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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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