In celebration of the current and upcoming releases of several Australian films (52 Tuesdays, Healing, The Babadook, The Rover, These Final Hours) I thought I would take the opportunity to take a look back at the best Australian films of the last decade. When sorting out which films would be eligible for this list I was genuinely surprised by the large number of Aussie films that have been released over the last few years, and also horrified that there were so many that I had not seen. Now that I have fixed that last part, I bring you this list of outstanding Australian films.
I know there are a lot of blurred lines when it comes to defining an Australian film, as some people think that if the story isn’t set somewhere within the country then it can’t possibly be considered Australian. If the majority of the cast and crew, the production company and the shooting locations (regardless of where the film is actually set) are Australian, then I think that makes the film eligible for this list. When in doubt, I have referred to AFI/AACTA nominations (Australia’s version of the Academy Awards) and other major national film awards to decide whether a film is “Australian”.
In no particular order:
1. Samson and Delilah. 2009.
Directed by Warwick Thornton.
Starring: Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson
In this Indigenous film starring non-actors, Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) are two neglected teenagers living in an isolated, Aboriginal community in rural Australia. Samson spends his days mostly forgotten by his family, whereas Delilah’s time is fully occupied by her grandmother and her needs. At first out of pure boredom, Samson takes to following Delilah around, which both annoys and confounds Delilah, but the pair gradually develop an unusual bond. When tragedy strikes, they flee the town together, but life only becomes even more tough for these two and they have to rely on one another in order to survive. This is a very subtle, but very poignant film about Indigenous culture and how it is often incorrectly perceived by white Australians.
Awards: Won AFIs for Best Film and Best Director (among others). Won Camera d’Or (best film in official selection) at Cannes Film Festival.
2. Balibo. 2009.
Directed by Robert Connolly.
Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Damon Gameau and Gyton Grantley
Based on true events.
In the 1970s East Timor was invaded by Indonesia and five Australian journalists who were working in the area at the time went missing. Sadly, the Australian government failed to provide aid to East Timor and also ignored the disappearance of the journalists. When experienced Australian reporter Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) was headhunted by activist Jose Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) to run the free press in East Timor, Roger took the opportunity to find the journalists and discover exactly what happened to them.
Awards: Won AFIs for Best Lead Actor (Anthony LaPaglia), Best Supporting Actor (Oscar Isaac) and Best Screenplay (among others)
3. Romulus, My Father. 2007.
Directed by Richard Roxburgh
Starring: Eric Bana, Franka Potente, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Russell Dykstra
Based on a true story.
Raimond Gaita (Kodi Smit-McPhee) grows up in 1960s rural Victoria as the son of immigrant parents with a very troubled relationship. Raimond’s Romanian father, Romulus (Eric Bana) is unable to come to terms with the fact that Rai’s German mother, Christina (Franka Potente) prefers to live alone in the city. She only occasionally returns to their home in the countryside and does so without warning. This arrangement leads to infidelity, mental illnesses and financial hardship in which Raimond has to mature quickly in order to survive.
Awards: Won AFIs for Best Film, Best Director and Best Lead Actor (Eric Bana) as well as 6 other awards and several other nominations
4. SnowTown. 2011.
Directed by Justin Kurzel.
Starring: Lucas Pittaway and Daniel Henshall
Based on true events
16 year old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway) lives a quietly miserable existence in South Australia in which he is subjected to sexual abuse from his mother’s boyfriend and his elder half brother. When his mother discovers what her boyfriend has done to Jamie and his 2 younger brothers she reacts violently and he is soon replaced by a new boyfriend, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall). At first John appears to be Jamie’s rescuer. He is friendly and warm toward Jamie, he respects him, and encourages him to be more confident in himself. He is openly disgusted by what has happened to Jamie and retaliates violently. John leads Jamie down a torture / murder trail; targeting sexual predators, homosexuals and anyone who has ever made life difficult for Jamie.
Awards: Won AACTA awards for Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Lead Actor for Daniel Henshall (among others)
5. The Proposition. 2005.
Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, David Wenham, John Hurt and Danny Huston
The infamous Burns brothers gang are held responsible for the murder of a farming family in rural Australia in the 1880s. Ray Winstone plays Captain Stanley who captures two of the brothers, Mike and Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and makes them a proposition. He offers Charlie his freedom in return for finding and killing his eldest brother, Arthur Burns, who is considered the most dangerous of them all to the point where the local police choose to avoid him. The Captain gives Charlie nine days to complete this task, but should he fail, the Captain will execute Charlie’s younger brother Mike.
Awards: Nominated for AFI awards for Best Film and Best Lead Actor (among others)
6. The Tree. 2010
Directed by Julie Bertuccelli
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Martin Csokas and Morgana Davies
Based on the novel
Mother of four Dawn O’Neill (Charlotte Gainsbourg) completely falls apart following the death of her husband. The family, who live in the Australian countryside, struggle to move on from the loss, especially spirited 8 year old Simone (Morgana Davies) who is convinced that the tree that marks the place where their father died is somehow imbued with his soul. As the tree grows out of control and begins to encroach upon the house, Dawn calls upon local handyman George Frick to assist them. Of course, Simone does not wish any harm to come to the tree, particularly at the hands of George who develops a relationship with her mother.
Awards: Nominated for AFI awards for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Lead Actress
7. Wolf Creek 2005.
Directed by Greg McLean
Starring: John Jarratt and Nathan Phillips
In the West Australian outback in 1999, Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) and his two British girlfriends Liz Hunter (Cassandra McGrath) and Kirsty Earl (Kestie Morassi) embark on a backpacking trip when they become stranded near Wolf Creek National Park. Local man Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) offers to assist the trio, but their circumstances quickly turn from bad to worse. Mick drugs the three of them who soon learn that he has a bit of a habit of pretending to help stranded tourists but instead kidnaps, tortures and murders them.
Awards: Nominated for AFI awards for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay
8. Happy Feet. 2006.
Directed by George Miller, Warren Coleman and Judy Morris
Starring: (voices) Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman
In this animated film it is expected that all Emperor Penguins possess a heart song, or a singing voice which represents their identity and can therefore assist them to find their soul mate. Unfortunately for baby penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood), finding his heart song is a little more difficult than for most as his song is not in his voice, but in his feet. This tap dancing penguin grows up as an outcast, but eventually his inability to fit in becomes an asset when he is able to save his fellow penguins from a food shortage caused by humans. The animation quality by Australian studio Animal Logic is world class, which is why I have decided that Happy Feet deserves to be in the top 10. Animal Logic have also worked on The Lego Movie, The Matrix trilogy and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to name just a few.
Awards: Won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
9. Beneath Hill 60. 2010.
Directed by Jeremy Sims
Starring: Brendan Cowell, Harrison Gilbertson and Steven LeMarquand
Based on a true story
Unlike those who fought at Gallipoli, the men involved in this act of heroism have not been so well remembered. Beneath Hill 60 tells the fairly unknown story of Oliver Woodward (Brendan Cowell), a Queensland miner who is sent to the trenches on the Western Front to assist in the process of tunnelling beneath no man’s land and into the German bunker in order to plant explosives behind enemy lines. Through flashbacks we learn of Woodward’s fiance back home and how she pleaded with him to not enlist. The men spend two years underground in the claustrophobic, near airless tunnels just to pull off this one key move.
Awards: Won AFI Young Actor Award (Harrison Gilbertson) and nominated for AFIs Best Direction and Best Film (among others).
10. Animal Kingdom. 2010
Directed by David Michod
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, James Frecheville and Jacki Weaver
When Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) becomes orphaned after his mother’s overdose, he turns to his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) who is the matriarch of a notroious criminal family in Melbourne. She dearly loves her sons (Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce) who are mixed up in everything from armed robbery to drugs, but her eldest son Andrew “Pope” Cody (Ben Mendlesohn) is the one that is wanted by the Melbourne Armed Robbery Squad and is consequently in hiding. A war eventually breaks out between the lawmen and the Cody family, placing J at the very centre and resulting in multiple casualties.
Awards: Won AFIs for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Lead Actress for Jacki Weaver (among others)
Little Fish (2005)
Black Balloon (2008)
Wasted On The Young (2010)
The Hunter (2011)
Satellite Boy (2012)
Mystery Road (2013)
The Railway Man (2013)
The Rocket (2013)
The Turning (2013)
Images courtesy of Transmission Films, Madman Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment & Warner Bros