As 2019 comes to an end, we take a
look back at the year of Australian films that we’ve just had. Now, I’m going
to admit, this list might be a little more controversial than some of my
previous Best Australian Films lists, and I can’t apologise for it.
For starters, this is the first
time I’ve included short films in the list. In the past, I’ve seen a lot of
great short films that have been worthy of inclusion, but have relegated them
to their own list. The three short films I’ve included are that good that they deserve their place in the ‘Best of’ list.
Now, a few stats!
I watched 49 Australian films
that were either released in 2019, or had festival releases in 2019. Of these
49, there were many that could have been considered here, but as they will be
getting a theatrical release in 2020, they will appear on that list instead. Some
of the Australian films that had theatrical releases in 2019 were rated and
ranked in the 2018 list, so make sure to check out the 2018, 2017, and 2016 lists.
Twelve films are directed or co-directed by women
Four films were nominated for Best Picture at the AACTA
Ten films are documentaries
Three are short films
Two feature films were made for under $4000 each
Ok, enough of that, onto the list!
The 2019 Melbourne Documentary Film Festival had a wealth of
great films (as every year does), but my pick of the bunch was the fascinating
look into the different lives of single women from around the world. What made Singled [Out] the success that it is, is
the way that it humanises the untold stories of single women, some of whom find
themselves forced into marriage because of social expectations. One story tells
the tale of a woman who wishes to be a mother, and turns to IVF to help make
her dream come true. It’s a tender and caring documentary, highlighting the
need to remove the expectations forced on women around the world. I only wish
it were a little bit longer!
I Go Further Under
is a low-fi, low budget, very artistic driven film that is loosely based on the
life of Jane Cooper: a teen who lived on the remote and uninhabitable De Witt
Island for a year. Director James Newitt employs an intriguing use of modern
technology to reinforce actress Emily Milledge’s Jane Cooper-surrogate
character desire to escape from civilisation. At times, the screen is
overwhelmed with the letters of people pouring out their lives to this person
seeking solitude, reinforcing the insidious way that humanity cannot escape
itself. Admittedly, this is a film that works best when reflecting on it, when
your mind has had time to parse the experimental film aesthetic, but it’s Emily
Milledge’s performance that will resonate the most.
I feel I was too harsh on Rod Rathjen’s slavery drama Buoyancy when I reviewed it out of
Cinefest Oz. I asked then, who was this film for? Suggesting that nobody would
want to watch this at all. But, ever since watching this film about a teen
seeking a life of his own, and ending up on a slave boat, fishing for trash
fish that will inevitably turned into someones cat food, I couldn’t shake the
imagery from my mind. Lead actor, Sarm Heng, is exceptional, delivering a
performance that feels so natural, so lived in, that I couldn’t help but fear
how much he had taken on board the trauma within the film. This is dark,
depressing filmmaking, but it’s filmmaking with a purpose. I was already aware
of the impact of overfishing on the world, but I had no idea it was this bad.
To hear Rathjen mention that they had to tone down some of the brutality that
they learned about while researching for the film makes my mind race as to what
else has happened. Powerful stuff.
Ted Wilson’s quiet, tender, loving family drama feels so
deceptively surface level, so run of the mill and routine, that by the time
it’s reached its conclusion, and its story of a family just existing wraps up, you can’t help but
feel moved. This is deceptive filmmaking, with a very observational tone that
simply watches as people live a life – a family has a reunion lunch and shares
family stories, or later, a son and a mother work together to do some
gardening. Ted Wilson is a multi-hyphenate here, wearing the hat of director,
writer, actor, and producer, and it’s this full bodied role that makes me wish
that this film were given a wider release. It’s quiet filmmaking, subtle in
style and not overly showy, and that’s its key strength: it’s a slice of life
story that asks us to reflect on the small moments, embracing the conversations
between conversations, and the bonds that make a family whole.
There’s an absurdity to Chocolate
Oyster that gives it a certain charm. Sure, the story of the titular
chocolate oyster recipe is deeply hilarious, but it’s the vignettes of people
living life in the suburbs of Sydney that makes this film a joy to watch.
There’s a pretentiousness to Chocolate
Oyster that appears to have turned a lot of viewers off – there’s a
surprisingly high amount of undeserved vitriol for this hugely independent film
– but it’s a pretentiousness that Jaggi embraces completely. It’s in black and
white, the end credits are at the beginning, the conversations are often bland
and tedious, but, there’s an extreme charm to it all, and the failures of the
various characters are what makes Chocolate
Oyster the intriguing, slice of life affair that resonates with two other
films on this list.
When viewed as a loose trilogy of films, Chocolate Oyster, Hot Mess, and Suburban
Wildlife go far in portraying the struggles of life for the young adults of
Sydney. The life they’ve been promised is not what they’re presented with. They
realise the momentous challenge that they face just to try and get ahead in
life, and it’s not going to be easy. This is reflected in the way that director
Imogen McCluskey and co-writer Béatrice Barbeau-Scurla managed to make this film for a mere $4000.
While that should sound impressive (it is), it’s a mildly devastating reinforcement
of the themes of Suburban Wildlife.
Here are two exceptionally talented filmmakers who should be given the chance
to make films with a budget, but that’s not the reality of the Australian film
industry, and it’s not their reality. If anything, the proof of their ingenuity
and ability to make a film this good on no budget at all is reason enough to
feel that these younger generations will be ok.
Look, it seemed like a pretty fun thing for a lot of
reviewers to beat up on Rachel Ward’s ode to upper class white folks, and I can
understand that completely. But, under the surface of that gloss and sheen is a
solid story about friends and family getting together and addressing the issues
that have long gone unspoken. While Ward’s film never fully interrogates the
difficulties of early retirement in a world that was built exactly for that, it
does at least touch on some salient topics like depression, the fragility of
men, and the fear of ageing. Some issues are not explored at all – Jacqueline
Mackenzie’s Bridget clearly has a drinking problem that nobody ever addresses –
but that lack of introspection is part of the point of Palm Beach. These characters have a world of issues in front of
them, and much like the real world upper class white folks, they wilfully
ignore a fair chunk of them occurring in front of their eyes. Ward never
condemns these characters, often celebrating their white privilege, but that
lack of condemnation makes Palm Beach
an interestingly performed film.
I fear that the placement of The Nightingale so low on this list might cause some deep anger,
and I do apologise for that. This is a towering achievement of a film, with
Jennifer Kent exploring the toxicity and brutality of colonialism, laying out
the harshness of the 19th Century Tasmania for both women and Indigenous Australians.
Yet, for all of its brilliance, I found myself not engaging with the film on
the level it required. I admire Aisling Franciosi’s searing, hate filled
performance, and Baykali Ganambarr is simply brilliant as the reluctant
tracker, but the overwhelming brutality left me feeling numb, when it should
have left me enraged and engaged in the way that Warwick Thornton’s masterpiece
Sweet Country did. This is an
important film, it just did not impact me as much as I had hoped it would.
Maybe It’s Luck takes
the place of Meal Tickets and Rockabul as the Aussie doco that takes a
look at an untold slice of the worlds music scene. This time round, it’s Perth
punk band Kerb (again, no relation), who after a decades long sojourn from the
music scene embark on the comeback of comebacks. With failures and foibles, the
band soldiers on, pushing forward with gusto, and it’s front man Steve Browne’s
energy that helps drive this film. It’s often frenetic, often hilarious, and
always entertaining stuff. Maybe It’s
Luck reflects punk music perfectly, taking risks where you wouldn’t expect
it to, and ending with one heck of a hilarious punchline. This is short fast
loud, it gets in, doesn’t fuck around, and then gets out.
The first short film on the list is also the first sci-fi
film. Chris Elena’s short is centred on a silent performance from newcomer Emma
Wright. Channelling early Bethany Whitmore performances, Wright provides a
powerful lead through this engaging and intriguing short that asks a lot of big
questions, and isn’t afraid to tackle the answers for some of them. The script
by Lee Zachariah is smart and considered, embracing the format of short films
and meeting the format on its own level. This isn’t a proof of concept short that
works to try and get a feature film out of it, instead, Audio Guide is its own complete narrative, one that could only
exist within this format. It’s powerful in its simplicity, and honestly, I
cannot wait to see what all of the team associated with this wonderful film do
next. More please.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.