If you took a cursory glance at the list of films nominated for the 2019 AACTA Awards, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there were only five films released this year. With The Nightingale, Hotel Mumbai, The King, Judy & Punch, and to a lesser extent, Top End Wedding, leading the nominations, one could walk away with the perception that that was it.
With that in mind, I’ve written up my predictions for what will win this years AACTA Awards, and thrown in a few ‘should have been nominated’ suggestions too. I have only considered films that were eligible for nomination, so while I would have liked to have considered films like Hot Mess or Standing Up for Sunny, they simply weren’t up for consideration to begin with.
To read all the nominees, check out the list here.
Should Have Been Nominated: Hearts and Bones
Should Win: Top End Wedding
Will Win: The Nightingale
It became clear in the moment that AACTA bent their own rules to allow David Michod’s The King to be considered across the board that the award was now confirmed to no longer be about the best Australian film. It’s been that way for a while now, with films like The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge taking away the major prize. While I adore The King, I truly do hope that it doesn’t win the major award at this years awards, especially when there are two truly Australian stories deserving of the title of ‘Best Film’.
Before I touch on that, I want to mention that Ben Lawrence’s Hearts and Bones should have been in consideration here. Both Hugo Weaving and Andrew Luri gained deserving nominations, but it is a film that is truly deserving of a Best Film nomination. The film wrestles with some deeply important themes, ones that are inherently Australian, and by doing so, it turns into a profoundly moving experience. It is a shame that it wasn’t nominated.
Of the films that were nominated though, it’s Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale that lead the pack for me. The Nightingale is one of the most critically applauded Australian films of the year, and it’s that reason alone that it will win the top prize. Goodo. The last time a Jennifer Kent film won the major award at the AACTA’s, she had to share the honour with Russell Crowe’s turgid war flick The Water Diviner. A cruel blow.
While I admire The Nightingale, I feel it pales in comparison to Warwick Thornton’s masterpiece Sweet Country. Plus, given that films recent win, I can’t help but feel that we need to start looking forward in an aspirational manner. What kind of Australia do we want to see going forward? Shouldn’t the ‘Best Film’ be a reflection of that? Shouldn’t the award for Australia’s greatest film prize go to the film that is distinctly Australian, and in an ideal world, shouldn’t it also reflect Australian values?
Maybe not. I don’t think that a ‘Best Film’ needs to be so stringent as to being that kind of moral compass, but I do feel that – this year in particular – there needs to be an affirmation of what kind of Australia we want going forward. The Nightingale, as good as it is, cuts a path through the colonial history of Australia, acting like a ritualistic blood letting for unhealed wounds.
For me, I see Top End Wedding as the most suitable, deserving winner. It’s a joyous fare that ends with one of the most purely optimistic and heartwarming endings I’ve seen in an Australian film in a long time. It’s about family and love, about reconnection to country. It is distinctly Indigenous, but it’s also purely Australian. It maybe wasn’t the box office smash that it should have been, but that doesn’t stop it from being a treat of a film. And, in a year when climbing on Uluru has finally ceased, I feel we should also celebrate another positive – a romantic comedy about the First Nations people of Australia, written, directed, and starring Indigenous Australians.
Best Indie Film
Should Have Been Nominated: Suburban Wildlife
Should Win: Acute Misfortune
Will Win: Buoyancy
The Best Indie Film category was introduced in 2018 as a way of recognising and celebrating the Australian films with a budget below $2 million. Jirga won that honour. In the AFI years, Jirga or West of Sunshine or Strange Colours would have been nominated in broader fields than just a cordoned off ‘Best indie Film’ category (I won’t dig into the irony of it being presented by Event Cinemas, a place where it’s likely that most of the nominees didn’t even screen). As it is, these lower budgeted films are restricted to being tokenistic inclusions in the main event – it’s almost like this is a ‘thanks for playing’ category.
This is even more apparent when a film like Acute Misfortune fails to get any nominations outside of this category. Arguably one of the finest written, directed, and acted films of 2019, Acute Misfortune deserved better than it got. Heck, all of the nominees deserved better. Personally I would have thrown Suburban Wildlife into the mix too – one of the most invigorating independent films to come out of Australia this year, working as a great companion piece to the equally independent Hot Mess – but the five nominees are all worthy.
As much as I’d like Acute Misfortune to win, I believe the honour will go to Buoyancy. Just like Jirga, Buoyancy is Australia’s submission to the International Film Award at the Oscars. With this in mind, I genuinely hope that the Best Indie Film category at the AACTA’s doesn’t turn into a calling card award to try and add a laurel to a film so it might be considered for a different award further on. This is not to say that Buoyancy isn’t worthy – it’s a solid film –, it’s just at this stage, this category feels ripe for manipulation. The AACTA’s need to ensure that in the future, the films recognised in this category aren’t given the short straw and ignored elsewhere like they have been this year. And, they also need to ensure that these films aren’t discounted from the main category simply because they had a smaller budget. With the ever changing landscape of Australian film, and the necessity for filmmakers to make their budget stretch further, it would be a disaster if this was the only way they were recognised by Australia’s top film prize.
Should Have Been Nominated: Sophie Hyde – Animals
Should Win: Jennifer Kent – The Nightingale
Will Win: Jennifer Kent – The Nightingale
The Best Direction category has always been a tight category to win, with only four nominees allowed. The four nominees for this year are all deserving, each crafting some truly stunning work. To see two first time feature filmmakers (Anthony Miras and Mirrah Foulkes) up for this award is equally brilliant. With that said, I’d have loved to have seen Sophie Hyde get a nomination for Animals. Hyde missed out on a deserving nomination for 52 Tuesdays, and I feel she was equally deserving for the underrated Animals.
But look, as great as everyone is, this is Jennifer Kent’s award to lose. Everyone else is deserving, but it’s Kent’s direction with The Nightingale that cements her as one of Australia’s finest directors. Given the poor box office for her film, and her upcoming work overseas with Guillermo del Toro, I fear that this will be it for her in Australia, which would be a real shame as she has crafted two truly essential Australian films.
Best Lead Actor
Should Have Been Nominated: Daniel Henshall – Acute Misfortune
Should Win: Baykali Ganambarr – The Nightingale
Will Win: Dev Patel – Hotel Mumbai
How Daniel Henshall wasn’t nominated here I will never know. Everyone is deserving of a nomination in this category, and hats off to them for getting one, but it’s criminal that Henshall went home lacking here.
This one is a hard category to choose as there doesn’t seem like a clear frontrunner in the mix. I’ll cross out Herriman to start off with as he has three nominations elsewhere and will easily win one of those. Hugo Weaving is certainly great in Hearts and Bones, but the lack of nominations across the board makes me feel like this is one he’ll lose. Timothee Chalamet is impressive in The King, and maybe they’ll want to reward him here to possibly boost his Oscar chances, but that seems like a stretch. So, it comes down to Dev Patel and Baykali Ganambarr. It’s a knife edge, but I’m going to say that Patel wins here, even though Ganambarr is more deserving. Both are the emotional cores of their films, the ballast that keeps their narratives afloat. But, it’s Patel’s Arjun in Hotel Mumbai that has a positive ending, whereas Ganambarr’s “Billy” suffers from a gut punch of a finale.
This could go either way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of these actors won, but given that Hotel Mumbai has thirteen nominations under its belt, I feel this is the one award they’ll walk away with.
Best Lead Actress
Should Have Been Nominated: Laura Gordon – Undertow
Should Win: Aisling Franciosi – The Nightingale
Will Win: Aisling Franciosi – The Nightingale
If there’s any proof that voters didn’t watch many of the Indie films, it’s here. Because, if they did, then they’d have nominated Laura Gordon for Undertow – easily one of the best performances in an Australian film this year. Her genuine and open performance is what makes Undertow such an engaging, powerful film.
But look, it doesn’t matter who else is nominated in this category, because the award is going to go to Aisling Franciosi for her overwhelming performance in The Nightingale. There is no performance more deserving (well, except maybe Miranda Tapsell’s infectiously endearing performance in Top End Wedding) than Franciosi’s intense portrayal of the brutalised Clare seeking revenge for the death of her family. Honestly, this is one of the great modern Australian performances, and it’s one that will be taught and referenced for decades to come.
Best Supporting Actor
Should Have Been Nominated: Sam Claflin – The Nightingale
Should Win: Andrew Luri – Hearts and Bones
Will Win: Damon Herriman – The Nightingale
I’m surprised that given the choice of disgusting heathens to choose from in The Nightingale, voters went with Damon Herriman over the truly terrifying and all too real performance delivered by Sam Claflin. Look, they’re both deserving, I’m just surprised that they chose to nominate Herriman again. With that said, I’m equally surprised they went with giving the blink and you’ll miss it performance from Ben Mendelsohn in The King a nomination over Claflin, and even over Daniel Henshall’s equally deserving co-star Toby Wallace in Acute Misfortune. Mendo’s gonna Mendo I guess.
With that in mind, I think this one is Herriman’s to lose. With four nominations spread across TV and Film, I feel they’ll want to reward him for at least one film performance, and this seems the most likely. Which is a real shame because Andrew Luri’s emotional performance in Hearts and Bones is the reason why people should seek out that film, and out of the nominees, it’s the best performance by far.
Best Supporting Actress
Should Have Been Nominated: Alia Shawkat – Animals
Should Win: Ursula Yovich – Top End Wedding
Will Win: Ursula Yovich – Top End Wedding
The lack of a nomination for either of the actresses in Animals feels like an afront to that film. It’s a wonderfully written, directed, and performed film, and to get no consideration across the board is perplexing. Equally perplexing is are some of the nominations here. I won’t circle them out, but I’m certain that one or two nominees could have shifted aside to give Alia Shawkat a nomination. Additionally, I’m surprised that Palm Beach didn’t receive any nominations at all. Love it or hate it, it’s undeniable that Greta Scacchi delivered a brilliant performance in the film.
Regardless, even if she were nominated, the award should still go to the brilliant Ursula Yovich in Top End Wedding. Yovich’s absence is felt completely throughout the film, given the search for her takes up most of the runtime, but when we finally meet her, and we finally get to see her with her family in the Tiwi Islands, the emotional impact is undeniable. Ursula Yovich is a genuine delight, and the films emotional beat hinges on her performance, and she delivers in spades. I fear that Top End Wedding will go unrewarded at the ceremony, but it’s in this category that it could and should win an award.