Best Australian Films Ever
The 100 Greatest Australian Films of All Time
Main source: Curnblog.com
"Forty Thousand Horseman" (1940). Charles Chauvel
Grant Taylor as Red Gallagher, Chips Rafferty as Jim (centre) and Pat Twohill as Larry
The best australian film ever, perhaps
"The Story of the Kelly Gang" (1906). Charles Tait, Millard Johnson, W.A. Gibson
This film, which details the events that led to the demise of Australia’s notorious 19th century bushranger, Ned Kelly, is most notable for being the first feature-length film ever made. Which means it’s probably also the very first feature film to be banned – a year after its release, complaints that the film glorified crime and incited criminal activities resulted in its being removed from circulation in many parts of Australia.
Unfortunately, no complete print of the film exists, but anybody with an interest in Australian film should get a copy of the most complete version.
"The Sentimental Bloke" (1919). Raymond Longford
Generally revered as Australia’s most significant silent film, Raymond Longford directs this irreverent celebration of the Aussie character. The narrative is simple enough – Bill, a drunken “larrikin” headed down a path of self-destruction, must correct his behaviour in order to win the love of a woman.
"For the Term of His Natural Life" (1927). Norman Dawn
Based on the Marcus Clarke novel of the same name, this is a landmark for Australian silent film. The film follows the adventures of Rufus Dawes, a man wrongly convicted of murder who is subsequently sent to an Australian prison colony. For those with an interest in Australian history, both this film, and the source novel are well worth the time.
"His Royal Highness" (1932). F. W. Thring
W. Thring directs this light musical comedy starring the charming George Wallace. Wallace plays a stagehand who, after taking a knock to the head, dreams up a fantasy world in which he is a great king. This might lack the formal sophistication of similar films of the era, but it beautifully encapsulates the irreverent Australian spirit.
"In the Wake of the Bount" (1933). Charles Chauvel
This early feature film – an account of the events that unfolded during the Mutiny on the Bounty in 1789 – is most notable for the debut of Robin Hood himself, Australia’s own Errol Flynn. It was only two years later that he became a star with the release of Captain Blood.
"Kokoda Front Line!" (1942). Ken G. Hall
Kokoda Front Line, a very short documentary made during the height of WWII, was the first Australian film to ever receive an Academy Award. But in retrospect, the film’s most significant contribution is in providing contemporary audiences with a greater understanding of the local perspective during this tumultuous period.
"Forty Thousand Horseman" (1940). Charles Chauvel
Charles Chauvel was one of the finest early Australian filmmakers, and this (along with Jedda) marks the highpoint of his career. Chauvel introduces us to three young men assigned to the Australian Lighthorse Cavalry during WWI, who wind up fighting at the Battle of Beersheba. It is here that they partake in what has often been (wrongly) referred to as the last successful cavalry charge in history. The subject matter was particularly pertinent at the time, given the onset of WWII a year earlier – a fact that leads many to view the film as propaganda.
"The Overlanders" (1946). Harry Watt
Released after the end of WWII, this Harry Watt directed classic provides an account of the adventures of a group of drovers during the war. As things heat up, the group elect to move their 100,000 cattle away from Northern Australia in the fear that a Japanese invasion from the north is inevitable.
Interestingly, the film’s production was initiated by complaint to the British government that Australia’s contribution to the war effort was not being sufficiently recognised. Those who’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s Australia may recognise that he has borrowed heavily from The Overlanders.
"Bush Christmas" (1947). Ralph Smart
In some ways, this film occupies a similar place in Australian culture to that which It’s A Wonderful Life plays in the United States. Making an appearance each year around Christmas time, Bush Christmas follows the innocent adventures of five kids in pursuit of horse thieves. The filmmaking is simple and the acting is stilted, but there is something incredibly authentic and moving about the film’s representation of a far simpler way of life. Special stuff.
"Jedda" (1955). Charles Chauvel
While this trailer is quite offensive by contemporary standards, it’s worth noting that Jedda was significantly more progressive than it appears (it was also the first Australian film to be shot in colour, despite the trailer).
The film’s plot is particularly loaded when viewed retrospectively by an audience aware of the horrible injustices that resulted in the Stolen Generation. When Jedda’s mother dies, circumstances result in her being raised by a white woman, who attempts to shut Jedda off from her indigenous culture. Soon enough, Jedda’s curiosity leads her to find out more about where she came from. She falls in love with a half-caste stockman, but a tragedy prevents them from being together.
"On The Beach" (1959). Stanley Kramer
Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins star in this Stanley Kramer directed apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by nuclear war, in which the crew of an American submarine escape from the initial catastrophe and station themselves in Melbourne, Australia (the hometown of Yours Truly). As unsurvivable radiation approaches, the residents of the city attempt to ignore their own impending doom. However, when a strange signal begins to emanate from the supposedly obliterated city of San Francisco, the crew of the submarine elect to investigate.
Given a lukewarm reception at the time, On the Beach is now regarded as an undeniably significant Cold War entry into the apocalyptic genre.
"The Sundowners" (1960). Fred Zinneman
Some shaky accents aside, Fred Zinneman’s account of the lives of a family of Australian drovers is still looked on with great affection and enthusiasm by a country that hadn’t received quite such glamorous international attention before. Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Peter Ustinov all play key roles in this epic look at the lives of Aussie battlers.
"They’re A Weird Mob" (1966). Michael Powell
The second last collaboration between Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, They’re A Weird Mob would be a near perfect way to end this list if Powell hadn’t returned to make another film just three years later. Bridging the gap between the innocence of early Australian cinema, and the creative rupture that came with the Australian New Wave of the 1970s, this outsider’s look at 60s Aussie culture is a must see for anybody with even a passing interest.
The narrative concerns the arrival of an Italian writer to Australia in the mid-60s. Unfortunately, the job he’d lined up has evaporated, and this enthusiastic immigrant is forced to make his own way. Always funny, and occasionally scathing, this is exceptional cinema.
"Age of Consent" (1969). Michael Powell
Michael Powell returns to Australia once more for this affable tale of an Australian artist (James Mason) attempting to recapture his mojo, and the young woman who promises to be his next muse. Uneven, eccentric, and another example of the difficulties of the Australian accent (there is a common tendency for people to misinterpret it as somewhere between cockney and South African), this is a delightful piece of cinema despite itself, and a great way to cap things off before entering into the Australian New Wave cinema of the 1970s.
"Walkabout" (1971). Nicolas Roeg
Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of James Vance Marshall’s novel starts in a far more acrid manner than its source material. While the novel sees two children stranded in the outback by a plane crash, the film has them taken out to the desert by their deranged father, who intends to kill them before taking his own life. Presumably, Roeg wanted to emphasise the disparity between the madness of the civilised world and that of the native boy who helps these stranded children survive in the outback. He succeeds magnificently – the film is flawless. And the young indigenous boy, David Gulpilil, would soon enough become an iconic actor of the Australian screen.
Admittedly, Roeg isn’t an Australian director, but the nature of the subject matter makes this an appropriate addition to the list.
"Wake in Fright" (1971). Ted Kotcheff
Another contribution from a non-Australian director, Ted Kotcheff brings us his vision of a nightmarish rural Australia, in which the affable larrikinism of an outback community conceals chronic alcohol abuse and degenerate behaviour fuelled by boredom. The narrative covers the events of one day and one night, when an educated Sydney man finds himself temporarily stranded in the aforementioned town. His initial contempt evaporates as circumstances see him become complicit in the behaviour he once saw fit to judge. Stunning cinema – read more here.
"The Adventures of Barry McKenzie" (1972). Bruce Beresford
Bruce Beresford directs this irresistible adaptation of the infamous Barry Humphries’ scripted comic strip. Barry McKenzie, a deliberately exaggerated representation of the typical ocker Australian of the 1970s, travels with his aunt Edna (soon to be Dame Edna) to experience the cultural offerings of England. Neither country escapes unscathed in this crass but very endearing comedy classic.
"Alvin Purple" (1973), aka "The Sex Therapist". Tim Burstall
If Barry McKenzie is crass, then Alvin Purple skates the fine line between crass and soft-porn. Cashing in on the sexual liberation of the 60s (which in Australia didn’t really arrive until the early 70s) Graeme Blundell stars at the young man whose remarkable sexual magnetism sees him unable to escape the perpetual advances of naked women. Blundell’s natural innocence makes this far more amusing than one might expect, even if what were once perceived to be progressive representations of sexuality now look decidedly backwards. Not exactly profound stuff, but it was unique enough to make this the most commercially successful Australian of all time, up to that point.
"The Cars That Ate Paris" (1974). Peter Weir
Early on in his career Peter Weir directed this satirical tale of a rural town with the ironic name of Paris, in which the locals survive by deliberately causing car accidents and salvaging the wrecks. A must see, if only for the crazy cars!
"Stone" (1974). Sandy Harbutt
One of many films on this list that might prove contentious, what Stone lacks in technical proficiency it makes up in sheer audacity. One time feature film director, Sandy Harbutt, also stars as the cop who goes undercover and joins a bikie gang in order to investigate a murder. Hated by critics, and lapped up by Australian audiences, the film rode heavily on the use of real-life bikies as actors and extras. Much has also been made of the similarities between this film and Mad Max, with many believing the latter would never have existed without this film.
As mentioned earlier, in the period following the silent era through to the 1960s, the Australian film industry was in a period of slow entropic decline. The films made during this subsequent Australian New Wave were quite diverse, however it is Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock that is held up as the most exemplary example of the period.
Set during the 19th century, and based on a Cliff Green novel of the same name, the film relates the eerie story of three girls who go missing during a school excursion to Hanging Rock, a natural landmark to be found in rural Victoria, Australia. Loaded with a palpable sense of repressed sexuality, the film’s tone and ambiguous conclusion result in a truly unique sense of mystery. Released under the guise of being a true story (a tactic that has been repeated a thousand times since), the film resonated not only with local audiences, but at an international level as well.
"The Devil’s Playground" (1976). Fred Schepisi
Fred Schepisi has had some success in the US with films like Roxanne (1987) and Fierce Creatures (1997), but well before all that he directed this (partially) autobiographical coming-of-age drama about a young boy attending a catholic seminary. Tensions between sexuality and faith are dealt with in a frank and non-sensationalistic manner, and Schepisi’s first feature has come to be recognised as a significant achievement.
"Storm Boy" (1976). Henry Safran
Growing up, this was a film that tended to occasionally pop-up at odd hours of the day or night, and I’d seen it many times in fragments before actually watching it from beginning to end. Based on a book by Colin Thiele, Henri Safran presents us with the tale of a young boy living with his reclusive father on the South Australian Coast. When he takes on the duty of looking after a group of young pelicans, he must deal with the rewards and dramas that come with such a responsibility.
"Mad Dog Morgan" (1976). Phillipe Mora
Dennis Hopper travelled to Australia at the height of his drug-addled phase to star in this Phillipe Mora directed oddity. Skirting an odd line between quality cinema and Ozploitaiton, there is something about the hysterical performance of Hopper that keeps the film afloat. The plot? The life and times of infamous bushranger, Dan “Mad Dog” Morgan.
Hopper was something of a disgrace during his time in Australia, and was eventually deported after a violent drunken night that included a rowdy visit to the gravesite of the real Dan Morgan. Hopper once claimed that while he was in Australia he was caught driving with a blood-alcohol content so high that he was the first person in the nation’s history to be banned from driving for life. This is very unlikely, but it’s a good story.
"Don’s Party" (1976). Bruce Beresford
Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of the David Williamson play of the same name might not resonate with viewers much today, but at the very least it’s a fascinating look at the cultural zeitgeist of mid-70s Australia.
When Don decides to hold a party on the night of the Australian 1969 election, the ideological tensions between his guests become quite apparent.
"Long Weekend" (1978). Colin Eggleston
Colin Eggleston directs this Everett De Roche scripted Ozploitation classic. A married couple, whose relationship is clearly in a state of decay, elect to spend a weekend camping. Soon enough, their obnoxious arguments and lack of respect for the natural world seem to be inciting nature to react… violently.
"The Last Wave" (1977). Peter Weir
A bizarre fusion of paranoia and apocalyptic imagery combine in this unique effort from Peter Weir. When a lawyer finds himself representing a group of aboriginal men on trial for murder, he develops some kind of transcendental connection with one of the men, played by David Gulpilil. Was the dead men killed via a curse, and does recent strange weather suggest the beginnings of an apocalyptic end to civilisation? Fascinating stuff!
"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" (1978). Fred Schepisi
Fred Schepisi directs another classic, this time the late 19th century set tale of a young aboriginal man attempting to ingratiate himself into the white community, only to be continually exploited. Eventually snapping and committing an act of murder, the young man’s mistake sees him become an outlaw.
This is based on Thomas Keneally’s book of the same name, based upon the actual events that resulted in the demise of Jimmy Governor during the same period. International readers will best know Keneally for Schindler’s Ark, which would later be adapted by Steven Spielberg into Schindler’s List.
"The Getting of Wisdom" (1978). Bruce Beresford
Bruce Beresford directs this coming-of-age tale, detailing the trials and tribulations of a young girl enrolled in a prestigious girls’ school in late 19th century Melbourne. Presented with a cheeky emphasis on the unintentional manifestations of sexuality in a more repressed time, The Getting of Wisdom holds up remarkably well.
"Mad Max" (1979). George Miller
This was a no-brainer, of course. George Miller’s low-budget exploitation film, set in some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, stood out primarily due to disproportionately good cinematography and stunt-work. Watching this trailer, it’s interesting to note that it has an American-redub, a tactic used in the American market to better engage with local audiences.
"My Brilliant Career" (1979). Gillian Armstrong
Women are far under-represented in early Australian cinema (or most cinema for that matter), so Gillian Armstrong’s contribution is a welcome addition. Judy Davis plays a young woman in late-19th century Australia, who openly flaunts her dreams of a far more grandiose and independent life than the one she is currently living. When the arrival of a handsome man on the scene makes things far more complicated, a difficult decision must be made. Based upon the novel of the same name by famed Australian author and feminist, Miles Franklin.
"Breaker Morant" (1980). Bruce Beresford
During the Boer War, three men are put on trial for the unauthorised execution of prisoners. While there is no question that they committed the act, it soon becomes clear the prisoners are scapegoats for a much more institutionalised problem. Told with a uniquely Australian dryness, this may still be the finest work of Bruce Beresford’s filmmaking career.
"The Club" (1980). Bruce Beresford
This one will admittedly be quite inaccessible to non-Australian audiences. Bruce Beresford takes the reigns of this seminal, but perhaps rather archaic looking film about Australian Rules Football. Dissecting the nature of the game and the politics behind the scenes, the script is an adaptation of the David Williamson play of the same name. Aussies may notice the appearance of many significant Australian performers, including Graham Kennedy, Jack Thompson and John Howard (the actor, not the former Prime Minister).
"Road Games" (1981). Richard Franklin
Richard Franklin, perhaps best known for his direction of the first Pyscho sequel, first proved his credentials with this Hitchcockian thriller starring Jamie-Lee Curtis and Stacy Keach. Everett De Roche’s screenplay combines beautifully with Franklin’s cold-gaze in this tale of a truck-driver and hitchhiker who find themselves in a cat-and-mouse game with a deranged serial killer.
"Puberty Blues" (1981). Bruce Beresford
Bruce Beresford directs another wonderful coming-of-age film, set against the backdrop of a far younger and more innocent Australia. Driven not so much by plot as it is by the day-to-day activities of teenagers attempting to garner the attentions of the opposite sex, this film provides a timeless window into a vision of youth that is both radically different and incredibly familiar in the present day.
"Gallipoli" (1981). Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s tale of a young athlete (Mel Gibson) who enlists in the military during WWI is held in high-esteem by Australians of all ages – and for very good reason. The Battle of Gallipoli is recognised to this day in Australia as one of the defining moments in the formation of this very young nation’s identity, and has contributed significantly to the country’s egalitarian ethos – the belief in the ‘Aussie Battler’. Weir captures this spirit in a film that recognises the sacrifices made by the more than 10,000 Australian and New Zealand troops who died during the Gallipoli campaign.
"Turkey Shoot" (1982). Brian Trenchard-Smith
What is one of the worst Australian films of all time doing on a 100 Greatest Australian Films of All Time list? Ironic appreciation goes a long way, folks. Brian Trenchard-Smith’s train-wreck dystopian vision of a world in which political prisoners are hunted down by bored billionaires is much loved for many reasons: cheap and gratuitous gore, awful dialogue, a hairy animal-man… the list goes on. Beware the remake… Ozploitation aside, sometimes irony isn’t enough.
"The Road Warrior" (1982). George Miller
George Miller’s follow-up to the immensely successful Ozploitation film, Mad Max, ups the ante considerably. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that seems decidedly more camp and expensive than its predecessor, the punk-aesthetic of this film has had a major impact on the genre in the decades that have followed.
Here Max has abandoned his role as a police officer (some argue that he isn’t really even the same man – much like Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy) and now roams the desert looking for food, water and petrol. When he encounters a group of survivors living within an oil refinery, desperately fighting off the advances of a small army led by the psychotic Humungus, Max must fight for justice once more.
"The Man from Snowy River" (1982). George T. Miller
The incredible poem by Banjo Paterson, Australia’s most esteemed poet, is brought to life in this naïve Western. Gorgeous Australian vistas and simple values go along way to counterbalancing the general silliness of the narrative. Kirk Douglas’ presence lends the film a prestige it might not have otherwise.
"The Year of Living Dangerously" (1982). Peter Weir
Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver star as an Australian journalist and a British embassy worker, who find themselves in Jakarta amidst the chaos of the 30 September Movement in 1965. Linda Hunt is oddly but effectively cast as Billy Kwan, a male dwarf whose exceptional connections prove to be a serious asset in Gibson’s search for a good story. The narrative crux really lies in the tensions between Gibson’s ambition, ethics, and the relationship between Gibson and Weaver. Peter Weir directs with his typically spare style, often proceeding in a manner that seems counter-intuitively dry when compared to traditional Hollywood productions.
"Razorback" (1984). Russell Mulcahy
A giant pig roams the outback tearing innocent people to pieces, whilst a pair of psychotic locals do much the same in their oversized tank of a vehicle. What’s not to like about that? Russell Mulcahy’s entry into the giant-animal canon is an admirable one, even if the film’s stunning cinematography seriously outflanks its narrative or performances. Check out a complete review here.
"Where the Green Ants Dream" (1984). Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog’s eccentric addition to Australian cinema sees a mining company attempt to take over territory considered sacred by an aboriginal community. By their reckoning, destroying the sanctity of this land for the purposes of mining may bring about the end of the world. Herzog’s interpretation of aboriginal culture in this film was the subject of some debate at the time – he tends to create and conflate customs for his own purposes – but there is no denying the director’s passion for interpreting the natural world through a mystical lens.
"Malcolm" (1986). Nadia Tass
Nadia Tass made her directorial debut with this affable Melbourne-based comedy about Malcolm (Colin Friels), a shy but brilliant young man who works for the city’s public transportation network. When Malcolm is found to have driven a miniature tram of his own making on Melbourne’s tram tracks, he loses his job and is forced to take on a boarder. The two of them find a great new use for Malcolm’s ingenuity – robbery.
"Dead End Drive-In" (1986). Brian Trenchard-Smith
At the other end of the Australian New Wave from Picnic at Hanging Rock, a subsidiary movement of low-budget exploitation filmmaking was taking place. It’s now commonly known as the era of Ozploitation, a category comprised of nudie flicks, cheap action movies and nasty horror films. But as a general rule, these films were exceptionally fun in an ugly sort of way, and Dead End Drive-In is almost certainly the finest of the lot.
The premise: In the future, disenfranchised youths are tricked into seeing movies at a drive-in that is converted into a prison slum over night. While the majority are content to wallow away the hours in captivity, one young man is unwilling to succumb to the oppression of the state. Beautifully shot and surprisingly well paced, this is one that shouldn’t be missed.
"Dogs in Space" (1986). Richard Lowenstein
The late Michael Hutchence stars in this Melbourne-based grungy classic – a look at the lives of a group of musos and layabouts living in the suburb of Richmond (looking substantially less gentrified than it does today). Decadence, punk rock and chaos ensue. Richard Lowenstein captures something quintessentially ‘Melbourne’ here… although some of the film’s qualities may be lost on international audiences.
"Crocodile Dundee" (1986). Peter Faiman
There are many people who love this film. I’m not one of them, but there is no denying the cultural impact that Paul Hogan’s cute Australian caricature has had abroad. By now, most are probably familiar with the story of an American reporter who travels to Australia to cover a story about a mysterious crocodile hunter. Circumstances eventually lead both her and Crocodile Dundee back to New York city where various fish-out-of-water scenarios play out. Fun, light entertainment that resonated more strongly than could possibly have been expected.
"Ghosts… of the Civil Dead" (1986). John Hillcoat
Long before directing The Proposition or The Road, John Hillcoat had already proved his worth with Ghosts… an indictment of the prison system that plays almost like a dystopian nightmare. The plot concerns a maximum-security prison placed into lockdown, in which the prisoners are deliberately provoked by the institution into acts of extreme violence. This is intense viewing by any measure.
"The Year My Voice Broke" (1987). John Duigan
John Duigan directs this poignant coming-of-age tale set in rural New South Wales. Danny (Noah Taylor) is a shy teenager, desperately in love with Freya (Loene Carmen), a young woman who is far more interested in another guy. The other guy is a degenerate whose bad-boy ways appeal to the girl, resulting in her being impregnated just prior to his being arrested. Danny comes to Freya’s aid, as the awkward relationship between the trio becomes ever more complicated. Danny’s adventures continue in a sequel, Flirting (1990).
"Les Patterson Saves the World" (1987). George T. Miller
Barry Humphries is far better known for his Dame Edna character than he is for Les Patterson, an obnoxious, regressive politician that began as a parody of similar figures in the 80s. And there’s good reason for that – Patterson is an offensive relic unlikely to garner affection from anybody. All of which goes some of the way to explaining why this film was condemned by just about everybody upon its initial release. I’d argue that there is a difference between an offensive film, and a film that satirises offensive ideals… but I don’t think I’m going to change too many minds about this one.
Either way, George Miller directs this tale of Les Patterson, whose drunken antics in a United Nations forum see him assigned a post in the politically unstable nation of Abu Niveah. When the government is overthrown by Colonel Richard Godowni, Patterson finds himself in the midst of an international plot to spread a terrible disease to nations around the world.
"Evil Angels", aka "A Cry in the Dark" (1988). Fred Schepisi
Fred Schepisi directs this account of the circumstances that surrounded the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, and the subsequence trial (by both court and media) of Azaria’s parents. Meryl Streep plays Lindy Chamberlain with restraint and skill (although the accent is a little wonky), and Sam Neill is strong in the role of the father. The film is now most famous for that one line which formed the crux of Lindy’s defence: “A dingo ate my baby!”
"Dead Calm" (1989). Phillip Noyce
Phillip Noyce directs this taught thriller, starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill and Billy Zane. Kidman and Neill play a traumatised couple who have recently lost their child. As part of the recovery process they go on a sailing trip, only to encounter a seemingly abandoned ship in the middle of the ocean. Here they encounter Billy Zane, who claims to be the only survivor of a food poisoning epidemic. However, as time goes on it becomes clear that Zane’s tale is unlikely. Somewhere between The Knife in the Water (1962), Don’t Look Now (1973) and a shonky Halloween sequel – this is great fun.
"The Big Steal" (1990). Nadia Tass
Nadia Tass makes the list twice for this light Australian teen comedy classic. When Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) asks Joanna (Claudia Karvan) out on a date, he makes one small mistake – in the heat of the moment he tells her that he owns a Jaguar. Queue various hijinks as Danny attempts to procure a Jag and arrange the perfect date. Great fun!
"Proof" (1991). Jocelyn Moorhouse
Admittedly, I was introduced to this film as a young man in a secondary school class on film appreciation… I was less than impressed. But, like many of the works that were destroyed for me in school, it is far more interesting upon a return visit. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, who is probably best known internationally for How to Make an American Quilt. Moorhouse does a find job in this quirky tale of a distrustful blind man (Hugo Weaving) who seeks proof of the world’s realities through photography. When he befriends somebody (Russell Crowe) who is adept at describing the contents of these photographs back to him, his disturbed and infatuated housekeeper, Geneviève Picot, takes matters into her own hand. There is something quite “Hal Hartley” about this one.
"Romper Stomper" (1992). Geoffrey Wright
And then there was Russell. Geoffrey Wright directs this nightmarish descent into the minds of a group of neo-Nazis. Wright never flinches or softens blows in his depiction of this morally bankrupt collective, and Russell Crowe delivers a terrifying career-best performance as Hando, the gang’s patriarch.
"Strictly Ballroom" (1992). Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann’s first, most restrained, and best film is an undeniable Australian classic. Paul Mercurio plays the dancer whose breaks with tradition are not accepted within the ballroom dancing community. When he partners with Fran (Tara Morice), a nerdy dancing fan, they take on the institution with a whole new set of moves.
"Bad Boy Bubby" (1993). Rolf de Heer
Rolf De Heer made quite a dent in the Australian film industry with this twisted black-comedy about a young man who has spent his entire life locked up in his deranged mother’s apartment under the mistaken impression that the world outside is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Eventually, a rather morbid series of events see him finally escape into the real world, where he pursues a passion for buxom women and music. Disturbing? Yes. Entertaining? Definitely.
"The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" (1994). Stephan Elliott
If you’ve not seen this one… the key question is “Why?” Stephan Elliott brings phenomenal energy to the story of two transvestites and a transsexual (Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp) who decide to escape their lives in Sydney and perform a drag act in the very distant city of Alice Springs. To get there they buy a tour bus and hit the road, travelling through outback Australia and getting into a lot of trouble along the way. This is a great time!
"Muriel’s Wedding" (1994). P. J. Hogan
P. J. Hogan manages to find that delicate balance between comedy and tragedy in this exceptional film. Toni Collette plays Muriel, an awkward, overweight and not particularly bright young woman, who spends most of her time fantasising of marriage while listening to ABBA. Muriel’s mother is meek and shy, and her father (Bill Hunter) stands out as an obnoxious politician with total disregard for the feelings of his family. When an opportunity comes to steal some money and begin again, Muriel takes it. As emotionally exhausting as it is painful, this is an exceptional piece of work.
"Babe" (1995). Chris Noonan
What better way to finish off Part 3 than with this internationally renowned crowd-pleaser. This Chris Noonan helmed tale of the pig who thinks he’s a dog went on to become a global success both critically and commercially for very good reason. If you haven’t seen it… you really should.
"Shine" (1996). Scott Hicks
Scott Hicks directs Geoffrey Rush and Noah Taylor as the older and younger incarnations of famed and troubled pianist, David Helfgott. The film has received some criticism for its historical accuracy from some quarters, but incredible performances from the two leads and the delicate direction of Hicks make this a powerful film nonetheless.
"Idiot Box" (1996). David Caesar
David Caesar captures the aimlessness of disenfranchised youth in this energetic yet imperfect tale of two men looking for life in all the wrong places. When their televisually over-stimulated craniums stumble on the idea of a robbery, things get messy. Ben Mendelsohn and Jeremy Sims both do well in the lead roles, and Caesar’s grungy vision is still the finest piece of cinema he’s delivered up to this point.
"The Castle" (1997). Rob Sitch
If there is one thing Australians have always championed, it is the heroic endurance of the ‘Aussie battler’. The term refers to those at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum who work hard for everything they get – without complaint – and there is perhaps no more loved film on the subject than Rob Sitch’s The Castle. Written collaboratively by a collective of well renowned comedy writers – Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner – the timeline between initial conception and the final product was reputedly only a staggering five weeks.
The film itself is an affectionate parody of working class Australia, centred around the challenges that face family man, Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton), when his home by the airport is to be repossessed by the government for the airport’s expansion. With the help of his eccentric family and incompetent lawyer, Kerrigan must “put the system on trial”.
"The Boys" (1998). Rowan Woods
Rowan Woods takes us into an almost nightmarish world of human entropy in this examination of a family devoid of emotional connection, ambition, or ideology. When Brett (David Wenham) arrives home from prison to his three brothers and mother, he does his best to re-establish himself as the resident alpha-male. The film’s intense energy lies in the almost primal interactions between this family of lethargic animals. Near perfect.
"Babe: Pig in the City" (1998). George Miller
George Miller took the helm of this sequel to the earlier hit Babe, this time relocating the action to a foreboding city as the young pig finds himself struggling to stay afloat in the big smoke. It’s not as perfect as its predecessor, but the darker edge helps to make this a minor Australian classic.
"The Interview" (1998). Craig Monahan
Sometimes less is more, and this is a damn fine example. Eddie Rodney Fleming (Hugo Weaving) is an eccentric oddball accused of murder. Detective Steele (Tony Martin) wants to make him squeal. For nearly two hours, Steele grills Fleming from every angle. Kudos to Craig Monahan for his direction of this minor classic.
"Dark City" (1998). Alex Proyas
What is an Australian film? If a film is shot in Australia and has an Australian writer, director, and a largely Australian crew, does it qualify? Even when it is populated by American accents, international performers, and a noir aesthetic? I’m going to assume so… if only for a moment. Alex Proyas’ under-appreciated science fiction classic gets far less attention than the similar themed The Matrix, which was released the following year. Both philosophically profound and visually overwhelming, Proyas’ tale of an amnesiac attempting to discover his own identity is cinematic art.
"Two Hands" (1999). Gregor Jordan
There is a long-standing rumour that an earlier cut of this gangster film, containing a sub-narrative concerning the ghost of the protagonist’s brother, is far superior. Who knows… but Gregor Jordan’s first feature as director is a solid effort that feels far more fresh than it did upon its initial release, when comparisons with the British film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels undermined the film’s individual achievements.
The late Heath Ledger plays a naïve young man whose criminal aspirations see him quite accidentally falling on the wrong side of Pando (Bryan Brown), the local bigwig whose peculiar mix of family-man and psychopath make him both adorable and deplorable. Ledger works to make things right whilst falling in love with his newly found lover interest (Rose Byrne), whilst a separate side-narrative about two street kids threatens to collide with all of the above. Funny, occasionally touching, and always good fun.
"Chopper" (2000). Andrew Dominik
Andrew Dominik’s directorial debut, a biopic on the life of notorious Australian criminal, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, was a triumph by any measure. Eric Bana, who’d been known in Australia solely for his work as a comedian up until this point, effortlessly captured the charm and volatility of the protagonist. And Dominik managed to create a film that went beyond the typical biopic, utilising a structure that acknowledged and deconstructed issues of historical representation.
"Looking for Alibrandi" (2000). Kate Woods
Pia Miranda stars in this teen-targeted look at the plight of a young Australian dealing with adolescence, the return of a long-lost father (Anthony LaPaglia), and the death of a close-friend. This film resonated strongly upon its initial release, particularly because of its engagement with the experience of second-generation Australians.
"The Dish" (2000). Rob Sitch
Rob Sitch directs this irresistible Australian comedy about the role of the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Written by the same team as the aforementioned film, The Castle, their irreverent take on the material works just as well here. A cast of well-known Australian faces, and the more internationally recognisable Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton are all exceptional. You’d be hard pressed to stay dry-eyed at the end of this one.
"Lantana" (2001). Ray Lawrence
Ray Lawrence has only directed three films in his career, but they’ve all had a significant impact on the Australian film scene. This, however, is considered his defining work. Lawrence takes us deep into the bowels of suburban Australia with this tale of four couples whose domestic lives are ruptured by the discovery of a woman’s body in Sydney. Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Vince Colosimo… I’m probably missing a few – they all deliver top-notch work here.
"Moulin Rouge!" (2001). Baz Luhrmann
I’m going to put my hand up and admit that this isn’t my kind of cinema (a conversation for another day), but there is no denying the cultural impact of Baz Luhrmann’s unique musical vision. Shot in Australia primarily with Australian talent, this is a landmark achievement.
"The Tracker" (2002). Rolf de Heer
Set in 1920s Australia, Rolf de Heer’s stark and simple allegorical exploration of the dangers of racism is incredibly effective. Three men (played by Gary Sweet, Damon Gameau and Grant Page) enlist the help of an aboriginal tracker (David Gulpilil) to seek out an aboriginal man suspected of murdering a white woman. As their journey takes them deep into the outback, tension grows between the three men and their tracker. Gulpilil dominates the film with his understated performance.
"Rabbit-Proof Fence" (2002). Phillip Noyce
Phillip Noyce directs this account of one of the great shames in Australia’s history: the stolen generation. Set in the early 1930s, this is the tale of three aboriginal girls taken from their homes and placed in re-education settlements because they are suspected of being “half-caste” (based on the lightness of their skin). The idea behind this appalling program was to forcefully raise these children as white, integrate them into the wider community, and breed out their aboriginal heritage. The film follows the journey of these three girls as they escape their re-education settlement and attempt to head home.
"Japanese Story" (2003). Sue Edwards
Sue Edwards directs this deceptively simple film, which seems to encompass so much about the nature of life that it’s almost overwhelming. Toni Collette plays Sandy Edwards, the director of a company dedicated to building software for mining operations in Western Australia. A series of events see Edwards driving a potential Japanese client (Gotaro Tsunashima) to several mining sites in the Pilbara region. On this rather gargantuan journey, the cultural barriers between the two begin to dissipate, and some sort of relationship begins to develop. None of this will prepare the viewer for the conclusion…
"Harvie Krumpet" (2003). Adam Elliott
Adam Elliott’s Oscar winning stop-motion comedy short covers the surprisingly disarming tale of Harvie Krumpet. Harvie is a deeply troubled individual, suffering from severe Tourette’s Syndrome and rather compulsive behaviour. In Elliott’s hands, Harvie becomes a hilarious and semi-tragic ode to humanity.
"Alexandra’s Project" (2003). Rolf de Heer
Rolf De Heer directs this taut domestic drama about a man who arrives home on his birthday to discover a video-cassette made for him by his wife. At first, he assumes that the cassette represents some kind of birthday surprise. In a sense he is correct, but it’s not exactly the kind of surprise he’d wish for. In this stark and simple film, De Heer beautifully challenges the presumptions of middle-Australian suburban men.
"Gettin’ Square" (2003). Jonathan Teplitzky
There are many who might argue that Jonathan Teplitzky’s comedic crime caper is a little light-on for this list, but I’d comfortably rate it against most of the other Australian entries in the genre (especially the much loved but incredibly unsatisfying Dirty Deeds). It’s pretty typical stuff, really. Sam Worthington plays the young crook, just out of prison, who wants to go straight. Unfortunately, an ensemble cast of junkies (David Wenham), gangsters (Gary Sweet), and restaurateurs (Timothy Spall) are making things far more complicated than they should be.
"Somersault" (2004). Cate Shortland
Abbie Cornish shines in the feature film directorial debut of Cate Shortland, whose meticulous attention to detail make this an insightful glance at the nature of human beings. Cornish plays Heidi, an emotionally starved young woman attempting to find affection through sexual attention. When her mother finds her in an intimate moment with her mother’s boyfriend, Heidi is cast out. Soon enough, Heidi finds herself moving from Canberra to Jindabyne in an attempt at a fresh start. Here she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), a man struggling with his own sense of sexual identity.
"The Proposition" (2005). John Hillcoat
John Hillcoat directs this mesmerising Australian Western, based on a screenplay by Nick Cave (who also scores the film). An accumulation of exceptional Australian and British talent (Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Guy Pearce, David Gulpilil, Danny Huston, Emily Watson) results in a convincing and brutal vision of early-Australian settlement. The plot? When a lawman captures two of the more affable members of the Burns gang, he allows one to go free and help capture the rest. Big mistake.
"Wolf Creek" (2005). Greg McLean
Some may baulk at the inclusion of Greg McLean’s horror opus on this list, but I’m willing to stand behind the original Wolf Creek and declare it one of the best entries the ‘slasher’ genre has seen. Mclean’s willingness to spend time establishing his protagonists in a thoughtful and clever way – before tearing their world to pieces – pays off. The cinematography is gorgeous, and John Jarratt is outstanding as everybody’s worst nightmare – Mick Taylor. But what about the sequel? Not so much.
"Look Both Ways" (2005). Sarah Watt
The Australian film director, Sarah Watt, passed away far too early. But before she left us, Watt directed this poignant and endearing tale of several people whose lives converge during their time of crises. Cancer, depression, unexpected pregnancy and gorgeous artwork come together to form an unexpectedly uplifting meditation on life.
"Little Fish" (2005). Rowan Wood
Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving all deliver powerful, human performances in Rowan Woods’ film about the trials and tribulations of a recovering heroin addict. Not the kind of movie that will leave you chirpy at the end, but an insightful lens into the claustrophobic world of a woman attempting to start again, only to be exploited by those around her.
"Kenny" (2006). Clayton Jacobson
Brothers Clayton and Shane Jacobson teamed up to make this loveable mockumentary about Kenny, the best portable toilet installation man in the business. Kenny’s expertise takes him from tackling one of Australia’s larger sporting events, the Melbourne Cup, all the way to the United States where he plays a fish-out-of-water in a way the would make Mick Dundee proud. It’s not radically new territory, but it’s covered very well.
"Ten Canoes" (2006). Rolf de Heer
Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr co-direct this striking tale about aboriginal culture and the place that storytelling has within it. As a narrator (David Gulpilil) tells us the tale of an old man counselling a young man on the wrongs of adultery, which he does by telling a story of his own. A quiet and fascinating glance at a culture most will know little about.
"Happy Feet" (2006). George Miller
George Miller, Warren Coleman and Judy Morris codirected this hugely successful CGI animated tale of a penguin whose inability to sing results in him being ostracised from his community. It’s a classic ugly duckling story with an all-star cast including Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Elijah Wood. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but there’s no denying that this one made its mark.
"Candy" (2006). Neil Armfield
Abbie Cornish and the late Heath Ledger provide the profound and tragic chemistry that powers Neil Armfield’s examination of two people who would have been better off having never found each other. Ledger and Cornish play the leads, young lovers whose descent into heroin addiction results in ever increasing levels of tragedy. It goes without saying that, retrospectively, Ledger’s presence now makes this all the more difficult to watch.
"Jindabyne" (2006). Ray Lawrence
Ray Lawrence relocates Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water So Close to Home” to the Australian town of Jindabyne. In this disturbing yet understated film, a group of men go on a fishing trip, only to find the body of an aboriginal woman in the river. What they choose to do next becomes the subject of the remainder of the film. Gabriel Byrne is particularly striking in the lead role.
"Noise" (2007). Matthew Saville
Those who have walked into Matthew Saville’s masterpiece expecting a traditional thriller have often been disappointed, which is not surprising. This look at the lives of several people scrambling to find peace and calm in an existence enveloped by trauma, fear or self-loathing is nothing of the sort. Brendan Cowell leads an always-impressive cast in this meditation on finding meaning in life’s worst moments.
"The Square" (2008). Nash Edgerton
The Edgerton brothers demonstrate outstanding control of their material in this classic film noir tale of domestic drama, greed, deception and escalating consequences. One not to miss.
"Not Quite Hollywood" (2008). Mark Hartley
It’s ironic that a documentary about the making of low-budget exploitation movies should be this good, but it is. Mark Hartley takes us through the erotic and explosive highs and lows of Ozploitation, making sure the viewer has a firm grasp of the various subgenres in play, and the historical situation from which the genre arose. A huge array of Australian celebrities chime in, but it’s the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Dennis Hopper and Jamie Lee Curtis that will be recognised by international audiences. This is a good time.
"Mary and Max" (2009). Adam Elliot
Adam Elliot employs stop motion animation to incredible effect in this story of two people who become pen pals. Mary (Toni Collette) is an awkward Australian girl with a large birthmark that results in perpetual school bullying. Max (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a deeply depressed and obese New Yorker, suffering from Asperger’s. In Elliot’s hands, these two awkward souls traverse life’s most tragic and wonderful moments with a level of authenticity rarely seen even in live-action cinema.
"Samson and Delilah" (2009). Warwick Thornton
Very occasionally, we encounter films that make an indelible impression on our consciousness. For myself, one such film is Samson and Delilah. Warwick Thornton’s bleak but hopeful look at two young people living in a poverty stricken aboriginal community is rare in its ability to shine a light on the plight of its protagonists without ever patronising, condescending or attempting to offer simple solutions.
"The Loved Ones" (2009). Sean Byrne
Somewhere between Hostel and Carrie, this engrossing horror comedy manages to skirt on just the right side of gross to maintain a level of suspense throughout. The story? When Brent politely declines Lola’s invite to the prom, her family takes it personally… very personally.
"Animal Kingdom" (2010). David Michôd
David Michod’s directorial debut explores the murky world of an underworld family attempting to hold together in the face of intense police scrutiny. All of this is viewed through the eyes of Joshua (James Frecheville), a teenager whose mother’s death has resulted in him moving in with Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of this disintegrating empire. Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce deliver knockout performances, but this is Jacki Weaver’s movie from start to finish.
"Snowtown" (2011). Justin Kurzel
Based on the infamous Snowtown murders, this isn’t the kind of film that’s going to leave you feeling energised at the end. But it is an impressive and realistic look at the machinations of a psychopath’s mind, and their ability to recruit the weak willed to very disturbing ends. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, but Justin Kurzel has certainly achieved something of note here.
"The Hunter" (2011). Daniel Nettheim
I was in two minds about including this one. Daniel Nettheim’s tale of an American hunter (Willem Dafoe) hired by a mysterious employer to track down the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger is hardly perfect. But there is something about the film’s undercurrent of paranoia and mistrust that has elevated the material in my mind over time.
"Charlie’s Country" (2013). Rolf de Heer
David Gulpilil stars as an ageing indigenous man who finds it increasingly difficult to live as his ancestors have always done in an Australia governed by the rules of white men. Gulpilil, who has overcome personal difficulties of his own in recent years, provides the performance of his career, even if director Rolf de Heer’s touch is a little less precise than might be expected.
"The Rover" (2014). David Michôd
Set in a vaguely defined post-apocalyptic outback Australia, Guy Pearce plays the gruff protagonist who has had his car stolen by a gang of thieves. When chance sees Pearce capture the intellectually impaired brother of one of the thieves (Robert Pattinson), he uses him to track down the car. It is perhaps the cinematography that truly elevates this film, taking the barren landscape of Australian desert and utilising it to infuse the film with a sense of bleak nihilistic hopelessness. The follow up feature of David Michod, after the internationally acclaimed Animal Kingdom.
"The Babadook" (2014). Jennifer Kent
I’ve gone on about this film a lot over the last year, but The Babadook is certainly the finest Australian horror film I’ve ever seen. Essie Davis plays a struggling single mother, whose grief over her lost husband and exhausting lifestyle exacerbate the impact of strange things that start to occur around a picture book with which her child has become enamoured. Director Jennifer Kent asks us to consider where reality and fantasy collide in this near-perfect instant classic.