With a few months still left to go in 2019, and with those months, a wealth of Australian films yet to come (The Nightingale, Ride Like a Girl, Little Monsters, The Faceless Man, Nekromantik, The Naked Wanderer, Buoyancy, The Emu Runner), and with a few stragglers that have missed my eyes over the past few years, I’ve decided to wrap up this years #AUSgust – the Australian Film Month, with a glimpse into the current best Australian films of the past decade.
As there are still many Australian films that I’m yet to see, this isn’t a definitive list, but instead will be a changing one, with the final top 50 films list to be published in the New Year.
Until then, here is the current Top 50 Australian Films of the 2010’s.
50. Red Dog: True Blue – dir. Kriv Stenders – 2016
There is no more prolific Australian director than Kriv Stenders. In the 2010’s alone, he directed five feature films, a documentary, and then on top of that, worked on eight television series. I’m certain I’m missing a few here and there, but the guy works hard. Which is why a rare Aussie sequel, Red Dog: True Blue, stands out so much. The first film is a modern Aussie classic, but for my money, it’s True Blue that is the better film. Working as a prequel to the AACTA Award winning film, True Blue shows us what it means to grow up with a dog, and paints a curious picture of the history of Western Australia’s relationship with mining. Visually stunning, and packing just as much of an emotional gut punch as the first film, Red Dog: True Blue is a rare sequel that is better than the first film.
49. The Mule – dir. Tony Mahony – 2014
Oddly, there are a few entries on this list that have some truly nausea inducing scenes. But, none of the other entries will make you revisit your lunch as much as Tony Mahony’s The Mule will. Following reluctant drug mule, Ray Jenkins (co-writer, Angus Sampson), The Mule thrusts you knee deep in the torturous imprisonment he finds after returning home to Australia, after he has been arrested at the airport by sweaty and sleazy Detective Tom Croft (Hugo Weaving). Locked up in an airport motel, Jenkins has to play a waiting game as police officers watch over him 24/7, waiting for him to evacuate his bowels and provide them with the goods that’ll confirm his arrest. In one gruelling sequence, as a police officer sleeps in the corner, and Jenkins craps the condom covered drugs out, and terrified of being caught with them, he has to eat the shit covered contraband. This is as pitch black a comedy as you’ll ever find, and with brilliant performances all round, and taut direction, The Mule is as uncomfortable as it gets.
48. Downriver – dir. Grant Scicluna – 2015
Director Grant Scicluna’s tender and terrific drama, Downriver, slipped past audiences unfairly. With a stunning central performance from Reef Ireland as James, Downriver tells the story of a man who has just been released from prison after drowning a young boy when he was a kid. Returning to the scene of the crime, and suffering from trauma that has removed the memory of the event from his mind, James tries to piece together what happened to try and help give the boys grieving mother a chance to heal. As with Teenage Kicks, Downriver is a welcome addition to the pantheon of LGBTIQA+ Australian cinema, and just like Teenage Kicks, I can’t wish that Grant Scicluna (and Craig Boreham) were given more opportunities to make films in this country.
47. Ali’s Wedding – dir. Jeffrey Walker – 2017
Don Hany had a great decade of work, making a welcome name for himself on TV with roles in Picnic at Hanging Rock, Secret City, and Strike Back, but in the realm of cinema, he delivered two of the best performances in two of the best films – Ali’s Wedding and Healing. In Ali’s Wedding, Hany played Mahdi, the titular characters father, and while the film is mostly focused on the true story of Osamah Sami’s roller coaster journey to marry the woman he loves, it’s Hany’s performance that centres the heart of the film. Ever the reliable actor, Don Hany is tender, caring, supportive, and most importantly, understanding, as the father who wants to honour his religion, support his family, and yet, try and give his family the best life they deserve. On top of all of this, Ali’s Wedding is one of the most joyous comedies of the decade. A genuine treat of a film.
46. Broke – dir. Heath Davis – 2016
Outside of Kriv Stenders, there’s no harder working indie filmmaker in Australia than Heath Davis. With the triple punch of Broke, Book Week, and then Locusts, Davis has made a name for himself in his support and dedication to Australian independent film. Book Week is a comedic treat, and Locusts is a sand drenched crime thriller, but it’s Davis’ debut film, Broke, that stands up tall as the one to watch. A central performance from a never better Steve Le Marquand as the ex-footy player Ben Kelly is reason alone to watch Broke, with Davis’ direction and writing furthering the point why these are talents that you need to keep an eye on. Dragged down by a crippling gambling addiction, Ben tries to rework his life and free himself from the grip of gambling addiction. The true to life reality of gambling addiction, and the post-sports life that footy stars face, makes Broke a desperately real film, but one that’s peppered with welcome comedic moments.
45. Beast – dir. Sam McKeith, Tom McKeith – 2015
Sometimes filmmakers and actors appear like a spirit in the night, and then disappear before you know it, never to be seen or heard from again. This seems to be the case with directors Sam and Tom McKeith, and boxer turned actor Chad McKinney, with their film Beast. Like a few of the films on this list, Beast appeared and disappeared before anyone could witness the brilliant performance from McKinney as young Manila boxer, Jaime, or the superb taut direction from the brother team. There’s a welcome supporting turn from Garret Dillahunt who plays Jaime’s father, Rick, who is also his boxing trainer, and who forces Jaime to throw a fight. The rest of the film follows Jaime as he tries to escape his father and get himself on a safer path. This is a low down flick that deserved much more attention than it got.
44. Scare Campaign – dir. Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes – 2016
Scare Campaign consistently feels like a film that is waiting rediscovery. A fantastically economical film that simply does not waste any second of its eighty minute run time, Scare Campaign is a frightful feast of a film that has everything from manic killers, jump scares, joyous gore, and creepy comedy. It’s the kind of film that is best watched not knowing what you’re getting in for, especially given the plot skips around from one twist to another, always leaving you surprised. The Cairnes brothers have not had another film since Scare Campaign, and it’s a crying shame – this kind of talent and energy with horror films in Australia is a rarity. It’s never too late to discover this treat of a film and then get your friends on board with it.
43. Three Summers – dir. Ben Elton – 2017
The West Australian-centric, Ben Elton written and directed, folk music comedy extravaganza, Three Summers, is one genuine treat of a film. It’s full of sublime comedic moments – particularly from the always reliable Magda Szubanski to the ever entertaining Adriane Duff – that is set against one of the most beautiful backdrops in Australian cinema, the South West of Australia. Look, Ben Elton is obviously a comedic genius, and he doesn’t fault at all with Three Summers, but what really cements this film as a genuine great is his love and affection for Australia as a whole. As someone who lives down in Freo, and has called Australia home for decades, Elton is as Aussie as they come, and his care and attention to Indigenous rights makes Three Summers a genuinely inclusive comedy that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
42. Here I Am – dir. Beck Cole – 2011
The direction by Beck Cole, and the performances from Shai Pittman, Marcia Langton, and Vanessa Worrall, in Here I Am are reason enough to watch this superb film, but if there’s one scene that really makes this a ‘must see’ film, it’s this one: A room full of women, all survivors of abuse, or trauma, all suffering in their own ways, all trying to find a positive path in their life, unite in a room, singing over a bottle of booze and finding solace in each other. As the night rolls on, Betty Sumner’s Anita stands tall amongst her friends, and demands the radio be turned up high so she can sing along to Archie Roach’s Walking Into Doors. It’s one of the most powerful moments in Australian cinema, devastating with its beauty and warmth, and one that’ll leave you weeping. Here I Am is a gem of a film, and one that deserves rediscovery.
41. [censored] – dir. Sari Braithwaite – 2018
Out of all the films on this list, Sari Braithwaite’s [censored] might be the hardest to track down. It played at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival in 2018, and had scattered screenings around Australia, and has yet to resurface. Which is a crying shame as this documentary posits that we all should pay more attention to what is being omitted from the films and television that we watch. It asks us to consider the hyper-masculinity of cinema, of how the masculine eye demands we observe this, that, and the other, as men. It suggests that we question the minds that decide what we watch. Most importantly, it suggests that we reassess the literature that we’ve consumed and engaged with over the decades, questioning what we’ve become accustomed to. If you do get a chance to see [censored], don’t miss it.