40. Last Cab to Darwin – dir. Jeremy Sims – 2015
There’s a lot of reasons to watch this exceptionally powerful film about the need for voluntary euthanasia, with Jeremy Sims direction and Reg Cribb’s writing being right up there, but let’s shine a light on the performances from Michael Caton and Ningali Lawford. Sure, there’s a great supporting cast including Mark Coles Smith, Jacki Weaver, and Emma Hamilton, but it’s the central bond between Caton’s Rex, and Lawford’s Polly that helps make Last Cab to Darwin a truly brilliant film. Caton is one of Australia’s great actors, as was Lawford, and uniting them together in this film allows the two to show something that’s so often missing in cinema as a whole – a tender, caring relationship between two older people. There are countless moments that’ll have you reaching for the tissue box, but the final shot of Rex and Polly sitting together is one that won’t leave your mind quickly.
39. David Stratton: A Cinematic Life – dir. Sally Aitken – 2017
Sally Aitken’s documentary, David Stratton: A Cinematic Life lives in two formats: a info packed 100 minute film, and a more extensive and exhaustive two part miniseries. Both are essential viewing, with the film working as a celebration of the life of David Stratton – Australia’s best known film critic – as well as a welcome celebration of Australian cinema. For those who are fans of either Stratton or Australian film, then this documentary works as welcome traipse down nostalgia lane, with dalliances in history lessons and misty eyed moments of memory dives. As a welcome introduction to Australian cinema, David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is essential viewing. I highly recommend watching this alongside Dancing the Invisible, the documentary about editor Jill Bilcock.
38. Down Under – dir. Abe Forsyth – 2016
Look, I know, I know, a black comedy about the Cronulla riots sounds like the worst thing ever, but director Abe Forsyth manages to mine this horrific event for every possible laugh that it could possibly have. Turns out, there’s a huge amount of laughs to be had from making fun of racist morons. To spoil some of the comedic gold would be to rob Down Under of its welcome surprises, but I’ll throw a quick mention to the gloriously uproarious reveal of Ned Kelly loving drongo Ditch’s (Justin Rosniak) new tattoo. Yeah, look, a lot of the laughs are lowest common denominator stuff, but that doesn’t meant they don’t work. A perfect companion film to the equally dark Four Lions.
37. Healing – dir. Craig Monahan – 2014
And here we have the great Don Hany leading one of the more undervalued films of 2014, Craig Monahan’s Healing. Hany plays Viktor Khadem, a low-security prisoner working his way through the path of reform. Given the opportunity to work alongside a raptor rehabilitation centre, Viktor works with Matt Perry (the ever reliable and empathetic Hugo Weaving) to learn how to work with raptors and prepare them for release. Sure, the basic concept is simple – two broken individuals (one a man, the other a bird), come together to mend each other, creating a tender bond between two unlikely companions – but the execution is what makes Healing an exceptional experience. Hany needs to be given more lead roles like this.
36. Burning Man – dir. Jonathan Teplitzky – 2011
From one heartbreaker of a film to another, we stumble upon Jonathan Teplitzky’s long forgotten film, Burning Man. Taking the lead is import Matthew Goode, an English chef who is working through a fog of grief that has consumed him. When we meet him, he’s at his lowest, turning to sex workers to try and reinvigorate his life in some way, while at the same time, he’s trying to mend the fractured relationship that he has with his son. But, before you start thinking that this is a film about the fragility of men, or anything like that, Burning Man manages to quietly reveal itself to become something more tender and heartbreaking than expected. Matthew Goode has never been better, and the always appreciated Bojana Novakovic delivers a welcome support role.
35. Women He’s Undressed – dir. Gillian Armstrong – 2015
Orry-Kelly is one of Australia’s grandest and greatest exports – and a three time Oscar winner too – is given the much needed celebration of his life in Gillian Armstrong’s documentary Women He’s Undressed. If you’re unfamiliar with the life of Orry-Kelly, then sit down and watch Women He’s Undressed with a blank slate – you’ll be thankful that you did. But, for everyone else, the relationships that make up his life are why this film is well worth sinking into. Learning about the importance of Cary Grant in his life, and in turn, how he worked with stars like Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe, you can’t help but wish that Orry-Kelly were held in higher regard. Why aren’t we talking about Orry-Kelly more? Why aren’t there buildings dedicated to Orry-Kelly? Women He’s Undressed works to celebrate the man in a way that Australia has neglected to.
34. Jungle – dir. Greg McLean – 2017
You may know Greg McLean for his Wolf Creek films, and sure, they’re solid enough to be known for, but you should probably seek out McLean’s best film – Jungle. Not only does this film contain another great performance from Daniel Radcliffe – an actor who continually appears to push himself into roles that are as far removed from Harry Potter as possible – but it contains some of the most intense, gruesome, and squeam-inducing moments in a survival tale. Based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, Jungle impresses thanks to McLean’s dedication to showing the difficulty that Ghinsberg faced when he found himself lost in the Bolivian jungle.
33. Teenage Kicks – dir. Craig Boreham – 2016
Teenage trauma and sexuality is explored in depth in Craig Boreham’s superb Teenage Kicks. Miles Szanto takes lead duties as Miklós Varga, a teen who experiences tragedy, and in turn, tries to navigate his grief, all the while grappling with his own sexuality. It’s rare to see bisexual relationships on screen, and it’s powerful to see Teenage Kicks display bisexuality so openly and delicately. There were a wealth of great LGBTIQA+ films in the 2010’s – I struggled to find places on this list for Remembering the Man, Holding the Man, and Gayby Baby, but they’re welcome mentions – but it’s Craig Boreham’s Teenage Kicks that stands tall above all else. Also, as an aside, can we please put Shari Sebbens in more films? Thank you.
32. The Rover – dir. David Michôd – 2014
Part of the reason why The Rover is one of the finest films of the 2010’s comes at its gut punch of a final reveal. If you haven’t seen The Rover, then read Jonathan Spiroff’s review as to why you should. If you have seen it, then feel free to read on. The events of the film follows Guy Pearce’s gruff and grim weathered post apocalypse man as he tracks down the people who stole his car. The plot appears slight, and we can’t help but ask, why on earth would you hunt down a car when you could just steal someone elses? But, when he finally gets his car back, we find that the reason he engaged in so much violence to get his ride back was not for the car itself, but its cargo – the body of his dog. In a world where nothing holds value anymore, it’s an emotional gut punch to see a man work so hard for the one thing that he held dear, the body of his companion, his friend, the only purpose to stay alive – his dog.
31. Paper Planes – dir. Robert Connolly – 2014
Director Robert Connolly is one of Australia’s finest directors, often working in the realm of adult drama. This alone is the reason why Paper Planes is one of the most entertaining films of the 2010’s – it’s a kids film, but it’s a kids film through the perspective of adult eyes. A depressed father, Jack (the never better Sam Worthington), tries his best to help raise his kid, Dylan (Ed Oxenbould), and together they find the art of paper plane making. The art of making the perfect paper plane takes Jack and Dylan all over Australia from the outback of WA, to Sydney, to Japan. It’s a deceptively simple film that’s full of heart, compassion, and awareness of the difficulties of living with a mental illness. Easily one of the finest kids films Australia has ever produced.