilmInk. Feel free to slather us with scorn in the comments section…we’ve heard it all before.
10. KENNY (2006) The extraordinary success of the low budget comedy mockumentary Kenny started with its titular character, and the film’s early marketing strategy, which had actor/co-writer Shane Jacobson hitting the promotional trail (including interviews, screenings, radio appearances and so on) “in character” as port-a-loo cleaner and installer Kenny Smyth. This conceit worked an absolute treat. Why? Because Kenny is a truly great character: a big, bearish, loveable man who espouses the best kind of principles. He’s hilariously funny, with a quip for every occasion (“There’s a smell in here that will outlive religion,” he says when scrubbing down a particularly messy dunny); he’s a hard worker who never complains; he’s non-judgemental; he’s a devoted father; and, in short, an all-around top bloke. Australians fell in love with Kenny – and the wonderfully witty and warm film that carries his name – and turned him into an instant national icon. “I remembered when I was cleaning toilets in a factory and how people just saw right through me,” director, Clayton Jacobson, told FilmInk. “I thought, ‘There’s really something in this…’”
11. THE DRESSMAKER (2015) “Everyone can relate to the story of coming home,” producer, Sue Maslin, told FilmInk of the universal theme that sits at the heart of The Dressmaker. “This is a story about coming home to a small town and everything that throws up – the pain of the past, the rivalries, and the comic elements.” In this welcome return to Australia from director, Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, How To Make An American Quilt), the great Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, a talented misfit who has spent years refining her craft as a dressmaker in Parisian fashion houses, and then returns to her rural home town to right the wrongs of the past. There, she revisits a tragic childhood accident, attempts to reconcile with her half-mad mother (Judy Davis), and seeks sweet revenge on the town that shamed her, via her sewing machine. One of the biggest Aussie hits of recent years, The Dressmaker is a talent-blessed cut above.
12. LOOK BOTH WAYS (2005) For her debut effort, short filmmaker and acclaimed animator, Sarah Watt (who tragically passed away in 2011), delivered a film of startling immediacy and maturity with Look Both Ways. Something of a rarity, the film actually has something to say, and a strong, convincing way of saying it. The underlying drive of Look Both Ways is all about death, and the different ways of handling it; it’s deep, dangerous territory that has crippled many accomplished filmmakers, but Watt proved herself a surprisingly assured hand: her script was powerful, yet plays out with an admirable light touch, as the comfortable life of newspaper photographer, Nick (William McInnes), starts to crumble when he’s diagnosed with testicular cancer, but soon gets back on track as he finds a new sense of affirmation with struggling artist, Meryl (Justine Clarke). “I like to be entertained, and I like a film to be funny,” Sarah Watt told FilmInk. “Humour doesn’t go away even in your darkest moments. I still think that the film is a romantic comedy. It’s a romantic comedy about testicular cancer!”
13. RED DOG (2011) With films like The Illustrated Family Doctor, Blacktown, Boxing Day, and Lucky Country, director Kriv Stenders firmly established himself as one of this nation’s most daring and original auteurs. With Red Dog, he shocked everyone first by merely being chosen to helm a cuddly family film, and then shocked everyone again when the film turned out to be one of the biggest Aussie hits in years. Adapted from the based-on-fact book by Louis De Bernieres (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), the energetically directed and warmly performed Red Dog tracked the ways in which the titular canine affects a small mining town, with tears and laughter rolling out in equal measure. Like Kenny before it, word of mouth helped push the film to an extraordinary box office take of over 20 million dollars, placing it well above several big budget Hollywood flicks, and sealing its reputation as an instant Aussie classic. “We weren’t specifically making a children’s film,” Stenders – who also helms the upcoming sequel, Red Dog: True Blue – told FilmInk. “It’s a broad film. It’s for kids right through to grandparents; it’s something that the whole family can share and enjoy.”
14. LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI (2000) Based upon Melina Marchetta’s beloved novel, and beautifully brought to the screen by debut director, Kate Woods, Looking For Alibrandi is right at the forefront of the Australian pantheon of teen films, safely sitting beside classics such as The Year My Voice Broke, Puberty Blues, and The FJ Holden. Though sunny in tone, the film effectively tackles weighty subject matter such as cultural identity and self-belief, and introduced a swathe of exciting young performers, including Pia Miranda (as the plucky Josie), Matthew Newton (as her upper crust crush, John) and Kick Gurry (as working class hero, Jacob). “It’s my first feature, it’s Pia’s first feature, it’s Kick’s first feature, and it’s Kate’s first feature,” Matthew Newton told FilmInk. “There were a lot of virgins on the set, but it all came together really well. I knew that it was a great script, and once I got on set and saw how things were running, I knew that it was going to be pretty special. I could see that everyone was doing incredible work.”
15. MYSTERY ROAD (2013) With Mystery Road – a high-style outback noir about an honest but deeply conflicted Aboriginal detective (Aaron Pedersen) investigating the murder of a young girl – writer, director, cinematographer, composer, and editor, Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds, Toomelah), delivered his biggest and most ambitious film yet. A compelling, beautifully constructed mix of police procedural thrills and incisive social commentary, Mystery Road was the most complete and perfectly textured local film of 2013, and came complete with a true all-star cast, which included Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, David Field and Tasma Walton. “It’s not an easy thing to fly out for a couple of days, and we weren’t paying them much either,” producer, David Jowsie, told FilmInk of the film’s incredible cast. “There was a lot of generosity from well-known actors.” Like many Australian films, Mystery Road didn’t exactly torch the box office, but it received critical raves, and got noticed internationally.
16. LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2015) “When we shot the film, because it had been a play, there was a lovely meter to the lines, and [director] Jeremy Sims, who also directed the play, was insistent that we get in as much of that rhythm as we could,” actor, Michael Caton, told FilmInk. “That shows in the film. You have the luxury of it all having been worked out beforehand.” The easy rhythm in the dialogue was only one of the many pleasures of the beautifully crafted, deeply moving drama, Last Cab To Darwin, which was adapted by Jeremy Sims (Last Train To Freo, Beneath Hill 60) from the popular play by Reg Cribb. Michael Caton is magisterial as Rex, a Broken Hill cabbie who gets a grim cancer diagnosis early on in the film, and then drives cross country to Darwin, where he wants to die with dignity with the help of Jacki Weaver’s status quo-defying doctor. Touching a major chord with local audiences, Last Cab To Darwin quickly drove its way into Australia’s heart.
17. WOLF CREEK (2005) With one ruthless knife-swipe, writer/director, Greg McLean, cleaved the Australian cinematic landscape in half. His low budget horror film, Wolf Creek (which has inspired a big screen sequel, a TV mini-series, and a series of novels), dragged audiences into cinemas in massive numbers and changed opinions as to what kind of movies can be made in Australia. More Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noe than Friday The 13th, the film is a brutal exercise in grimly realistic terror. “Whether you look at Wolf Creek as a crappy horror movie or as a thriller, it does focus you on an extremely uncomfortable moment,” Greg McLean told FilmInk. “It allows you to dwell on the darkest kind of human transaction that you can imagine.” That transaction – namely murder – is horrifyingly meted out in the film by outback killer Mick Taylor, played with unforgettable vigour by John Jarratt. “John is such a strong actor that he just destroys any perception that you may have had of him,” the director said of his seemingly odd casting choice. “When he comes out as Mick, I just can’t see anything else but a burning psychopath.”
18. GOLDSTONE (2016) In Ivan Sen’s follow up to 2013’s brilliant Mystery Road, Aaron Pedersen reprised his role as troubled indigenous detective, Jay Swan. On the trail of a missing person, Jay finds himself in the small mining town of Goldstone, where he is immediately arrested for drunk driving by young local cop, Josh (Alex Russell). When Jay’s motel room is blasted with gunfire, it becomes clear that something larger is at play in the district. Jay and Josh struggle to overcome their mutual distrust to uncover the unpleasant truth. Demonstrating an extraordinary sense of control and vision, Sen tapped the beauty of the outback, and crafted a film both entertaining and thought provoking. One of Australia’s great unsung cinematic masters, Goldstone is another triumph for Ivan Sen. “This one is more neo-noir,” Sen told FilmInk, “as much as ‘neo western.’ But hopefully the film is so rich that there are lots of elements within.”
19. ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (2010) In a debut of fierce but beautifully controlled passion, Jim Loach (the son of famed British realist, Ken Loach) told the extraordinary true story of social worker Margaret Humphreys (a brilliant performance from Emily Watson), who falls sideways into the middle of a long-buried historical scandal that will ultimately change her entire life. It was Humphreys who discovered the British government’s programme of shipping young children from state homes in England all the way to Australia, where many of them were subjected to horrific abuse at the hands of church groups and foster families. Featuring extraordinary supporting performances from Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Greg Stone, Geoff Morrell, and Neil Pigot, the Australia/UK co-production Oranges And Sunshine brilliantly walked the line between historical storytelling and character-based filmmaking, resulting in a work of unrivalled power and shattering heartbreak.
20. TEN CANOES (2006) Ten Canoes had all the ingredients to make the critics and social commentators salivate: it was the first Australian film to be told entirely in Aboriginal languages; it had a bona fide auteur in Rolf De Heer at the helm; and its very existence made it a political statement, while it didn’t actually have to make any political statements itself. There is so much to love about this charming, enjoyably knockabout film (David Gulpilil’s funny, wizened narration; its surprisingly raucous humour; the entertaining performances; its depiction of a never seen world), that its admitted deficits (lugubrious pacing; a needlessly complicated structure) barely even register. “I give ups to Rolf De Heer because of what he’s done,” indigenous writer and actor, Leah Purcell (Lantana, Jindabyne, The Proposition), told FilmInk in 2008. “He’s been around that mob now for ages. It’s a blackfella thing; if you’re going to talk up, then have a bit of life experience behind you.”
21. THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) “There’s no way that I can say no to Baz,” Leonardo DiCaprio told FilmInk in 2013. “He makes you so incredibly excited about the work process, and about being creative, and he listens to everyone’s ideas. His enthusiasm and passion are just so infectious. You feel like you’re doing something incredibly important every day.” Regardless of whether you qualify The Great Gatsby as an Australian film or not, it’s a stunning piece of work! With subject matter that fit him like a bejewelled glove, Baz Luhrmann turned F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel into a visual and emotional tour de force. Weaving in hip hop, utilising CGI, and even shooting the whole wonderfully gaudy shebang in eye-popping 3D, Baz succeeded in making something truly contemporary. “The Great Gatsby couldn’t be a clearer mirror for this time that we’re living in right now,” Luhrmann told FilmInk. “This is about us, this is where we are, and this is who we are.”
22. SHERPA (2015) Initially, Australian director, Jennifer Peedom (Solo), wanted this film to merely celebrate the Sherpa, the unrecognised heroes of Everest. She initially had no idea of how her footage was going to piece together. She had no real story in mind. But as with all great documentaries, something unexpected happened as the cameras were rolling. In 2014, sixteen Sherpa were killed when an avalanche hit the Khumbu Icefall on Everest. After the tragedy, it’s not just the Sherpa’s side of things that we get to see, but also how it affects the tour managers, the Nepalese Government, and also foreign tourists who have paid a lot of money to complete the trek. Despite being incredibly moving, Peedom’s utterly gripping documentary is not a “human story” in the traditional sense. It is the close up views of the challenges that give her film its urgency, but it is the political and philosophical issues in the background that give it its breadth.
23. BOXING DAY (2007) Before he made the much loved Red Dog, Kriv Stenders was revered for his edginess. His debut feature, The Illustrated Family Doctor, upset audiences with its images of disease and physical breakdown, while his second, Blacktown, dealt in the gritty, grungy, kitchen-sink realism peddled by the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. His first great film, however, would come next. A literal jawbreaker of a film, Boxing Day was shot on fumes, and deals with tough, in-your-face subject matter, as Richard Green’s conflicted ex-con and recovering alcoholic crashes into a family catastrophe on what is supposed to be the best day of the year. “It’s the stuff of real drama, and it makes for compelling viewing,” Stenders told FilmInk of the confrontational nature of his film. “I tried to make a film based on a real world and real characters that I know exist, rather than something imagined and contrived.” The results were nothing less than stunning.
24. HAPPY FEET (2006) With stunning, crystal-clear CGI cinematography and brilliant character animation, Happy Feet was a seamless visual masterpiece filled with stunning set pieces. But while the surfaces are amazing, it’s what’s underneath them that really counts. Epic in scope (director, George Miller’s fascination with Joseph Campbell’s theories on mythology and the concept of the hero’s journey is well documented), the film takes in issues like bigotry, the strength of the individual, the strangulating effects of conservatism, and, most strikingly, the slow destruction of the environment. This might be a little heavy for an animated family film about penguins, but there are enough dance sequences, musical numbers, jokes, and action scenes to carry the messages. The Oscar winning Happy Feet was keenly intelligent and perfectly realised, and showed how great animated films can really be. “I truly think that some of the finest cinema storytelling today is told through animation,” George Miller told FilmInk.
25. MARY AND MAX (2009) With his brilliant short film, Harvie Krumpet, talented young Australian animator and director, Adam Elliot, made his mark on the world stage, garnering international acclaim and even scoring an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Not surprisingly, Elliot was flooded with offers from major Hollywood studios to direct the latest animated epics, but he stood firm and refused to compromise as an artist, opting instead to make his feature film debut in Australia. The result was the vibrantly original Mary And Max, a cross-generational charmer about a young girl in Melbourne who forms a pen-friendship with New Yorker Max, an isolationist curmudgeon with Asperger’s Syndrome. Though unusual and eccentric, the film had surprisingly wide appeal and turned out to be an arthouse hit. “The message of the film is that everyone has faults, but life goes on,” producer, Melanie Coombs, told FilmInk, hinting at the reasons behind this fine film’s accessibility.
26. THE BABADOOK (2014) The subject of a mother who doesn’t love her child is close to taboo, and it’s a dark twist of irony that finds such a powerful theme driving a horror film. But that was the brilliance of the Australian nail-biter, The Babadook: it’s much more than just an ingenious fright-fest. Richly evocative and haunting, the focus is on Amelia (Essie Davis), whose relationship with her six-year-old son (Noah Wiseman) has never warmed since her husband was killed in a car accident while racing her to hospital to give birth. Into this already fraught emotional landscape comes the dark-hued children’s storybook, Mr. Babadook, the horrors of which soon become more and more tangible. “I love horror films,” the film’s director, Jennifer Kent, told FilmInk. “I see the genre’s immense worth, and I get annoyed when people have that sense of snobbery about it.” A buzzed-about festival fave, The Babadook found quickly its way onto Horror Best Of lists around the world.
27. TANNA (2015) Directed by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler and based on a true story, the wholly original and unforgettable Tanna takes us into the world of the Tanna people of Vanuatu. A completely non-professional cast was drawn from the village of Yakel to tell the tale of two young lovers who defy the age-old custom of arranged marriage to be together. A rare Australian entrant in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, Tanna has been acclaimed at film festivals around the world, winning plaudits at The Venice Film Festival and The BFI London Film Festival, and winning Best Direction at The Australian Director’s Guild Awards. “Tanna does what all great films aspire to do: it transports you out of your seat and keeps you completely riveted as you dive into another world,” says Screen Australia CEO, Graeme Mason. “It’s a simple and universal story told with such impressive nuance, and it looks extraordinary on screen.”
28. DIRTY DEEDS (2002) In this blazing, sixties-set crime drama, Bryan Brown is Barry Ryan, a crime boss who rules Sydney’s shady poker machine trade. In between giving his fresh-from-Vietnam nephew (Sam Worthington) a start in the business, and hiding his young mistress (Kestie Morassi) from his tough-talking wife (Toni Collette), Ryan hosts a visiting American Mafia soldier (John Goodman), who has been dispatched to cut into the cash mainline that runs through Sydney’s underworld. Although usually a more naturalistic director, David Caesar (Idiot Box, Mullet) really let himself off the leash with this vibrant, stylised crime caper. Dirty Deeds is a wonderfully energetic, imaginatively designed, bold-as-brass crime flick. “If you think a little bit about cultural imperialism and Australia’s place in the world, that’s great,” Caesar told FilmInk of his approach to the film, “but if you just like it for the characters and the shootouts, then that’s great too.”
29. SNOWTOWN (2011) “People have said, ‘It’s too dark – we don’t want to go down that path,’” Snowtown screenwriter, Shaun Grant, told FilmInk. “A very dangerous thing to do to any evil in the world is to just ignore it.” Many commentators complain about the “dark” and “bleak” nature of our films, and it’s this section of the local cinema community that responded with such ire upon the release of Snowtown, debut director, Justin Kurzel’s measured look at Australia’s most horrific spate of serial killings. The film literally cut the audience in two, with many critics heralding it as a masterpiece, and just as many questioning its very right to exist. The minor controversy didn’t hurt at the box office though, and the film became a modest success. Justin Kurzel, meanwhile, lit off immediately for the international stage, helming a highly arresting adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, before heading into possible blockbuster territory with the highly anticipated video game flick, Assassin’s Creed.
30. SOMERSAULT (2004) The lone gem in what was perhaps Australian cinema’s lowest point (with a cacophony of lame local comedies crowding screens), Somersault came on like a sweet, invigorating shower of rain. The stunning debut feature from Cate Shortland justifiably received garlands of praise and was also rewarded with decent box office results. Evocatively shot and sensitively written, Somersault follows the fractured journey of sixteen-year-old Heidi (a heartbreaking, star-making performance from Abbie Cornish), who runs from a flare-up with her mother and ends up in the bleak, snow-slicked town of Lake Jindabyne. Equal parts tragic and beautiful, Somersault is a quietly wrought masterpiece that stays with you for days. “I’m very choosy,” Abbie Cornish told FilmInk, giving an instant indication of the film’s quality. “Seriously, if there’s not a good film put in front of me to audition for – even if it takes two years – then I won’t act for two years.”
31. DAYBREAKERS (2010) Young Queensland filmmaking brothers, Michael and Peter Spierig, waited six years to follow up their 2003 debut feature film, Undead, but when Daybreakers did finally arrive, it proved to be well worth the wait. With American money and Hollywood stars (Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe) to play with, they created a grimly imaginative dystopia on The Gold Coast, and sharpened the fangs of the vampire genre with their tale of a future world where bloodsuckers now outnumber humans. Though not a massive hit, the film proved to be a winning calling card for The Spierig Brothers. “It’s this very strange parable where the whole world is full of vampires,” Ethan Hawke told FilmInk on the film’s set. “Everybody is sucking something off someone else, everyone wants to get something else, and no one’s aim is true. This metaphor just sings in the script.”
32. SAMSON & DELILAH (2009) In what was undoubtedly the surprise local success story of 2009, acclaimed short filmmaker, Warwick Thornton, made his feature directorial debut with the downbeat, moody Samson & Delilah, and almost instantly made his presence felt at the box office. The bleak but beautifully shot tale of two disenfranchised Aboriginal teenagers dealing with addiction, desperation and misfortune predictably got the critics squawking, with the film eventually winning the Camera d’Or at The Cannes Film Festival. Samson & Delilah also became a strong arthouse hit, and is now nothing short of an exalted local classic, for both its lyrical beauty and ardent lack of compromise. “All my films have been quite hard on my mob,” Warwick Thornton told FilmInk. “I never want to look at my mob through rose-coloured glasses. It’s not a wake-up call, but the only way that our mob will get better with the things that we’re bad at is to make a change.”
33. DOWN UNDER (2016) 2005’s infamous Cronulla riots – which saw violent young Anglo youths wreaking havoc on the streets of Sydney’s famous beach suburb, bashing those of Middle Eastern background in retaliation for what was perceived to be an attack on two local lifesavers – are the unlikely launch point for the biting and deeply affecting Down Under. Written and directed by big time talent, Abe Forsythe (who dealt just as pithily with our national identity in his gut-busting 2003 comedy, Ned), Down Under takes a relatable, intimate approach to a wide-canvas subject, distilling the essence of the riots into two car loads of young men – one full of Cronulla “Aussies”, and the other driven by “Lebs” from Sydney’s south-west – caught up in the day’s heated aftermath, which saw retaliatory violence explode in different parts of the city. For the entire running time of Down Under, Abe Forsythe expertly walks a tonal tightrope. Thought provoking and profoundly hilarious, Down Under is as entertaining as it is culturally significant.
34. PREDESTINATION (2014) With the hugely ambitious Predestination, Michael and Peter Spierig (Undead, Daybreakers) became one of the few creative teams to adapt controversial American author, Robert A. Heinlein, for the big screen. Complex and utterly riveting, the film bulged dangerously with subtext (incorporating everything from intersex/transgender politics to the role of society in the shaping of the individual) in its tale of a time travelling government agent (Ethan Hawke) tracking down a terrorist, but The Spierig Brothers maintained tight control over their sprawling narrative, delivering a stunning Aussie sci-fi flick unlike any other. “We wanted to make a commercial movie,” Peter Spierig told FilmInk. “There are unusual elements, so it was important to make it interesting for a broad audience. We also wanted to make it about the characters, and not just the sci-fi tricks. There are a lot of twists and turns, but if you don’t believe the characters and feel for them, then it’s all meaningless.”
35. SUBURBAN MAYHEM (2006) “I can’t recall a character like her,” director, Paul Goldman, told FilmInk of Suburban Mayhem’s femme fatale, Katrina Skinner. “When I first read the script, I was shocked at how far the character would go.” In Goldman’s stylised, richly aggressive black comedy Suburban Mayhem, Katrina Skinner – as essayed with full force vigour by young actress Emily Barclay – is a walking nightmare. She’s a nineteen-year-old single mother who wants the good life, and she’s prepared to manipulate, betray and even murder those around her to do it. While Suburban Mayhem sadly failed to light up the box office, it remains one of the wildest and most shocking Aussie films of the new millennium. “We generally expect women to be better behaved,” screenwriter Alice Bell told FilmInk. “When that all goes wrong and a girl goes against all expectation – killing her dad with her baby in the next room – it’s even more interesting, isn’t it?”
36. BALIBO (2009) Films about major political events or important moments in our history (like Gallipoli, Breaker Morant, Newsfront and many others) rarely get made any more, and we’re slightly poorer for it. Robert Connolly’s powerful drama, Balibo – about the murder of five Australian newsmen during Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 – happily set that right. Cogently directed by Connolly, and cannily co-scripted by David Williamson, Balibo positively seethes and pulses with anger. Though virtually right on our doorstep, what happened in East Timor was barely reported in Australia, and this deeply moving, utterly compelling film finally redressed that imbalance. “I’ve always loved the way that fiction films can apply the blowtorch to history,” Connolly told FilmInk. “We had a real conviction about Balibo. It didn’t matter what the outcome was. This was a story that deserved to be told. It’s a part of Australian history that was slowly starting to fade away.”
37. HEALING (2014) Healing is a film of quiet power, filled with vividly drawn characters, and the ability to provoke torrents of emotion without ever once veering into the melodramatic or manipulative. In a masterstroke of tonal control, Healing breaks your heart and lifts you up at the same time, literally soaring on its sweeping breeze of raw, honest emotion, and its moving story of prison inmates who slowly put themselves back together again through a programme that sees them nursing sick birds of prey back to health. “I’ve always wanted to be part of stories that meant something to people,” star, Don Hany, told FilmInk. “It’s great to entertain too, but when you believe in a product’s capacity to contribute to an audience, the story is more than just fun. I’m lucky to have worked on a few jobs like Healing that have aimed to do that, and it’s all that I can ask for.”
38. AUTOLUMINESCENT: ROWLAND S. HOWARD (2011) With the heartfelt Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard, filmmaker and Aussie music scene veteran, Richard Lowenstein (Dogs In Space) – and his co-director, Lynn-Maree Milburn – crafted a beautiful portrait of one of this country’s true musical icons. No stock-standard A to B rockumentary with all the usual check-points, Autoluminescent is instead a rich study of a complex man – the late Rowland S. Howard, a pivotal figure on Melbourne’s post-punk scene of the late seventies – who existed across a number of art forms and musical eras, and whose influence is far mightier than his public currency might suggest. This stunning tribute befit his status perfectly, and captured one of the most vital eras in Australian music. “The agenda was set by Rowland S. Howard himself,” Richard Lowenstein told FilmInk. “He gave us a lot of freedom. The only agenda he set was, ‘I’m not here to be iconised or made a saint out of. Cover whatever you want.’”
39. ALL THIS MAYHEM (2014) The Pappas Brothers were inseparable growing up in the suburbs of eighties Melbourne. When they discovered skateboarding, older brother, Tas, was the indestructible one, while the more reserved Ben picked things up quietly and easily. Whilst only in their teens, they hit the states, hoping to make it big. Quickly rising to the top of the sport, their success was accompanied by all kinds of excess, before ending in tragedy. The Pappas Brothers story is the stuff of high-rating television specials, but the boys’ family and friends would only entrust Eddie Martin – a fine filmmaker who had proven himself with the acclaimed docos, Jisoe, about a graffiti artist, and Lionel, about champion Aboriginal boxer, Lionel Rose – to tell the story legit. His resulting documentary, All This Mayhem, is powerful, immediate, and utterly authentic. “I just wanted to get back to basics,” Martin told FilmInk. “This story is so raw, and it has such energy.”
40. BASTARDY (2009) Bastardy is an absolutely compelling and involving documentary, about an utterly singular man. Writer-director Amiel Courtin-Wilson (who first garnered attention in 2000 with his award winning documentary, Chasing Buddha) followed legendary Aboriginal icon, Jack Charles (at various times an actor, activist, singer, heroin addict, convict, and homeless person) over a period of seven years, and – with the charismatic Charles himself providing the commentary – built an unforgettable filmic portrait. “Jack told me that the process of making this film together has actually helped him change his life for the better,” Amiel Courtin-Wilson told FilmInk. “I was moved to tears by this comment. I could never have dreamed that this documentary would have such a positive impact when I started filming back in 2001. I know now more than ever that making this film together has fundamentally enriched and changed my life.”
41. CUNNAMULLA (2000) “I’m in the truth game,” the notoriously fiery Dennis O’Rourke – who sadly passed away in 2013 – told FilmInk in 2008. “My mantra is that I must not lie about what I know. If I go somewhere to make a film and I learn something, then that is what I’m going to say, no matter what the effects might be. I try very hard to present the truth, and I don’t believe in this silly concept of balance. I believe in balance when you’re walking on a tightrope, but I don’t think balance applies to any kind of discourse about ideas.” One of Australia’s most divisive documentary filmmakers, the irascible Dennis O’Rourke’s resume is littered with shit-stirring one-of-a-kinds (like the notorious The Good Woman Of Bangkok), and one of his most astounding works is unquestionably 2000’s brutal small town chronicle, Cunnamulla, which defiantly refuses to indulge in the usual bucolic myths about rural Australia.
42. GETTIN’ SQUARE (2003) “Even though it was a crime movie, it had affection for its characters,” novelist, producer, screenwriter, and full-time lawyer, Chris Nyst, told FilmInk in 2014 of his film, Gettin’ Square. “It’s in the Damon Runyon field of crime. It wasn’t a hard crime film. It was more about the characters, and it really stands up as that. I hope that I’m not being too presumptuous in saying this, but I don’t think there’s another Australian film that really does that.” The slick, rollicking crime caper, Gettin’ Square, about flashy low level crims on the glitzy Gold Coast, follows Barry Wirth (Sam Worthington), who’s desperately trying to go straight after being released from gaol. His hapless mate, Johnny (David Wenham in a true feat of ingenious off-the-wall character acting) wants to get clean too, but he’s sidelined by a heroin problem and a distinct lack of brainpower. Sharp and funny, Gettin’ Square was a truly Aussie crime comedy delight.
43. FORBIDDEN LIES (2007) Forbidden Love, Norma Khouri’s explosive book about Jordanian honour killings, was an international publishing sensation. When the Sydney Morning Herald’s Literary Editor, Malcolm Knox, blew the lid on author Khouri, announcing that her book was a complete fabrication and that its author was little more than a two-bit hustler, filmmaker, Anna Broinowski (Sexing The Label, Helen’s War), had her eureka moment. “When I found out that she wasn’t a Jordanian virgin with a fatwah over her head, but rather a con-artist and mother of two fleeing the FBI for a million dollars’ worth of fraud, I thought, ‘Bingo! This is the one,’” the filmmaker told FilmInk. Broinowski dug with precision-point skill, a great depth of sensitivity, and reams of dark humour into the life of Norma Khouri in her wholly entertaining and very successful documentary, Forbidden Lie$. “Norma’s story is about questioning what we believe, and why,” said Broinowski of her canny critics’ darling.
44. THAT SUGAR FILM (2015) Australian actor and Tropfest winner, Damon Gameau’s highly entertaining documentary explored the prevalence of sugar in our society, and the myriad and surprising ways that it affects our minds and insides. Using himself as a lab rat, Gameau – who had formerly dropped sugar from his diet – reintroduced the sweetener back into his diet for sixty days, with the aim of consuming the average person’s intake of forty teaspoons a day. The kicker is that he was consuming this solely through perceived “health” foods like cereal, low-fat yoghurt, and fruit juice. “It’s a beast of a topic,” Gameau told FilmInk. “I was shocked at just how hard the food and sugar industries have worked to keep the ambiguity about its effects in the public’s mind.” And that public responded, making That Sugar Film Australia’s most successful doco of all time, and creating a whole movement in the process.
45. THE HUNTER (2011) “We had an instinct that it would appeal to him,” director, Daniel Nettheim, told FilmInk. “He’ll do a film that grosses $300 million, followed by a film that grosses $17,000. So clearly, he’s got his eyes open. You know the size of the project is not as important as the interest of the role.” Nettheim was, of course, talking about Willem Dafoe, the Oscar nominated American actor and star of such seminal films as Platoon, Wild At Heart and Spider-Man. Dafoe made the journey to Australia to star opposite Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill in Nettheim’s The Hunter, a moody drama-thriller about a mercenary sent by a biotech company to the Tasmanian wilderness in search of the last Tasmanian Tiger. Dafoe’s presence gave the film an instant cache, and Nettheim delivered on that with a visually stunning, emotionally affecting work rich with subtext.
46. THE WATER DIVINER (2014) “It’s one of those funny things,” The Water Diviner director and star, Russell Crowe, told FilmInk. “You’re kinda looking, but you’re not really looking. You’re not actively waking up every day going, ‘I must find that movie to direct.’ You’re open to the idea, but you’re not actively pursuing it.” After a few false starts (most notably back in 2001 with an adaptation of John Hepworth’s WW2 novel, The Long Green Shore), Russell Crowe finally got behind the camera with The Water Diviner, without doubt the biggest and most highly anticipated Australian film of 2014. An epic adventure set four years after the devastating horrors of the battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during WW1, the film follows Australian farmer, Connor (Crowe), who travels to Istanbul to discover the fate of his sons, and ends up embarking on a journey right to the centre of his very soul. Like its creator, The Water Diviner is tough but lyrical, and unafraid of reaching for the skies.
47. HAIL (2012) The first feature from doco maker, Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy, Ben Lee: Catch My Disease, Chasing Buddha), Hail – like its protagonist and star, Daniel P. Jones – is quiet, brutal and elemental. The film picks up with a fictional Jones on the day that he is released from prison. Mated for life with his partner, Leanne, the two are entwined in an affair that transcends the lines on their faces. But freedom for Jones is tinged with the premonition of danger, and as they try to navigate the difficult road that is life after jail, Danny’s demons emerge, eager to drag him down again to where even love can’t save him. Hail is a potent vision of the human spark that exists even in the gutters of life, and is based on the real life of Daniel P. Jones, whose tortured youth defies belief, and more than accounts for the pain and suffering that he’s experienced as an adult.
48. NOISE (2007) Though not quite reaching the staggering box office heights of its contemporary megahit, Kenny, writer/director Matthew Saville’s debut feature film, Noise, found considerable success in a similar way – it opened quietly with only minimal fanfare, and then once the sweaty, rapturous reviews started to pour in and positive word-of-mouth began to spread, this modestly ambitious drama took root and stayed in local cinemas for months. “It was seventeen weeks, which was astounding,” Saville told FilmInk. “We felt confident about the film, and that it would get good word-of-mouth. We thought that there would be a small but dedicated audience that would enjoy the film and tell their friends to see it.” Driven by Saville’s unconventional and highly entertaining dialogue, as well as Brendan Cowell’s richly effective performance as a slacker cop thrown into a situation way bigger than he can handle, Noise was the best kind of triumph.
49. EARLY WINTER (2015) Directed by Australian filmmaker, Michael Rowe (who won the Camera d’Or for best first time feature film director at The Cannes Film Festival with his bracing 2010 effort, Leap Year), the Quebec-set Early Winter follows David (Paul Doucet), a man in his forties, who lives a predictable life with his wife, Maya (Suzanne Clement), and their two children. To please his wife with the latest gadgets, he works solitary shift work, days and nights, as a carer in a retirement home. But when he begins to suspect that Maya is having an affair, David starts to lose ground, and his past threatens to smash everything in his path. A tough, cogent drama, Early Winter is the work of one of this country’s most underrated filmmakers. “We are all very much the same,” Michael Rowe told FilmInk. “Cultural differences are momentary and circumstantial. If you tell the truth about yourself, really deeply and honestly, people will connect with it.”
50. THE ROCKET (2013) “We were just so overwhelmed by the experience of meeting these kids, and people who are living with bombs in their schools and streets,” producer, Sylvia Wilczynski told FilmInk of her acclaimed Lao-language drama, The Rocket. “Then there were all the other elements of the legacy of war. It wasn’t just the bombs, but the effect that it has on people’s lives. We had a couple of projects set in Australia that we’d been developing, but after that experience, they just felt indulgent. We asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’ This was something that we had to do.” Thus, Wilczynski and her director husband, Kim Mordaunt, returned to Laos (where they’d made the excellent 2007 doco, Bomb Harvest) to film the most unlikely Aussie film, The Rocket, a tough but heart-warming tale of growing up amidst the still dangerous remnants of war.
51. THE RAILWAY MAN (2013) Based on the autobiography of British WW2 veteran, Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), The Railway Man tells of this psychologically haunted man’s struggle to rebuild his life when he meets Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman), a feisty, funny, but iron-willed woman who changes everything for him after they meet-cute on a train. Yanking viciously on the heartstrings while never trading in cheap sentiment, The Railway Man packed an extraordinary punch, and was something of a gift for director, Jonathan Teplitzky (Gettin’ Square, Better Than Sex), who jumped on board when his friend, Anand Tucker (Hilary And Jackie, Shopgirl), had to drop out. With all of the connections in place, The Railway Man was set up as an Australian/UK co-production, with shooting taking place in Scotland, Thailand, and Queensland. “The Railway Man, being Eric Lomax’s true story, brought with it a huge and deeply affecting emotional arc,” director, Jonathan Teplitzky, told FilmInk.
52. MOULIN ROUGE! (2001) Widely credited with reinventing the modern movie musical, Baz Luhrmann’s giddy, kaleidoscopic Moulin Rouge! broadly influenced fashion, music, design and popular culture, and was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. It ended up winning two gongs, for Catherine Martin’s production and costume design, and has long been a polarising force amongst filmgoers, with some loving its camp, florid stylings, and others hating it with a passion. Whichever side of the fence you stand on, there’s no denying the pop cultural importance of this glitzy behemoth. “It was a post-modern musical reinvention,” Luhrmann laughed to FilmInk in 2010. “It’s not like everyone went, ‘That’s fantastic, yeah! We gotta have one of those! Put a new wing on the studio; that’s definitely going to sell tickets!’ It was quite a journey. Hopefully a relationship forms between the film and the audience.” It certainly did…
53. LAKE MUNGO (2008) Structured as a documentary, Lake Mungo follows the senseless death of a young woman in the rural Victorian town of Ararat. Family members, friends, and townsfolk are interviewed, as is a purported psychic medium, and key information is skillfully unravelled, keeping you glued to what turns out to be a wholly original and utterly compelling thriller. Ghosts, sex, lies, and videotape make up this creepy souffle, baked by talented Victorian College Of The Arts (VCA) graduate, Joel Anderson, who prior to stepping on the set of Lake Mungo was working as an usher at Cinema Nova in Melbourne. “I’m not sure why I wanted to write a ghost story,” Joel Anderson (sadly yet to make a follow-up) told FilmInk. “Perhaps it was because they’re a great way of getting at certain ideas and emotions. As drama, the premise always fascinated me because I could think of nothing worse than a senseless death.”
54. ROMULUS, MY FATHER (2007) After a highly successful career on the stage and screen, Australian actor, Richard Roxburgh, turned director with seeming ease on his highly impressive debut feature film, Romulus, My Father, a bruising and unforgettable account of the ugly childhood experienced by author and philosopher Raimond Gaita. Though gaining expectedly brilliant performances from Eric Bana, Franka Potente and Marton Csokas, Roxburgh’s work with extraordinary then-young actor, Kodi Smit-McPhee, proved the film’s masterstroke, as he grounds the visually poetic and utterly heart rending film with his quietly affecting and engaging turn. “It’s a journey into darkness,” Richard Roxburgh (who is yet to make a directorial follow-up) told FilmInk of his artistically and commercially successful debut. “I’ve never thought of this story as depressing though. I’ve always thought of it as an uplifting story that is really a journey through darkness, and it’s been really heartening to see that so many people have gotten on the train with us.”
55. WALKING ON WATER (2002) Australian filmmaker, Tony Ayres’ debut feature Walking On Water was like a cinematic slap to the face: a bold, uncompromising masterwork that dealt with tough subjects like euthanasia, sexuality, family fractures, AIDS, and emotional suffering. Starring the often underrated Vince Colosimo (in a career-best performance, and playing against type as a conflicted gay man) and the excellent Maria Theodorakis as two friends who help their dying buddy end his life, Walking On Water announced director Tony Ayres and screenwriter Roger Monk as major talents (Ayres would follow it with a range of top-flight film and TV projects as both producer and director) unafraid of risky, potentially divisive subject matter. “It was always going to be hard finding the right mix of humour and darkness,” Tony Ayres told FilmInk of his daring film. “The film is ultimately about friendship. This is an ensemble piece, and ensembles are like jigsaw puzzles – everything has to click together.”
56. 2:37 (2006) An Aussie film engulfed by the controversy that surrounded it? Now there’s a turn-up! Like a cinematic Helen Demidenko, 2:37’s debut director, Murali K. Thalluri, was accused of creating a fraudulent mythology to give his film instant credibility. On the release of this beautifully made and brilliantly performed drama – a tragic picture of youth suicide – Thalluri claimed that he’d written the film after trying to kill himself following the suicide of a close friend. A series of X-Files-style conspiracy theories soon emerged which painted the young director as an opportunist faking a tragedy to flog his flick. Murali K. Thalluri pretty much disappeared from view after the controversy surrounding his film (which introduced now international talents, Teresa Palmer and Xavier Samuel), leaving audiences to contemplate what he might have achieved as a filmmaker. “The most magical moment in my life was at The Cannes Film Festival, where 2:37 had a fifteen-minute standing ovation,” Teresa Palmer told FilmInk in 2010.
57. SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011) “This film has a strong impact on people, and that’s what I like about cinema,” Sleeping Beauty’s debut writer/director, Julia Leigh, told FilmInk. “I don’t like to see a film on Thursday night and then forget about it on Friday morning. I hope that it makes a strong impression on people one way or the other.” If there was one thing that Sleeping Beauty did, it was make an impression. The film’s story – about a listless university student (Emily Browning) who takes up a job as a “sleeping chamber” prostitute, where she becomes the unconscious plaything of old men while she lies gracefully supine – got the conservative set all hot and bothered, while the salient point was also raised that if a man had directed the film, he probably would have been lynched. Either way, Sleeping Beauty was a strange and hypnotic affair, and it remains one of Australia’s most interesting films on sex and sexuality.
58. THE ROVER (2014) “I wanted the movie to feel terrifying,” writer/director, David Michod, told FilmInk of The Rover, his post-apocalyptic follow-up to his 2010 classic, Animal Kingdom. “I wanted it to feel intimidating and menacing. I wanted it to feel immediate. This is a movie about anger. The characters are angry about what has happened to the world after it’s been left in the hands of someone to control. They’re suffering an entirely daunting fate because of what’s being engineered all around them.” In this horrific dystopia – where Australia is a burnt out mess after the collapse of the economy – the taciturn Eric (Guy Pearce) must team with the slow-witted Rey (Robert Pattinson) to get back his stolen car, which contains everything that he owns. Tough, economical, tense, and gripping from go to whoa, The Rover was another indication of David Michod’s power as a filmmaker – so evident after just two features, and a host of shorts – and of Australia’s striking facility for the cinematic post-apocalypse.
59. TOM WHITE (2004) Alkinos Tsilimidos is one of this country’s true unsung auteurs, a brave and consistently fascinating filmmaker who grinds away working on projects that come straight from the heart. With gritty wonders like Everynight…Everynight, Silent Partner, Blind Company and Em 4 Jay, Tsilimidos has proven himself a master at wringing maximum honesty and style out of minimal, almost crippling, budgets. His most towering work, however, is the brutally uncompromising Tom White, which tracks the sharp, unstoppable downward slide of a white collar salary man (a career defining turn from Colin Friels) who winds up hitting the skids and roaming the streets as a homeless drifter, where he cuts across the paths of a number of bizarre characters. “You often see homeless people and sometimes they’re a pain in the arse,” Alkinos Tsilimidos told FilmInk. “But there’s a person there who has a story. I just wanted to take this bunch of characters and give them a sense of dignity and humanity.”
60. THE BLACK BALLOON (2008) After introducing herself as a short filmmaker to watch by winning the top prize at Tropfest, writer/director, Elissa Down, proved that she could go the distance with her debut feature film The Black Balloon. Pulling details out of her own life, Down mixed a rich visual palette with a keen sense of storytelling in this moving, honest and often wryly amusing story about a teenager (the excellent Rhys Wakefield) dealing with his autistic brother (Luke Ford) while also trying to fan the flames of romance with a beautiful classmate (Gemma Ward). With its recognisable setting and hard-fought warmth, The Black Balloon clicked with audiences, and rated as a minor hit. “They say that you should either do your autobiographical film first or last,” Elissa Down (who is yet to make a follow-up feature) told FilmInk. “This just felt like a first film. This is me getting this story out of my system. It’s therapy disguised as entertainment.”
61. BEAUTIFUL KATE (2009) After directing the superb short films, The Big House and Martha’s New Coat, British-born Aussie actress turned filmmaker, Rachel Ward, headed up her first feature with the quietly confronting, poetically charged Beautiful Kate. In one of his best performances, local legend and recent Emmy winner, Ben Mendelsohn, excelled as the brooding, troubled Ned, who returns to his family home, where he finds warmth from his big hearted sister (Rachel Griffiths), and foul mouthed abuse from his dying, disapproving father (Ward’s real life husband, Bryan Brown, playing brilliantly against type). With a haunting script, and highly evocative cinematography from master stylist, Andrew Commis, Beautiful Kate was a visual, aural and thematic feast. It also turned out to be a modest hit, with audiences surprisingly responding to the film’s dark themes, while the very talented Rachel Ward also became a consistently entertaining commentator on the state of the Australian film industry.
62. THE MULE (2014) Co-written by Jaime Brown, Leigh Whannell (Saw), and Angus Sampson, and co-directed by Sampson and Tony Mahony, this perfectly controlled black comedy tells of the plodding but determined Ray Jenkins (Sampson), who ends up trafficking drugs – inside his body – from Thailand into Australia. When he gets caught, a stand-off ensues: per a strange legal statute, the cops need him to, ahem, unload within seven days, or he can walk free. Ray finds his inner steel when he’s holed up in a hotel room with two feds (Ewen Leslie and Hugo Weaving). In short, they want him to shit, and Ray has to hold it in against all odds, squeezing his cheeks and clenching his bowels while a gaggle of smack-filled baggies wriggle around excruciatingly in his guts. An ingenious film as smart and compelling as it is rude, scatological, and bitingly funny, The Mule is something truly special.
63. THE SAPHHIRES (2012) “We wanted to reach all blackfellas in Australia first,” The Sapphires director, Wayne Blair, told FilmInk. “Then we wanted to reach all non-indigenous people in Australia. The third step was to get an international audience. If these four black women and one Irish guy can get to every country in the world, wouldn’t that be something?” With his warm and wonderfully entertaining musical comedy drama – based on the experiences of indigenous screenwriter, Tony Briggs’ own family members – Blair certainly got everyone in Australia. Like Red Dog in the year before it, The Sapphires was the unquestioned local hit of 2012, clocking up an impressive $14 million-plus at the local box office, scoring across-the-board positive reviews, and connecting with audiences all over the country.
64. 52 TUESDAYS (2014) 2014’s touching, finely crafted low budget Aussie drama, 52 Tuesdays – about a teen dealing with her mother’s gender reassignment – announced two major talents in the form of dazzling young actress, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, and filmmaker, Sophie Hyde. The film lit up the festival circuit, snagging major gongs at The Sundance Film Festival and The Berlin Film Festival. An ambitious experiment, 52 Tuesdays goes against the grain in both plot and creation, with Hyde shooting the film piecemeal-style, one day a week for a year. “We had no idea what was going to happen next, just like in life,” Tilda Cobham-Hervey told FilmInk. “This gave the film a strong authenticity.” As well as this authenticity, 52 Tuesdays is also nothing short of an emotional tour de force. “I hope that the audience will feel moved,” Hyde told FilmInk at Sundance, where 52 Tuesdays made its first big international splash. They certainly did…
65. NED KELLY (2003) With its big budget and international cast (the late Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom), Gregor Jordan’s telling of Australia’s greatest outlaw and most iconic folk hero was expected to be a massive hit. The crippling weight of expectation, combined with lukewarm reviews, sent Ned Kelly most unfairly into the bin. But when viewed today – free from heightened anticipation – this finely burnished and beautifully shot Australian western shapes up beautifully. It’s elegantly paced, strongly written, and scored with great subtlety by composer, Klaus Badelt. Towering above the film, however, is Heath Ledger, who breathes passionate life into this truly legendary man. He delivers an interestingly full-bodied take on Ned Kelly in a film of equal daring. “I was a bit naive in my anticipation of the reaction,” Gregor Jordan told FilmInk. “I didn’t realise that it would be such an impassioned reaction. Australian’s are pretty divided about they think of Ned Kelly.”
66. NED (2003) Gregor Jordan may have delivered the more high profile film on Australia’s most famous outlaw with Ned Kelly, but it was young debut filmmaker, Abe Forsythe, who really applied the chargers to a story that nestles fairly close to just about everyone’s heart in this country. “It’s the true untold story of the Ned Kelly legend,” Forsythe told FilmInk on the release of his film. “Ned is raised by an oppressive rubber farmer and leaves home to become a stage magician. Along the way, he accidentally becomes our country’s greatest outlaw. It’s an action, comedy, spoof, coming-of-age, period, western…with fart jokes.” Though shot for nothing, Ned is literally a raging whirlwind of laughs, with most being of the scatological and offensive variety. “We have a warped view of Ned Kelly, and I wanted to take the piss out of it and make him look like an idiot,” Forsythe said of the inspiration behind his criminally little-seen comedy gem.
67. THE TUNNEL (2011) Funded via an online campaign and simultaneously released on DVD and as a free internet download, there was the danger that this homegrown horror film may have generated interest because of its unconventional birth, rather than its merits. But The Tunnel was solid entertainment, filled with spine-chilling scares, Hitchcockian tension, and real human drama. A low budget faux documentary, The Tunnel commanded your attention from the get-go, focusing on a TV news crew investigating why the State Government has suddenly abandoned plans to tap water under Sydney’s St. James Station. Ambitious reporter, Natasha Warner (Bel Deliá), goes hunting for the truth behind the government’s about-face, leading her and her team into the underground labyrinth. “Instead of a film that makes people jump out of their seats at certain moments, we’re hoping for more of a human drama about a group of people who undergo a very traumatic experience,” producer, Carlo Ledesma, told FilmInk of his ingenious little chiller.
68. LOVE, LUST & LIES (2010) “People are so less predictable and so much richer than we might think,” Gillian Armstrong told FilmInk in 2010. “There are so many more layers, and their lives have so many more surprises than we can ever create in fictional stories.” In 1975, Armstrong made a documentary about the lives of teenage girls growing up in Australia. The result was the 25-minute charmer, Smokes And Lollies, which told of three spunky fourteen-year-olds that Armstrong met at an Adelaide drop-in centre: Kerry Carlson, Diana Doman, and Josie Peterson. The director then returned to her three subjects – in a similar style to Michael Apted’s 7Up – over a period of years. Each subsequent film – Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better (1980), Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces (1988), Not Fourteen Again (1996), and Love, Lust & Lies (2010) – has been just as moving and revealing as the last, with the project rating as an essential document of the female experience in Australia.
69. EYE OF THE STORM (2011) “I’ve definitely been trying to get things done here, but this is the one that finally came through,” Fred Schepisi told FilmInk of 2011’s sparkling and wholly entertaining Eye Of The Storm, the lauded director’s first locally shot work since 1988’s Evil Angels, with Meryl Streep. Though it might be difficult to imagine that a titan of the local industry like Schepisi (who helped regenerate the Australian film scene in the seventies with the classics, The Devil’s Playground and The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith) would have trouble getting a movie up in his home country, it probably points to just how tough the cinematic climate is. That said, his daring Patrick White adaptation turned out to be an edifying success, helped to no end by the star power of Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling, and appealing to an audience rarely specifically catered to in the cinema, namely intelligent adults.
70. BRAN NUE DAE (2010) At the time of its 2010 release, Bran Nue Dae was one of the most successful local films in ages. There were a couple of fairly obvious reasons for that. Firstly, unlike just about every other Australian film ever made, Bran Nue Dae is a feel-good movie, principally designed to invigorate rather than provoke. That said, it was far from lightweight. Secondly, this was an adaptation of one of the most successful Australian stage musicals of all time, and it came with a comfortable recognition factor not afforded most local films. The most essential ingredient for the film’s success, however, was the fact that it was beautifully shot, enthusiastically performed, and roaringly enjoyable. “We were tempted to make Bran Nue Dae more complicated, and more dense, and more heavy, but my instinct was to keep it light,” the film’s wise and profoundly talented director, Rachel Perkins (Radiance, Mabo), told FilmInk.
71. PAPER PLANES (2015) “On a personal level, I’m a filmmaker with young kids,” writer/director, Robert Connolly, told FilmInk in 2015. “You get to an age where you’ve made Balibo and a few other films that they haven’t been able to see yet, and you want to make a film for them.” That film turned out to be the much-loved family flick, Paper Planes. The big-hearted charmer centres on Dylan (Ed Oxenbould), a sweet and spirited eleven-year-old boy, who lives with his father (Sam Worthington) in the West Australian outback. One day at school, Dylan inadvertently discovers that he has a talent when it comes to making and flying paper planes, and he’s soon drawn into a world of competition, creativity, and magic. “It was a fantastic adventure,” Connolly said. “I had to channel my inner eleven-year-old to make it. It wasn’t very far beneath the surface!”
72. THE WAITING CITY (2010) There’s an oft touted argument that Australian films are too insular, and that they’re too solely concentrated upon local concerns, instead of delivering subject matter that is of relevance and interest to the rest of the world. Like most arguments regarding Australian film, it’s just a lot of speculation (do the French, for instance, have these kinds of debates about their film industry?) with no grounding in any kind of research or studied observation. And being distinctly Australian certainly hasn’t hurt films like Chopper or Kenny. That said, the excellent The Waiting City perfectly subscribed to the theory that Australian films should be more “international”, with its tale of Ben (Joel Edgerton) and Fiona (Radha Mitchell), a middle class Australian couple who arrive in Calcutta to adopt a little girl. The first local film to be shot in India, The Waiting City was a truly moving, emotional – and international – experience.
73. ALEXANDRA’S PROJECT (2003) With films such as Ten Canoes, Charlie’s Country, The Quiet Room and the astonishing Bad Boy Bubby, Rolf De Heer has firmly proven himself to be one of this country’s most uncompromising and headstrong creative artists. His most emotionally destabilising and haunting film, however, is Alexandra’s Project, which stars the underrated Gary Sweet (in one of his finest performances) as a suburban husband devastated by the quick exit of his wife (the astonishing Helen Buday), who has left behind a damning videotape that crushingly details all of the cracks in their seemingly happy marriage. “People respond to it very differently according to who they are and what their experiences are,” De Heer told FilmInk of his highly divisive film. “Two people can come out of the film feeling very differently about it. A couple of people I know just refuse to talk about it with each other, and I think, ‘Whoa! What’s gone on there?’”
74. MAKING VENUS (2002) For film buffs, there’s nothing more fascinating than a documentary tracking a troubled film shoot, as exemplified by the likes of Burden Of Dreams and Lost In La Mancha. Australia got its own brilliant example with Gary Doust’s utterly absorbing Making Venus, which documented the making of the shambolic low budget sex comedy, The Venus Factory. Cousins, Jason Gooden and Julian Saggers, had produced a few successful short films when they decided to try and crack the big time. With $100,000 raised from friends and family, they began production on a comedy about a porn star wanting to crack into mainstream film. Their lives would never be the same again. “I took a shot,” Gary Doust told FilmInk. “I knew that either way, there was going to be an outcome. If the film worked, the doco would be about how these guys made it. But the film I ended up making was, ‘Where did it all go wrong?’”
75. MOLLY & MOBARAK (2003) “They were a bit surprised when they saw the title – Molly & Mobarek. They were like, ‘Oh no, he’s gone and made a love story!’” That is, indeed, what this brilliant film from revered Australian documentary filmmaker Tom Zubrycki is: a love story. It’s not, however, all hearts and flowers. This intimate, fly-on-the-wall feature gets right into the grooves of the burgeoning relationship between two very different people. Molly Rule is a sweet natured young woman living in the small town of Young. Mobarek Tahiri is one of a group of refugees from Afghanistan who have been brought to town to work in Young’s thriving abattoir. The two have a troubled, fraught but incredibly engaging relationship that Zubrycki captures with incredible sensitivity, truly weaving the personal with the political, telling both their story and also delivering a quiet protest against the then Howard government’s handling of the refugee situation.
76. TRACKS (2014) “The book is so interior, and it has this beautiful voice,” Tracks director, John Curran, told FilmInk of Robyn Davidson’s source novel. “How do you capture that? It doesn’t really present itself as a clean-cut, three-act film. Everyone imposed their own ideas on the project – ‘Let’s make it more of a love story! Let’s make it more of an adventure!’ I didn’t want to push it into something that it wasn’t. I wanted to go beyond the book.” Artfully shot and dreamily constructed, Tracks – which stars Mia Wasikowska as the real-life Robyn Davidson, who trekked across Australia, accompanied only by four camels and a dog – is a stunning testament to fierce individualism and the power of wanderlust. “Robyn put herself in an environment where she had no choice but to just bring it back to survival,” Wasikowska told FilmInk of the compelling lead character of Tracks, a richly poetic film deserving of a far bigger audience.
77. HARD WORD (2002) Crime capers don’t come much more perverse than The Hard Word, a scorching piece of chronically violent, deliciously sleazy, and often absolutely hilarious nastiness from debut director, Scott Roberts, one of way too many one-time-only feature filmmakers on this list. The Twentyman brothers – Dale (Guy Pearce), Shane (Joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson) – are bank robbers with a simple credo: nobody gets hurt. Their mettle is tested, however, when they’re shouldered into pulling the biggest stickup of their career. Boasting full-tilt performances; an “Am I really seeing that?” moment about every ten minutes; and lashings of blood and guts, The Hard Word is a truly kinky delight, and something of a rarity: a 100% original Australian crime thriller that couldn’t have been made anywhere else. “The only point of doing something in a cliched genre is to try and subvert it, within the paradigms of your own culture,” director, Scott Roberts, told FilmInk upon the film’s release.
78. MRS CAREY’S CONCERT (2011) “Nobody should kid themselves as to why distributors take on documentaries at the box office,” legendary Australian documentarian, Bob Connolly, told FilmInk. “They’ve got an eye to raising the profile of the film for future DVD sales. That said, there are exceptions like Bra Boys and Mrs. Carey’s Concert, where we’ve had 120,000 people see it. In that case, the cinematic release has been a success in its own right.” With the aforementioned Mrs. Carey’s Concert – an absolutely gripping and emotionally insightful look into the lives of a group of high school students as they prepare for their end of year concert – Connolly delivered the surprise local hit of 2011. Distributing the doco himself, the veteran filmmaker (who has made previous classics like Rats In The Ranks and Joe Leahy’s Neighbours) got rave reviews, and watched as the excellent Mrs. Carey’s Concert went on to become the fifth highest grossing local documentary of all time.
79. LOVE THE BEAST (2009) A long gestating and deeply personal project, Love The Beast traced noted revhead Eric Bana’s 25-year love affair with his 1974 Ford GT Falcon Coupe, but spins off into other directions as well, taking in the debut director’s relationships with his friends and family, and also questioning his motor vehicular brand of obsession – something shared by many, many Australians. Truly compelling, Love The Beast (at one stage, the biggest box office Australian doco ever) offers a view of Bana not glimpsed in his screen performances, nor in his various press appearances. The film digs into the rarely seriously discussed issue of the bond that can exist between man and machine. “It’s been both fun and incredibly exhausting, and it’s enabled me to combine two of the things that I love: cars and filmmaking,” Bana told FilmInk. “It started out as a simple project, but events conspired to turn it into something that I could never have envisioned.”
80. CANDY (2006) With its powerhouse cast of international success stories (the late Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush), its status as the first time big screen directorial effort of theatre legend, Neil Armfield, and acclaimed source material in Luke Davies’ cult novel, the wonderfully louche Candy was the most anticipated Australian film of 2006. “The journey of making that film was very much between Heath and I, and the connection between us,” Abbie Cornish told FilmInk in 2008. “He was just such an incredible, open, generous, creative and talented guy, so it was easy to go on that journey with him. There was a great camaraderie and a friendship between us. Our very last scene was Heath and I playing handball on the road in Kings Cross. It was so full-on to do, and we’re laughing and playing handball and then, all of a sudden, it’s over. It was done, and we’d completed the film.”
81. BENEATH CLOUDS (2002) Young indigenous filmmaker, Ivan Sen, announced himself as a talent to watch with this lyrical, absorbing and highly effective road movie. Introducing two new acting talents – Damian Pitt and Dannielle Hall – the film followed the unusual, largely unspoken relationship that develops between an angry young man, and the slightly less angry young girl that he meets on the road. Despite its minimalist approach, Beneath Clouds had a lot bubbling away under the surface. “There’s a lot of people around my town that are locked up, in jail all the time,” Damian Pitt, who had never acted prior to Beneath Clouds, told FilmInk in 2002. “The film was a story about the normal black problem.” Ivan Sen’s profound gifts were nearly in full bloom with his debut feature, and he has impressively built upon them with each subsequent film.
82. LITTLE FISH (2005) Little Fish saw director Rowan Woods (The Boys) once again prove himself a master at creating and maintaining mood. Despite its tough, uncompromising look at the drug driven ugliness rife in Sydney’s outer suburbs, the film still manages moments of great beauty thanks in no small measure to the presence of lead actress, Cate Blanchett, who took on her first Australian role since 1997’s Oscar And Lucinda. Her performance is captivating in its bruised vulnerability, and Blanchett received superlative support from Hugo Weaving, Martin Henderson, Dustin Nguyen, Noni Hazlehurst, and Sam Neill. “We want to really hook the audience and have them glued to the screen,” Rowan Woods told FilmInk prior to the film’s release. “We want to make them feel, ‘Fuck, my culture is really up on the screen!’ It’s one thing to tell a tough story, but to tell a tough story in an unbelievable way is just a total folly.”
83. THE FINISHED PEOPLE (2003) Set in Sydney’s maligned western suburb Cabramatta, The Finished People tells three disparate stories: one of a homeless Vietnamese thief prone to violence who befriends a kind, ill young woman; another of a homeless teenager who joins a gang to make a quick buck to look after his pregnant girlfriend; and another of a young man trying to kick his junk habit. None of the stories ever meet, but the characters certainly share humanity, dreams and a purpose that makes them complement each other. They also share a singular filmmaking voice, courtesy of debut director/producer (and eventual Young Australian Of The Year), Khoa Do, a revelation at just 24 years of age, who would go on to make continually intriguing films. Shot on digital, in a documentary-meets-fiction style, The Finished People was unlike any film ever made in Australia. Devised and acted by actual troubled youth, this was a totally engrossing, heartfelt, and immediate movie experience.
84. INNOCENCE (2000) “Film is the most powerful gift for all of us and it is just being abused,” the late and sadly lamented Paul Cox told FilmInk in 2004 with obvious feeling. “It’s packaged like an item in the supermarket. You buy films off the shelf like shampoo.” Thankfully, we’ve all been able to learn from Paul Cox: about the fragility of life; the importance of friendship; about how absolutely essential the arts are for societal enrichment; and about how fighting tooth, nail, blood, and bone for something that you believe in can reap enormous dividends. Cox left behind a stunning body of work (Man Of Flowers, Cactus), but one of his best is unquestionably 2000’s Innocence, which details the torrid reignited love affair between two hot-to-trot seniors, bravely played by Julia Blake and Charles “Bud” Tingwell. As challenging as it is affecting, Innocence is a distillation of everything that was great about Paul Cox.
85. HOLDING THE MAN (2015) The current conversation around the subject of marriage equality certainly lent a sense of urgency to the highly anticipated screen adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, but Holding The Man – which details Conigrave’s (played by Ryan Corr) decades-long relationship with John Caleo (essayed by relative newcomer, Craig Stott) – has always stood as a deeply resonant love story, as demonstrated by the book’s enduring popularity since its publication in 1995. “I always knew that Tim’s story was cinema,” screenwriter, Tommy Murphy – who first adapted Holding The Man as a hugely successful play – told FilmInk. “As much as I loved the solutions that we found in the play, there were certain things – like the detail of a kiss or the detail of sex, and creating the Melbourne of Tim’s teen years – that could only be realised in film.”
86. PAWNO (2015) Gritty, authentic, honest, humble, and utterly beguiling, the Australian drama, Pawno, is the work of debut director/producer, Paul Ireland, and first time screenwriter/producer, Damian Hill, who also stars. An interconnected ensemble piece set over the course of one day, the film has obvious antecedents (from Clerks and Slacker to the works of Robert Altman), but it always feels fresh and original. “It’s such a diverse, multicultural cast of characters, and I just don’t see that shown much here,” Paul Ireland told FilmInk. “It’s either 90% white, or it has more of an indigenous slant, and there’s no in-between. I wanted to make something far more diverse.” Its characters are recognisable but wholly new, and its dialogue zings and zips with a still un-showy raw energy. Pawno boasts a big, sprawling canvas made up almost entirely of finer details. It’s a brave, beautiful, and vividly contemporary work from a couple of newcomers, but Pawno is gloriously assured.
87. DOWNRIVER (2015) “I was trying to find the most extreme point to start a lead character from,” writer/director, Grant Scicluna, told FilmInk. “I wanted to create a truly dark hero, so this story could be as dramatic as it could be. I wanted to see someone come through a story 180 degrees…I wanted to find an extreme situation.” When it comes to leading characters and extreme situations, you couldn’t get much darker than Downriver’s James Levy (Reef Ireland, from Blessed, Tangle, and Puberty Blues), who we first meet as he’s exiting a juvenile detention centre, where he’s been doing hard time for his role in the drowning death of a young child several years prior. Propelled by a burning need to understand what happened and to atone for his role in it, James heads back to the sleepy rural community where the tragic drowning occurred. Dark and provocative, Downriver is a bristling, lovingly crafted, against-the-grain treatise on love and redemption.
88. CHASING ASYLUM (2016) “I’ve been making films for over 20 years, and this film has been the hardest by far,” director, Eva Orner, told FilmInk earlier this year. “It’s the most personal. It’s my country…the hardest thing is what we’ve become and what we’ve allowed to happen to our country. I cannot believe what we’re doing, and it has to stop.” Chasing Asylum features never-before-seen footage from inside Australia’s offshore detention camps, revealing the personal impact of sending those in search of a safe home to languish in limbo. Taut and confronting, the doco explores the mental, physical, and financial consequences of Australia’s decision to lock away families in isolation, hidden from media scrutiny, and derailing their lives under the false banner of protection. Importantly, Chasing Asylum works on two fronts: both as a rousing call to action on a much discussed social issue, and as a gripping, incisive piece of cinema.
89. 100 BLOODY ACRES (2013) Exploding genre conventions left, right and centre, the deliciously cheeky 100 Bloody Acres follows three youngsters on their way to a rural music festival. But when their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the three photogenic kids find themselves at the mercy of a choice selection of the area’s most demented locals. But in a refreshing twist, the deranged individuals that they meet haven’t been pulled straight from central casting. Brothers, Reg (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay Morgan (Angus Sampson), are the owners of a local blood-and-bone business, whose produce just happens to contain a very special and very secret ingredient. An auspicious debut from brother directing team, Colin and Cameron Cairnes, 100 Bloody Acres is a funny, scary, richly characterised, and utterly Australian slab of horror. “We want to mix the high and the low,” Colin Cairnes told FilmInk. “We want to take people on a ride.”
90. TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN (2010) “It’s a coming of age story set against the extraordinary setting of a war zone,” director, Stuart Beattie, told FilmInk of his action adventure mini-epic, Tomorrow, When The War Began. “You grow up really quickly in the battlefield, which is great because drama is about extremes, and nothing is more extreme than war. It’s where you see the absolutes of good and evil in humans. It’s also an exciting place to see teenage characters growing up fast and having to rise to the occasion.” An adaptation of the first in the series of much loved Young Adult novels by author John Marsden, Tomorrow, When The War Began was the most hotly anticipated local film of 2010. While the hoped-for multi-film franchise about a group of teenagers fighting for survival in a future Australia in the grip of a military invasion never happened (it went to TV instead), this earnestly enjoyable drama was something of a rarity: an anticipated Aussie blockbuster.
91. THE COMBINATION (2009) Not many Australian films stir up heated controversy, which made The Combination a real rarity. Directed by long time actor turned debut director, David Field, this tough, gritty but deeply sensitive film made a big splash in the mainstream media. During some cinema screenings, this tale of multicultural youth in Sydney’s rugged western suburbs was accompanied by fighting and minor bursts of violence. There were, significantly, just a few minor incidents, as opposed to the full scale riots that the media reports may have suggested. In response, The Combination was pulled from some cinemas, quickly derailing what had been a highly successful opening period. By the time the film was returned to theatres after the cinema chains’ decision was questioned, the damage had already been done: what could have been a legitimate hit became a talking point instead. But when viewed today, the film’s thematic and stylistic strengths – and its hard won humanism – are strikingly apparent.
92. LAST RIDE (2009) After winning the major prize at Cannes in 2003 for his acclaimed short film, Cracker Bag, Australian filmmaker, Glendyn Ivin, made his feature film debut with Last Ride, the bruising, deeply moving tale of an unconventional father-and-son relationship. Eloquently adapted from Denise Young’s 2004 novel by veteran screenwriter, Mac Gudgeon (Ground Zero, The Delinquents), Last Ride followed the tough, sullen, potentially violent Kev (Hugo Weaving), who scarpers into the outback with his sensitive young son, Chook (Tom Russell), in tow. As the film progresses and darkens, the reasons behind their “adventure” slowly become clear. Superbly performed (Hugo Weaving is at his best, and Tom Russell is a revelation) and starkly shot, Last Ride marked Ivin as a singularly exciting talent. “I was writing my own script when Last Ride arrived, and it just spoke directly to me,” the director told FilmInk. “I fell in love with it. I knew that I could make it my own.”
93. OBSERVANCE (2015) The trippy, head-bending Observance – a highly effective meld of the horror, noir, and thriller genres – sees a private investigator, Parker (a fine, highly charged performance Lindsay Farris), taking on a case to make ends meet, but finding his life slowly spiralling out of control as he surveils an enigmatic woman from a building window across the street. Unleashed on the 2015 festival circuit, Observance quickly garnered a stellar reputation courtesy of its showings at The Fantasia Film Festival and The BFI London Film Festival. Made for next-to-nothing, Observance looks extraordinary, and its bizarre story has a strange relatability. “Parker is completely powerless, as though he’s being used and manipulated for this unknown purpose. That is a really powerful thing to talk about in a film,” co-writer and director, Joseph Sims-Dennett, told FilmInk. “That’s genuinely how a lot of people think about their lives. And conveying that feeling in this film felt far more powerful.”
94. JAPANESE STORY (2003) “I was sent the script and I really responded to it in an ‘I have to do this’ kind of way,” Toni Collette told FilmInk of Japanese Story. “It’s not too often that an actor gets to explore such depth of character. I was also keen to experience the Pilbara. I can’t work on something that I don’t believe in. I guess I could sense the potential for some very real truths on screen, which is becoming more and more rare in a world of youth oriented bubble gum movies.” In Sue Brooks’ deliberately paced, emotionally rich, and beautifully shot drama, Collette is a self-assured geologist trying to sell some groundbreaking software to a big multinational corporation. As part of the deal, she gets to play tour guide for visiting Japanese businessman, Tachibana (Gotaro Tsunashima), who wants to explore the harsh but natural beauty of the Pilbara district. Where their relationship goes is both surprising and utterly haunting.
95. THE BOYS ARE BACK (2008) The relationship between workaholic Brit expat, Joe (Clive Owen), and initially his son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), and later his older son, Harry (George MacKay), is the big beating heart of the emotive and under-celebrated drama, The Boys Are Back, which had audiences weeping within fifteen minutes of its first frame. When his wife, Katy (Brit Laura Fraser with an Aussie accent), is diagnosed with terminal cancer, roving sports journalist Joe reassesses his life and decides to change his priorities, taking charge – in his own blokey way – of his South Australian country homestead and his young son, Artie. But it’s not long before Katy passes away, and Harry, Joe’s son from a previous marriage, turns up on his distant father’s doorstep, pushing him further to confront familial responsibility. Sensitively directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), The Boys Are Back is a rich, touching tale of the family ties that bind.
96. THE TRACKER (2002) The highly individualistic Rolf De Heer (Bad Boy Bubby, The Quiet Room) scooped the pool at many of 2002’s end-of-year awards ceremonies with this haunting, quietly searing dissection of race relations in this country. The story of an Aboriginal tracker (wonderfully played by David Gulpilil) being pushed by a violent, racist policeman (an amazing Gary Sweet) seamlessly combined music, character dynamics, and a strong strain of protest politics. “I have a real connection with Rolf, almost a spiritual connection,” Gary Sweet – who also starred for the director in Alexandra’s Project – told FilmInk in 2002. “He’s incredibly sensitive towards the script and towards the actors. He’s kind of mischievous in a way, and he’s got a real sense of humour. I was very surprised when he considered me for one of his films. I thought that I might have been too mainstream for him.”
97. PARTISAN (2015) Shot in Europe by young debut Australian writer/director, Ariel Kleiman, the acclaimed and almost unclassifiable drama, Partisan, follows Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), the eldest of several children living in a closed-off compound in an unnamed country. Within its walls, Alexander has been raised by a loner patriarch called Gregori (Vincent Cassel), who has his own terrifying agenda. As the film slowly peels back its layers, we eventually learn that Alexander is like any other kid except for one glaring difference: he is also a trained assassin. “The creation of the world was very specific, because it was all rooted in the character of Gregori,” Kleiman told FilmInk of his career-making film, which stands as an absolutely original film, if not a distinctly Australian one. “Because Gregori has created this world, we created it through his eyes. It was a great way of getting to know him and his motivations and what he wanted to do.”
98. MAO’S LAST DANCER (2009) Returning to make his first film in Australia since Paradise Road in 1997, Bruce Beresford worked sensitive, deeply moving wonders with Mao’s Last Dancer, which went on to become a surprise hit. Ironically, ost people probably didn’t even know that they were watching an Australian film; to all intents and purposes, this was international cinema. Though the movie’s lead character – real life defecting Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin – eventually settled in Australia, that part of the story wasn’t even told in Mao’s Last Dancer. “It was the most astonishing story of rags to riches – rags to celebrity, really – that I’ve ever read,” Bruce Beresford told FilmInk. “Li Cunxin’s family was not only poor, but they lived under one of the most repressive regimes in history, which was run by a lunatic. Then he had to get out of that to pursue his dreams of being a ballet dancer. It’s an amazing story.”
99. DISGRACE (2009) With their debut collaborative 2001 feature La Spagnola, Australian husband-and-wife team, Steve Jacobs (director) and Anna Maria Monticelli (writer), proved themselves inspired talents. It may have taken eight years, but they finally followed up on that initial promise with the equally complex and confronting Disgrace. Boasting a strong turn from John Malkovich as a South African university professor embroiled in a messy controversy, and a blazing international debut by exciting young actress, Jessica Haines, as his troubled daughter, this finely constructed adaptation of J.M Coatzee’s acclaimed novel clicked with critics, and then followed suit at local arthouses, where it screened for a number of weeks. Disproving the oft-peddled theory that audiences aren’t interested in complex, morally questioning films, Disgrace is a brave and challenging work. “Disgrace takes you on a journey and confronts your racial and sexual agendas in ways that hopefully are not obvious,” Steve Jacobs told FilmInk prior to the film’s release.
100. THE HORSEMAN (2008) In this grim, uncompromising piece of low budget genre filmmaking, Peter Marshall is devastating in his first lead role. Everything hinges on his gut-raw performance, which he delivers with astounding credibility. Marshall stars as Christian (of the Old Testament variety), a grieving father trying to make sense of the suspicious death of his daughter. He takes a road trip and strikes up an awkward friendship with Alice (Caroline Marohasy), a runaway who gets caught in the middle of his quest. Chanting the mantra “an eye for an eye”, The Horseman quickly descended into the kind of horror that befalls innocents in uncertain places, and proved its debut writer/director, Steven Kastrissios, to be a filmmaker of singular vision. “Seeing normal characters that anyone can relate to, going through these horrific circumstances, makes you more sympathetic to where Christian’s journey goes,” Kastrissios told FilmInk of his stark and stunning inversion of the revenge sub-genre.