The 2020 AACTA Award Predictions: A Babyteeth Sweep is On the Cards

We’re going to have to get used to the obligatory mention of the current pandemic when it comes to articles about awards discussions and the like, given how much of a disruption this whole Covid thing has been to the cinema landscape. Film as a whole has been changed completely, and in our little spot of the world, Australian cinema has felt a major brunt of that impact.

Alas, as time moves forward, so does the routine of awards season, creating some form of normalcy for film lovers around the globe. Australia’s Academy Awards, the AACTA’s, has crept up on the public with little fanfare. Below I’ll run through my predictions for what will take away the big awards on the day.

(As an aside: I have touched upon the necessary interrogation of the AACTA’s elsewhere, and while I’ll try and avoid pointed criticism of the academy, I do want you to keep that in mind as I run through my predictions for this years ceremony.)

Make sure to sound off in the comments as to what you think should win, or should have been nominated, at this years AACTAs.

Best Film

Babyteeth
H is for Happiness
I Am Woman
The Invisible Man
Relic
True History of the Kelly Gang

First up is the award for Best Film, a category that features the biggest omission of the year, with Jeremy Sims superb Rams missing out on a nomination. During the nomination rounds, Rams was not made available to voters on the AACTA TV platform, and given Covid, there were precious few opportunities to see it in a theatre prior to voting. As such, Rams has been given a ‘special envoy’ to be able to be considered in the 2021 AACTA ceremony, even though Sam Neill was nominated for Best Actor.

With that out of the way, we have a bunch of stellar films up for consideration for Best Film. I’m yet to see I Am Woman, but I understand that its appearance here is akin to Ride Like a Girl’s nomination in 2019: a not entirely egregious nomination, but questionable none the less. Sure, there might be a few sympathy votes for this one given subject Helen Reddy’s passing, but it would be a huge surprise if it won.

Even more of a surprise would be the Aussie-film by stealth, The Invisible Man. Filmed in NSW, this truly excellent horror film is easily one of the finest films of the year, but like previous Best Film winners (The Great Gatsby, Hacksaw Ridge), it’s not exactly Australian enough to warrant a win.

Which leaves four uniquely Australian films.

Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang is a stellar presentation of the Ned Kelly myth, and given the wealth of nominations, it’s also a greatly respected film. But, respect doesn’t mean love, and as such, it’ll stumble as the favoured ‘Best Film’ winner.

H is for Happiness is the kind of heart-warming film that we need right now. One that’s about family, hope, and overcoming adversity. It won the coveted Cinefest Oz prize last year, and if it’s as loved as it was then, it could triumph here. But, family focused films haven’t won at the AACTA’s for a long while, and no matter how saccharine the film is, it does have its detractors. I’d love to see it win, but it’s at an outside chance at best.

Which leaves Babyteeth and Relic.

Like The Invisible Man, these two Aussie films have been garnering great attention overseas, with some critics suggesting that they’re on the list for Oscars. I feel that’s unlikely, but the critical praise for both films will put them in good stead with AACTA voters. Relic is an immediate horror classic, drawing from a familial pain akin to what Chris MacNeil went through in The Exorcist, while Babyteeth has the echoes of great Australian indie films of the past like Angel Baby and Candy, and a stellar cast as well. The industry will lap them both up, but it’ll be Ben Mendelsohn’s return to Aussie cinema in Babyteeth that’ll secure that weepie the win.

What Will Win: Babyteeth

What Should Win: Relic

What Could Win: Relic

Best Indie Film

A Boy Called Sailboat
Hot Mess
Koko: A Red Dog Story
A Lion Returns
Standing Up for Sunny
Unsound

AACTA’s indie film category is a welcome presence in the packed line-up of Aussie films with budgets. The frustrating part is that many of these films nominated deserve nominations in other categories, but these smaller films are looked over for more star studded fare. The line-up here is solid, with some of the best films of 2019 being nominated.

I’ve long sung the praises of Hot Mess, Koko: A Red Dog Story, and Standing Up for Sunny, and while they’re excellent films, I can’t see them taking the top prize here. Instead, following in the globally conscious footsteps of Jirga and Buoyancy, the warmly received A Lion Returns will take the award here.

What Will Win: A Lion Returns

What Should Win: Koko: A Red Dog Story

What Could Win: A Boy Called Sailboat

Best Director

Shannon Murphy – Babyteeth
John Sheedy – H is for Happiness
Leigh Whannell – The Invisible Man
Natalie Erika James – Relic
Justin Kurzel – True History of the Kelly Gang

The group of nominated directors are some of the finest Australia has seen. Thankfully, the AACTA’s have recognised Leigh Whannell’s direction this time round after ignoring his (arguably better) masterful Upgrade. But, a nomination is reward enough for him, and the same applies for Justin Kurzel and John Sheedy. All three have crafted meticulous films that are visually intriguing and packed with stellar performances, yet, it’s Shannon Murphy who has garnered the most praise for her work with Babyteeth, and Natalie Erika James that has stunned with her debut Relic.

The layered, gradual tension in Relic is akin to the work of seasoned directors, making Natalie Erika James arrival on the scene a grand celebration. It’s easy to compare James’ work to Jennifer Kent, but soon enough we’ll be referring to her films as her own entity, forging her own catalogue of imitators. But, the global Killing Eve-pedigree of Shannon Murphy will push her over the top to the win for Babyteeth. Her direction is assured, and her experience with actors is tangible, putting her in good stead with a large voter base of the AACTA’s, easily securing her the win.

Who Will Win: Shannon Murphy – Babyteeth

Who Should Win: Natalie Erika James – Relic

Who Could Win: Natalie Erika James – Relic

Best Actor

George McKay – True History of the Kelly Gang
Sam Neill – Rams
Richard Roxburgh – H is for Happiness
Toby Wallace – Babyteeth
Hugo Weaving – Measure for Measure

Richard Roxburgh’s gentle and reserved father figure in H is for Happiness is good enough performance from the Aussie icon, just like Hugo Weaving’s assured role as the mob-boss figure in Measure for Measure is. Both hit the right notes, and deserve their nominations, but that’s about it. George McKay’s confident and convincing Australian accent in Kelly Gang might be enough to kick him over to a win, but it all depends on how well loved the film is (again: not very much). Sam Neill gives a career defining performance in Rams, and should easily walk away with the win, but with the news that Rams will be appearing in the 2021 nomination line-up coming as voters submitted their ballots, they may wait til then to reward his performance.

Which leaves Toby Wallace. While Wallace should have been nominated last year for Acute Misfortune, his role as the scabrous boyfriend Moses in Babyteeth is certainly impactful. Wallace’s chemistry with Eliza Scanlen is undeniable, and the two create a unique presence on screen together. Over the past decade, Wallace has proved himself to be one of Australia’s great actors, and this soon to be iconic role for him will be a welcome way to celebrate his burgeoning career.

Who Will Win: Toby Wallace – Babyteeth

Who Should Win: Sam Neill – Rams

Who Could Win: George McKay – True History of the Kelly Gang

Best Actress

Tilda Cobham-Hervey – I Am Woman
Laura Gordon – Undertow
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Lupita Nyong’o – Little Monsters
Eliza Scanlen – Babyteeth

Possibly the most perplexing category of the year is the Best Actress category. First up, while Lupita Nyong’o’s enthusiastic performance in Little Monsters was charming, it did little to provide buoyance for an otherwise turgid mess of a film. I feel her Oscar pedigree was enough to secure her a nomination here, which is a genuine shame as it means that H is for Happiness’ wunderkind Daisy Axon and Relic’s ballast performance from Emily Mortimer have missed out. It’s quietly absurd that two of the finest performances in Australian films aren’t recognised here.

But, after all that whinging, it is an absolute delight to see the finest lead actress performance in an Aussie film be recognised: Laura Gordon in Undertow. Criminally underseen, this powerful film features one of the great modern Australian performances of our time with Laura Gordon stunning viewers as an emotionally fractured photographer trying to navigate a horrifying world of footballers and infidelity. This kind of performance is the type used to teach up and coming actors, and if there were any justice, Gordon would be walking away with the AACTA.

However, as has become the norm with these predictions, it’ll be Eliza Scanlen who will win for her work in Babyteeth.

Who Will Win: Eliza Scanlen – Babyteeth

Who Should Win: Laura Gordon – Undertow

Who Could Win: Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man

Best Supporting Actor

Fayssal Bazzi – Measure for Measure
Russell Crowe – True History of the Kelly Gang
Aaron Jeffery – The Flood
Ben Mendelsohn – Babyteeth
Wesley Patten – H is for Happiness

This is a solid group of nominees, with a bunch of really good performances all paired with a truly excellent one. While I’d like to have seen David Wenham gain a nod for his career best work in Dirt Music, I understand that the appreciation of that film isn’t as high as I feel it should have been. But could haves, should haves, and hopefulness means nothing when there’s a searing performance from one of the GOAT’s, Ben Mendelsohn in Babyteeth. It’s suitable that the closing moments of that film feature an embrace, followed by a breakdown like no other on film. A father losing his daughter is a devastating thing, and Mendo delivers a performance like no other. It’s been far too long since he graced our shores with a performance (The King, while technically Australian, doesn’t feel Aussie enough, making his last truly Aussie film the brilliant Adoration) and a win here might be enough to entice him back a little bit more. Mendo is typically great, and his performance in Babyteeth is one of his finest yet.

Who Will Win: Ben Mendelsohn – Babyteeth

Who Should Win: Ben Mendelsohn – Babyteeth

Who Could Win: Russell Crowe – True History of the Kelly Gang

Best Supporting Actress

Emma Booth – H is for Happiness
Essie Davis – Babyteeth
Bella Heathcote – Relic
Deborah Mailman – H is for Happiness
Doris Younane – Measure for Measure

Look, I’m not going to begrudge Deborah Mailman receiving another AACTA nomination, but her role in H is for Happiness is rather slight, leaving one to be a little perplexed as to why she’s nominated here. The only reason is that the academy really liked H is for Happiness – as they should!

Missing here is Robyn Nevin’s eerie grandmother in Relic, and Megan Smart’s simply brilliant performance in Measure for Measure. Doris Younane’s role is great, and deserving of a nomination, but to overlook Megan Smart, who provides the emotional undercurrent of the Shakespearean drama, is criminal.

As it is, the rest of the nominees are solid, with Emma Booth continuing her stellar career as a mother in mourning in H is for Happiness, Bella Heathcote impressing as a concerned granddaughter in Relic, and Essie Davis also reminding us of her brilliance as a wayward mother in Babyteeth. It’s her role that will likely secure the win, causing Babyteeth to have a major sweep in the acting categories. Which is a shame, because Emma Booth does deserve great consideration for H is for Happiness, a role that works in great contrast to her terrifying role in Hounds of Love.

Who Will Win: Essie Davis – Babyteeth

Who Should Win: Emma Booth – H is for Happiness

Who Could Win: Bella Heathcote – Relic

Best Screenplay

Babyteeth
Little Monsters
The Invisible Man
Relic
True History of the Kelly Gang

Once again, the silence from the AACTA’s about the removal of the best adapted and best original screenplay field is perplexing and absurd. This year alone would have had plenty of films suitable for either field, with H is for Happiness, Rams, True History of the Kelly Gang, and The Invisible Man alone being suitable for adapted nominations, but instead, the AACTA’s have stuck to their bizarre decision to combine the two categories, pushing out worthy nominees and ushering in a genuinely bonkers nominee with Little Monsters. How that film received a nomination above countless other films is beyond me, but I’m not going to launch into kicking a film that won’t win.

As it is, the remaining group of nominees are great, but it’s Natalie Erika James and Christian White’s script for Relic that really sticks in your mind. The minute creation of the house that twists and winds upon itself is one that’s embedded within the script itself, reflecting the labyrinthine landscape of the dementia-riddled mind. That aspect alone should be enough to secure it the win here, although don’t be surprised if Babyteeth conquers all.

Who Will Win: Relic

Who Should Win: Relic

Who Could Win: Babyteeth

From here on out, we launch into the technical categories of the awards. I’ll refrain from commenting on each entry, and will instead leave them to speak for themselves.

Best Cinematography

Babyteeth
Bloody Hell
Escape from Pretoria
H is for Happiness
The Invisible Man

Who Will Win: The Invisible Man

Who Should Win: The Invisible Man

Who Could Win: H is for Happiness

Best Editing

Babyteeth
I Am Woman
The Invisible Man
True History of the Kelly Gang
Undertow

Who Will Win: The Invisible Man

Who Should Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Could Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Best Sound

Babyteeth
I Am Woman
The Invisible Man
Relic
True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Will Win: The Invisible Man

Who Should Win: Relic

Who Could Win: Relic

Best Original Score

Babyteeth
Dirt Music
H is for Happiness
I Am Woman
True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Will Win: True  History of the Kelly Gang

Who Should Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Could Win: Dirt Music

Best Production Design

Babyteeth
I Am Woman
The Invisible Man
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears
True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Will Win: The Invisible Man

Who Should Win: The Invisible Man

Who Could Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Best Costume Design

H is for Happiness
I Am Woman
Measure for Measure
Standing up for Sunny
True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Will Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Should Win: True History of the Kelly Gang

Who Could Win: I Am Woman

Best Documentary

Brazen Hussies
Brock: Over the Top
Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky
Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra
Slim & I
Suzi Q

Who Will Win: Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra

Who Should Win: Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky

Who Could Win: Slim & I

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