20. Upgrade – dir. Leigh Whannell – 2018
Recently on Twitter, someone asked the question: other than Mad Max: Fury Road, what is the best action film of the 2010’s? And, really, the only possible answer is Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade. What makes a great action film? Well, naturally, the action (so perfectly choreographed here by Chris Anderson) is a big part, but also the performances (as proven with a stunning double whammy from Logan Marshall-Green and Simon Maiden), the direction (which is next level from Whannell), the writing (Whannell again), and the plot. Upgrade has all of that in spades, and damn, it’s just about one of the most entertaining action films of the past decade, making it essential viewing.
19. The Dressmaker – dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse – 2015
You’d think, given the wealth of rural towns and nothing out there in the Outback of Australia, that we’d have more spaghetti-Western-like films made here, but nope! We instead have depths of hell Westerns like The Proposition or Sweet Country. So, trust director Jocelyn Moorhouse to make a stand and change that entirely as she crafts a Western wish a phenomenal fashion sense in The Dressmaker. Featuring a pitch perfect duo of performances from Kate Winslet and Judy Davis, this is one of the finest modern Australian films that managed to not only entertain, but found massive audience appeal with Aussie audiences.
18. Animal Kingdom – dir. David Michôd – 2010
David Michôd’s debut film managed to not only put him on the world map, but also Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, and most importantly, gave a late career revival to Jackie Weaver. Weaver managed to secure the first of two Oscar nominations for her role as Smurf, the ever doting crim-mum to the thug group that make up the Cody family. Australia has a wealth of crime films that often romanticise the crime life, but Animal Kingdom does no such thing, ensuring to show the darkness that thrives within this criminal underbellies that exist throughout Australia.
17. It All Started With a Stale Sandwich – dir. Samantha Lang – 2019
At the time of writing, It All Started With a Stale Sandwich is the best Australian film of 2019. Given a minute release around Australia – it only had a three day run here in Perth – you’d be forgiven for not knowing about this film, but now you’re reading this list you need to put this on your map. I could go on and on why this is a pitch perfect film, but really, it’s best I point you to my lengthy review on why this documentary hit home for me. I love this film a lot, and I sure hope you do too.
16. Island of the Hungry Ghosts – dir. Gabrielle Brady – 2018
While Australia has produced a fair amount of documentaries about refugees and asylum seekers – Chasing Asylum, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe, Constance on the Edge –, it’s Gabrielle Brady’s triptych of life on Christmas Island that is the most effective. The narrative that Brady weaves is astounding, managing to explore what life is like on the remote island for the people who were born there, for the animals that call it home, and for the asylum seekers who have their journey’s conclude there. This is not an easy film to sit through, with main subject Poh Lin Lee (the islands trauma counsellor) being pushed to breaking point on more than one occasion, but this is a very important film and one that deserves your time.
15. The Babadook – dir. Jennifer Kent – 2014
I know I called Killing Ground the best Australian horror earlier up the list – and I stand by that, that film intends to terrify the living shit out of you – but that’s not to discount the horror within The Babadook. Not only is this an unsettling film about a mother, her son, and a friendly book that just appears one day, but it’s also a deep exploration of grief and trauma and the unwelcome emotional headspace that these things put people in. Has there been a better, more assured and complete debut film from a filmmaker in Australia than Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook? Probably not. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.
14. Backtrack Boys – dir. Catherine Scott – 2018
Backtrack Boys is a film that has brought me to tears just thinking about it. I saw it way back in the middle of 2018 and while I haven’t returned to it since, the ever frequently updated facebook page reminds me of the lives of the kids that are in this documentary, reminding me that their stories have carried on long after the film has finished. Catherine Scott’s gentle direction eases viewers into the world of jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft, a quiet spoken, observant, empathetic bloke who runs a youth program for wayward kids. Through the help of working dogs, Bernie helps these kids help the dogs, and in turn, they help themselves try and lead better lives. Watch this one with your family, you’ll feel full of compassion and life afterwards.
13. Goldstone – dir. Ivan Sen – 2016
At the end of Mystery Road, Detective Jay Swan is left in a state of devastation. When we meet him again in Goldstone, he’s a wreck. Dishevelled, relying on booze more than he should, and living a fractured life, he is given no choice but to head back to work and solve another crime. Aaron Pedersen gives the performance of his career in this much-welcome sequel, and he’s joined by two simply stunning performances from David Gulpilil and Tommy Lewis. Indigenous cinema went through a massive revival in the 2010’s, and it’s thanks to directors like Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins (Jasper Jones), Wayne Blair (Top End Wedding), and Warwick Thornton (We Don’t Need a Map), that this was possible. Goldstone is one of the finest films in the Indigenous Australian New Wave Movement.
12. Lion – dir. Luke Davies – 2016
One of the two Best Picture nominated films on this list, Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierly, a Calcutta kid who finds himself separated from his family, and as a missing kid, he flows into the adoption system in India, and ends up in Tasmania, a world away from his home. Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel play Saroo at different stages of his life, and both compliment each other perfectly in this genuinely heartbreaking film. While the central story of a man trying to get back to his family is powerful enough, it’s the impact of the roles that mothers play in our lives that will hit home the most. It’s impossible to not be an emotional wreck at the end of this film.
11. Berlin Syndrome – dir. Cate Shortland – 2017
For some, this might be a controversial placement of this nail biting thriller. I can accept that I might be alone with loving Cate Shortland’s third film, but it’s thanks to Shortland’s ever assured direction and Teresa Palmer’s deeply real performance that this film sits so high on this list. What initially feels like another rote ‘captured woman’ film, gradually moves into a devastating glimpse into the world of a woman who is trying to get her life back on track, only to have that path completely obliterated because of one man. Without Palmer’s performance, or the nuanced terror that comes with Max Riemelt’s villain, Berlin Syndrome would be a lesser film, but it’s thanks to these two performances, and Cate Shortland’s direction, that this is elevated above the genre trappings it could have fallen into, making it one of the finest thrillers Australia has ever seen.