Sweet Country Near the Top of the 2018 AACTA Awards with Ten Nominations

Ok, I promised myself I’d not be cynical when the AACTA Nominations were announced. After all, I’ve had a few years of being cynical about the AACTA Nominations and subsequent award winners (it’s what you get when the ‘Best Australian Film’ is awarded to supremely Aussie stories such as The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge). So, let’s wade into this years’ nominations with glee and wonder, and point out the most deserving nominations.

Warwick Thornton’s masterpiece is the best film of 2018, there’s simply no contest about it. This devastating slice of Australiana slams the history of injustices that the first nation people had to suffer in the face of the viewer. Nominated for Best Film, Best Director – Warwick Thornton, Best Lead Actor – Hamilton Morris, Best Supporting Actress – Natassia Gorey-Furber, Best Original Screenplay – David Tranter & Steven McGregor, Best Cinematography – Warwick Thorton, Best Editing, Nick Meyers, Best Sound – David Tranter, Thom Kellar, Sam Gain-Emery & Will Sheridan, and Best Costume Design – Heather Wallace, as well as Anousha Zarkesh for Best Casting – making it a total on ten well deserved nominations.

Yeah, I’d have loved to have seen Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, Trevon Doolan, and Bryan Brown, all get nominated for Best Supporting Actor, as they all deliver career best performances (Ewen Leslie is particularly stunning), but at least the work of Hamilton Morris and Natassia Gorey Furber was recognised. This is the film I’m championing the most this year and I’ll be damned if it loses the top prize.

This category is a relatively new one – arguably implemented after Ozflix introduced a similar category with their awards last year. The line-up is great, with Jirga, Brothers’ Nest, and West of Sunshine all receiving well deserved nominations. But, the nomination that gets me excited the most is the nomination for Strange Colours.

One of the smaller films up for consideration, this film is also one of the most devastating and beautiful films I’ve seen this year. It’s a powerful slice of cinema that has a turbulent undercurrent running through its expose of masculinity. Kate Cheel’s performance drives Strange Colours, with impressive turns by Justin Courtin and Daniel P. Jones to help support her work. Alena Lodkina is a director to keep an eye on. While I’m not hopeful that Strange Colours will win, the mere fact that it was nominated is enough.

  • Damian Hill and Daniel Monks are recognised in the Best Actor category.

The late, great Damian Hill received a well deserved Best Actor nomination for his work in West of Sunshine. Hill delivers a performance that is full to the brim with urgency and unfocused anxiety. When paired with his AACTA nominated performance in Pawno, you realise that Hill was collating an impressive catalogue of what it means to be a working class man in modern Australia. The fact that West of Sunshine garnered a swag of nominations is testament to the talent that Hill had.

Daniel Monks film Pulse is one that flew under the radar of almost everybody. Granted, it suffered from the same fate as many Australian films – no funding for distribution meant a lack of knowledge that the film even existed. Here’s hoping that Daniels nomination in the Best Actor field changes that. His performance in Pulse is one that many actors wish they could deliver. He’s engaged with the narrative (which he wrote) on an deep level, showcasing a character that feels lived in and real. Daniel Monks is a genuine talent that needs to be given more work to explore.

  • Upgrade receiving a fair few nominations.

While Upgrade didn’t get the nominations that I’d hoped it would (namely, in the Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor categories – seriously, Logan Marshall Green’s performance is one of the best of the year), it did at least garner a few technical nominations.

Leigh Whannell’s script got a well deserved nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category, with Andy Canny’s editing getting a nod alongside the superb sound design by P.K. Hooker, Will Files, and Andrew Ramage. Jed Palmer’s score also received a nomination (going up against Peter Rabbit, would you believe). Felicity Abbott and Katie Sharrock gained nominations in the Production Design category, while Chiara Tripodi and Larry Van Dyunhoven were nominated for Best Hair and Makeup. Finally, Upgrade goes up against Black Panther, The LEGO Ninjago Movie and Peter Rabbit for Best Visual Effects or Animation, with the team at Cutting Edge being nominated in this category.

Upgrade may look like a basic genre flick, but it’s a genre flick done damn well, so it’s nice to see it being rewarded amply in the tech categories with a total of seven nominations.

  • Fayssal Bazzi gets a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Merger.

While I didn’t love The Merger as much as I hoped I would, I did certainly love Fayssal Bazzi’s heartfelt performance in a wonderful comedy. Bazzi gave a very different performance in the darkly comedic Down Under, so it’s great to see his work in The Merger gain a nomination as a refugee trying to make a positive life for himself and his family in rural Australia. If only more people went and saw this flick, then maybe there’d be a bit more bloody empathy for those in need in this country.

  • Ghosthunter earning a truckload of documentary nominations.

Another small film getting nominated for a bunch of awards. Ghosthunter may have slipped under the radar of many, but it’s well worth seeking out. A story about a humble Aussie bloke who lives a life as a ghost hunter, and in turn, thanks to the help of director Ben Lawrence, helps expose the ghosts in his own life. Ghosthunter explores the death rattle of PTSD and how it echoes through generations in a devastating shockwave. Powerful stuff that will leave you speechless, this film is a necessary look into the effects of toxic masculinity in Australian society.

They’re the nominations I’m pleased with. Overall, it’s a solid year of Australian content with the expected nominees gaining Best Picture nominations – although Cargo getting in was a very welcome surprise. I can’t argue with many of the nominees in that category (I’m still yet to see Ladies in Black, although it is doing great numbers at the box office, so that’s nice).

Now a short list of the nominations that should have happened:

I’d hoped that Watch the Sunset would gain a nomination or three – Tristan Barr was greatly deserving of a nomination in the Best Actor category – but I fully expected it to get a Best Cinematography nomination. A disappointing omission.

  • Samson Coulter and Ben Spence for Breath.

It’s great to see Simon Baker’s debut film get a bunch of nominations. This slice of West Australia is a visually stunning film that captures the raw energy of the South West. While Baker and costar Elizabeth Debicki gained nominations, it’s a shame that the talent of Samson Coulter and Ben Spence weren’t given their due. They carry the film perfectly, with Ben Spence’s Loonie carrying a lot of the emotional energy of Tim Winton’s text. It’s a shame that these kids weren’t given their due as they’re genuinely brilliant.

Look, no offence to Jimmy Barnes and his life story, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance of Island of the Hungry Ghosts and Backtrack Boys. These two documentaries are not only some of the finest films to come out of Australia this year, but they’re some of the finest films that the world has seen this year. It’s a genuine shame that the work of these films wasn’t recognised over a Jimmy Barnes doco and another doco about mountains from Jennifer Peedom (don’t get me wrong, I loved Mountain, it’s just not as impactful as Sherpa was).

  • Kate Cheel for Strange Colours.

Yeah, I’ll keep banging this drum til the year is over and then I’ll just carry on banging it. Kate Cheel gives one of the best performances of the year as Milena in Strange Colours. I’ve gone on about it a bunch already, but would it have hurt to have included her in the Best Actress category? I’m certain that Rooney Mara is not all that and a bag of chips in Mary Magdalene.

This darkly comedic flick got a very small handful of nominations, with the biggest one being for Best Indie Film. But, part of the reason why Brothers’ Nest is an eerily endearing film is the core performances from Shane and Clayton Jacobson.Both are brilliant as a pair of brothers embarking on a task they both don’t entirely want to engage in. Lynette Curran is also superb in a small turn.

And that’s it! The 2018 AACTA Nominations. Click on over for the full list of nominees.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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