Known for the outback, its vibrant cities and beautiful beaches, Australia makes an impressive backdrop for many visual arts. While it has one of the world’s most active film industries, many casual cinema goers may be hard pressed to think beyond Crocodile Dundee or Baz Luhrmann, when trying to think of Australian movies. To rectify this, here are 10 Australian movies that you should add to your viewing list.
Before Eric Bana became known for the derided Hulk movie, and several middle of the road romcoms, he made a name for himself in Chopper, a crime film based on the autobiography of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Read was a well-known figure within the Australian prison system since age 16, becoming embroiled with gangs and prison politics while on the inside. When he was released he found it difficult to readjust to civilian life. A brutal look at the Australian criminal system and one of the country’s most notorious criminals, the film, like the man and the book that inspired it, has achieved cult status. It is an intense portrait of a terrifying man.
A crime drama that showcases that Australian filmmakers are up there with the best of them in the genre. Upon release, Animal Kingdom was lauded with widespread critical acclaim, with all performances, and Jacki Weaver as the protagonist’s grandmother in particular, being praised. The story is loosely inspired by the real-life events of Melbourne’s Pettingill family. It centers on 17 year-old Joshua Cody who ends up getting involved with a notorious criminal family after his mother, who had previously also been involved with the family, dies of a heroin overdose. A complex yet gripping story that shows the different shades of the criminal underworld along with the police effort that goes on beside it.
Topping numerous ‘best of’ lists at the end of 2014, most notably that of the acclaimed film critic Mark Kermode, The Babadook put Australia on the map as a producer of fine horror films. While audiences are becoming increasingly desensitized to horror films and thus more difficult to scare, Jennifer Kent created a film that is genuinely terrifying and keeps audiences in suspense throughout. Essie Davis’ portrayal as the lead character gained praise, again showing the high calibre of Australian actresses that are coming to the fore. The mixture of a gripping story and a clear understanding of and dedication to the craft of horror making resulted in one of the finest films, let alone horrors, in recent years.
One of Mel Gibson’s earliest films before he made the leap to Hollywood superstardom, Gallipoli is a story about several men from rural Australia who enlist in the army during WWI and are shipped to the Ottoman Empire, or modern-day Turkey. Gallipoli has been praised as a coming-of-age tale for its main characters and the portrayal of their camaraderie in the trenches, during a time when the country was shattered and people were displaced. It explores the themes of Australian identity and the loss of innocence in war to create an experience that is much deeper than simply several well-choreographed action sequences, gripping though they are with their Jean-Michel Jarre accompaniment.
A film based on a poem which shows that 13 stanzas can go a long way in storytelling. The Man From Snowy River is a family feature film which looks at relationships, adventure and the responsibility of becoming a man. It was the most popular Australian film of all time until a little film called Crocodile Dundee surpassed it four years later. Kirk Douglas may be in a leading role but there is no denying that this is very much an Australian film that is proud of its country’s roots. The history and particularly stunning backdrops and horse riding sequences showcase the best of Australia, and its international success demonstrates the leaps that the country’s film industry was making in developing popular and relatable stories.
Another Russell Crowe film from his days making waves in the Australian film scene. Crime films have been prevalent throughout Australian cinema history, and their fascination with the genre has led them to produce some of the finest in the world. Romper Stomper follows a group of neo-Nazis in a blue collar Melbourne suburb who are disturbed at the way their neighbourhood is changing. It is a gritty portrayal of their lives, exploits and eventual downfall. What Australian crime does better than many other films is character and group development, all while the plot and acting develops in a naturalistic way. This film feels very true, which makes it resonate with viewers all the more.
Just as Hollywood is still trying to come to terms with its portrayal of Native Americans films, so too is Australia with Aboriginal films. Samson and Delilah is one of the comparatively few films made about Aboriginals in Australia, making quite a splash in the industry by gaining a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, as well as a number of awards at national and international film festivals. It is an astonishing survival love story about two 14 year-olds – played by first time actors – who embark on a journey away from their remote community in Central Australia after a tragic episode at home. A deep, heart-wrenching film which presents a complex portrait of what it means both to be Australian and to become an adult.
A winner of multiple awards from the Australian Film Institute including Best Lead and Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Film and Best Screenplay, which made the four year development to production process worth it. Proof is a film about the life of a blind photographer whose story is told through a series of flashbacks. The movie utilizes its inventive plotting techniques to create a dynamic character portrayal of its lead character. Much of the film is presented in black comedy style, as the main character takes pictures of the world around him as proof that it is as described to him, despite being blind, and making it a fools errand. The central actors include current Hollywood mainstays Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving.
The story behind Wake In Fright, also known as Outback, is one that is quite intriguing. It held the reputation for many years, as Australia’s lost film, due to the fact that it was unavailable on VHS or DVD, nor was it shown on TV broadcasts. In 2009 a remastered edition was given theatrical release, and later in the same year it finally got a home video release. During both its original and re-release it was met with critical acclaim. It is now regarded as a seminal film in the Australian New Wave and has been regarded by some critics as ‘the best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence.’
The Year My Voice Broke is the first of two films based on the childhood of the film’s writer and director John Duigan. Set in the early 1960s, the main story focusses on Danny, a shy adolescent boy who falls in love with his best friend, the older and blossoming Freya. Freya, however, in turn falls for a rugby player and small time criminal. The events in the film quickly snowball and characters are tested, meaning that this really serves as a coming-of-age tale for all of the main characters, though Danny’s journey is the greatest. It is a touching film about self and relationship during our most awkward years.