Best Australian Films of 2018

10. Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible

Director: Axel Grigor

            The art of editing is one that sometimes goes unnoticed by the average film watcher. After all, good editing shouldn’t be noticeable at all. Yet, it’s an important aspect of filmmaking –putting the collated parts of film together to not only make sense of out the chaos, but to also further the dialogue that the film is presenting. When you think of the work of Baz Luhrmann, you think of zippy, fast paced, frenetic sequences, full of energy and vibrancy. And when you think of that kind of energy, you’re thinking of the work of Jill Bilcock. This essential documentary shows the strength of an editor who understands the work of the director they’reworking alongside, and in turn, furthers that directors talent through the art of editing. Even if you’re not all that interested in the machinations of cinema, Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible is still an essential film about one of the great Australian women.

9. West of Sunshine

Director: Jason Raftopolous

            Actor Damian Hill delivered a stunning one-two punch with his 2015 film Pawno and the follow up West of Sunshine. Both films carry performances that most would wish they could have just once in their career. Quietly, Hill managed to craft a career around the deconstruction of the Aussie male – what it means to be a downbeat dad, or to be a guy who has never really amounted to much, or maybe a country fella finding love in an off kilter world (thanks The Leftovers) –and by all accounts, his next work, M4M, would have furthered that discourse. Look, West of Sunshine is great because of Hill, and because of director Jason Raftopolous,it’s a duo of brilliance. It’s a real fucking shame that due to the cruelty of life, we’re robbed from the great career that Hill would have had going forward. Gone, but never, ever forgotten.

8. Brothers’ Nest

Director: Clayton Jacobson

            How do you follow up a film like Kenny? Well, you simply don’t try and make Kenny 2.0, and instead go for broke and create something that flips expectations on its head and says, y’know what, we’re gonna give you a dark comedy that’ll leave you well and truly satisfied in ninety minutes. The Jacobson brothers take up centre stage here playing two brothers (as the title suggests) heading back home to do…something. To say any more is to spoil the twists and turns that carry through in this very Coen-esque flick. Darkly comedic, yet still carrying a fair heft of emotional kick, Brothers’ Nest unfairly went below too many radars this year. It’s a shame, because this deserves a huge audience. It’s an airtight thriller that hits every beat it aims to, and a few more for added thrills. Killer stuff.

7. [censored]

Director: Sari Braithwaite

            Director Sari Braithwaite’s dive into the archive of almost 2,000 clips of excised footage from films released in Australia between 1958 to 1971 is one that feels extremely timely.Initially, Braithwaite sees her actions of exploring this archive as a way of liberating the censored footage, as a way of liberating the art that was once held captive by unseen and unknown eyes in a building far away somewhere in Australia. But, as she dives further into the footage, she recognises a purely masculine viewpoint of the films that has allowed for sexual assault to thrive in a world of complacency. [censored] raises questions it simply can’t answer, but it’s not the point of the film to do so.It’s merely adding to the conversation we so desperately need to have about cinema as a whole – at what point does the reparation of the male gaze, and the implementation of the female gaze start to kick in?

6. Backtrack Boys

Director: Catherine Scott

            Sometimes you need a really positive cry. Crying is great, it is. Having a good, positive cry, one which comes about because of the positive actions of one person, trying to do their best to make the lives of others better, is one of the most satisfying cries you’ll ever have. And boy does Backtrack Boys deliver that kind of warmth in spades. Jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft runs a youth program in Armidale, NSW, where wayward kids are giving a place to learn how to grow and improve themselves and set them back on track to having a positive life. Bernie does this by getting these kids to engage with the dogs he has on his property. Working dogs that have energy up the wazzoo and need a bit of peace and calm in their life, a lot like the kids that end up in the program do. It’s simple, sweet, beautiful, inspirational stuff, and dammit, you need this film in your life.

5. Upgrade

Director: Leigh Whannell

            If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Logan Marshall Green would give one of the years best performances in a story about a guy who talks to the computer chip in his head, well, I’d have thought you were crazy. But, here we are with Upgrade being a legitimately great Aussie sci-fi flick. Leigh Whannell knows exactly what he’s doing, and what that is is crafting a wannabe Paul Verhoeven/David Cronenberg action flick that has one heck of an emotional kick at the end. Violent in all the right ways,hilarious in unexpected doses, and most importantly, an extremely great time all round, Upgrade is one of the best surprises of the year. You’ll be kicking yourself for not getting in on the ground floor with this one, it’s gonna be a cult hit for sure.

4. Island of the Hungry Ghosts

Director: Gabrielle Brady

            Alongside Border Politics, Island of the Hungry Ghosts is a timely assessment of Australia’s role in the unfurling human rights saga that is mandatory detention for asylum seekers.Over on the remote Christmas Island is a prison, one established to house and ‘process’the many asylum seekers who aim to call Australia home. Poh Lin Lee is one of the trauma counsellors assigned to the island to help out with their care, but the ever escalating toll of red tape put in her path ensures that she’s unable to carry out her job of caring for those in need. Meanwhile, the 40 million red land crabs make their migration across the island to the shoreline. Director Gabrielle Brady has crafted a stunning film that is visually striking as well as being emotionally devastating. Simply put, this is the finest documentary of 2018.

3. Terror Nullius

Directors: Soda_Jerk

            Terror Nullius is a work of pure genius. In an era where politics and mayhem has become the perverse popcorn entertainment of our times, Soda_Jerk come along and conjure up this maniacal,genius, ‘burn down the patriarchy’, down with racism, pro-refugee, ultra-left leaning, piece of work. It’s like cotton candy for the Australian film loving,left leaning folks. I adore this work. It’s timeless and timely. It’s hilarious. It’s raucous. It is just downright fucking great. If you missed this as it played around Australia in 2018, then fear not, it’ll come to you in some form down the line. And when it does, strap yourself in and hook yourself up.You’re in for a bloody rip roaring ride.

2. Strange Colours

Director: Alena Lodkina

            No film surprised me more this year than Strange Colours. Coming near the end of Perth’s great Revelation Film Festival, I somehow nearly missed this Australian film. It slipped by my radar, and I managed to squeeze it into my schedule, thinking it would be a simple film to fill two hours of my life. Knowing nothing about it, I was quietly consumed by its peaceful, calm, patient exploration of Australian masculinity in the middle of nowhere. This is not Wake in Fright. This is the reclamation of a world that many think they already have pegged. It’s a film that embraces loneliness, looking at those in the world who live a life full of mournful peace, floating through being merely content with having a piece of dirt they can sleep on. Kate Cheel gives the finest performance this year – her quiet,unassuming, ever observing Milena simply exists in a world that she doesn’t entirely know how to navigate. Daniel P. Jones is acidic as her father, and Justin Courtin carries the flame of Damien Hill in a supporting role. In my review, I compared Lodkina to Kelly Reichardt, and the comparison is apt, but Lodkina is a voice all to herself. I can’t wait to see where she goes next.

1. Sweet Country

Director: Warwick Thornton

I first watched Sweet Country way back in December 2017 at a press screening. I knew right then that I’d seen one of the great Australian films (so much so that it’s already launched into my Top 100 films list).Director Warwick Thornton has taken the history of Australia and delivered the truth. Showing colonial Australia through the eyes of the first nations people is one that so rarely occurs on film, and when it does here, it does so with a force that demands to be reckoned with. So rarely has Australian history been laid bare the way it is in this film, demanding white viewers sit up and take notice of the violence that has perpetuated throughout the generations, with the senseless slaughter of indigenous Australians still occurring today, just under the guise of ‘deaths in custody’. This is, quite simply, a perfect film.Important, powerful, devastating. No word that I put here is enough for this film. It is what Australian cinema needs.

Head over to the next page to read about some of the best short films from 2018 as well as the Best Director, Acting and Screenplay…

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