The AACTA Awards: Australia’s Version of the Oscars?

The 5th AACTA Awards have commenced, with anticipation building to the main event next week – but what does this ceremony mean for the future of the Australian film industry?

Corey Hogan

2014 set the bar incredibly high for not only the AACTA Awards, but Australian filmmaking in general. From spine-tingling horror (The Babadook), to boundary-pushing romcoms (The Little Death), to time-travelling, mind-fucking science fiction (Predestindation) – we saw the strongest set of Aussie releases since the mid-nineties.

It goes without saying that 2015 had some pretty big shoes to fill, but did it manage to build on last year’s success…?

That would be a negative.

Just think about it… the misguided black comedy Kill Me Three Times, the bizarre Brett Lee-led romance UNIndian, and don’t even get me started on the blasphemous 3D reboot of Blinky Bill that pretty much outraged the whole of gen Y.

So with the 5th AACTA awards due to be announced next week, how exactly will it be able to find anything on par with last year’s nominees?

Speaking of next week’s ceremony, just a few days ago, Australia’s version of the Oscars decided it would be a great idea to announce half of its winners before its main gala with a night of recognition for “Screen Craft Excellence”. Apparently, if you’re a production designer, editor or screenwriter, you’re not good enough to be part of the televised ceremony… awkward.

OK, let’s be fair. There’s more than 40 categories in the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards; would it even be feasible to announce that many winners in one night? Which then begs the question – does it really need to cover both film and television?

The Golden Globes are able to pull off this feat due to the exclusion of most technical categories. On the flip side, the Academy is able to take the time to acknowledge the likes of sound design and visual effects because it isn’t burdened by the need to cover the small screen as well. The AACTAs bite off more than it can chew in attempting to cover it all.

We already have the Logies – aka how many times can we recognise a different actor from Home & Away? – so do we need the AACTAs to cover television as well? Admittedly, the Logies are voted by the public (hence the outpouring of love for Channel 7’s soapie), whereas you need to actually have some form of screen accreditation to be able to have your say in the AACTAs.

So maybe there is a need to recognise achievements in television via the AACTAs – plus it would be annoying and even more confusing to have to rename the awards yet again (prior to 2010 it was the AFI awards) – but the current format just isn’t working. It doesn’t really make sense to split the awards night according to what falls under the umbrella of “Screen Craft Excellence” versus everything else, particularly when it lumps television directors and actors into the former category. Perhaps it would be more effective to do one presentation for television, and another for film?

But I digress; let’s talk about what everyone really cares about – the nominees.

Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker leads the charge with a whopping twelve nominations, which is quite surprising given its divisiveness among critics. So far it has only cleaned up Best Costume Design, and regardless of whether you loved or hated this Kate Winslet-led period drama, you can’t deny that all of the actors were dressed in spectacular fashion.

At the halfway mark the big victor is George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road with 6 wins: cinematography, music, visual effects – you name it – the AACTAs are lapping up the return of this apocalyptic series. Let’s just hope this favour carries through to the major awards next Wednesday, as it’s easily the strongest contender for Best Picture.

Despite being one of the best films of 2015, Mad Max does draw attention to a problem that continuously looms over the AACTA awards – America’s shadow.

If you cast your mind back to the 3rd AACTA awards you’ll remember how The Great Gatsby dominated nearly every single category. Though it was filmed in Sydney by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, and featured several Aussie stars, it was a very Hollywood take on a very American piece of literature. Even stranger was Leonardo DiCaprio earning Best Lead Actor over a number of Australian nominees.

While Mad Max is a follow-up to a classically Australian action franchise, it’s led by international actors Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult and Charlize Theron, who, along with Winslet, is up for Best Lead Actress. It seems unfair that these seasoned Oscar-winners should compete alongside still up-and-coming Australian actresses Robyn Butler (Now Add Honey) and Ningali Lawford (Last Cab to Darwin) – especially when, as evidenced by Leo – they could very well win.

Other Best Picture nominees include Michael Caton’s comeback in the otherwise ordinary Last Cab to Darwin, and the charming, children’s movie Paper Planes, which features what is perhaps Sam Worthington’s most wooden performance to date – a tough feat! The Dressmaker also has its hat in the ring, which leaves only the emotive Holding the Man as a worthy, and truly Australian winner.

Don’t get me wrong – the AACTAs are definitely on the right track toward boosting the Australian film industry, but we need to focus less on films and actors that are already well-known worldwide, and find a better way to package the awards. It’s time we took the reins of our own entertainment industry, and stop lagging behind the rest of the world.

Images courtesy of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts

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