Best Australasian Films—by date
Year with the most 'bests': 2002 (eight). Years since 1969 with none: 1970, 1972, 1973, 1985, 1988, 2008, 2009. (This is all merely my opinion. You might want to compare this list with the AFI's best films.)
The Noble man who is too Savage to live; and the little girl torn between cultures: an important film, and not just because it was the first to be shot in colour.
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) aka Outback (US); wr. Evan Jones, novel Kenneth Cook, dp Brian West, ed. Anthony Buckley; Gary Bond, Donald Pleasance, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, John Meillon
So dark in style that it goes beyond realism, this film, directed by a Canadian, presents a bleak view of life in the more remote parts of Australia (whites only).
Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, 1971) wr. Edward Bond, novel James Vance Marshall, dp Nicolas Roeg; Jenny Agutter, Lucien John [Roeg], David Gulpilil, John Meillon; UK production about two white Australian children stranded in desert and helped to safety by young Aborigine
Another view of Australia from a foreigner—before we had any views on films ourselves—this remains admirably poetic—despite some Roegish exploitation (imo).
The finest of Australian gothic.
Stone (Sandy Harbutt, 1974) wr. Sandy Harbutt; Ken Shorter, Sandy Harbutt, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Vincent Gil; Stone is an undercover cop who infiltrates a bikie gang when several of its members are murdered
A powerful film that I imagine bikies would like: it has real bikies in it. Tho Sandy Harbutt played a main part, as well as writing and directing it, it was the last film on which he ever worked.
The Man from Hong Kong (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1975) wr. Brian Trenchard-Smith, dp Russell Boyd; Deryck Barnes, Rebecca Gilling, Bill Hunter, Hugh Keays-Byrne, George Lazenby, Grant Page, Ros Spiers, Frank Thring, Jimmy Wang Yu, Roger Ward, Phillip Avalon
The first important actioner; Grant Page does stunts. Includes unarmed combat on Ayer's Rock (Uluru): you'll never see that again.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) novel by Joan Lindsay, dp Russell Boyd; Kirsty Child, John Fegan, Vivean Gray, Dominic Guard, John Jarratt, Anne Lambert, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Ingrid Mason, Garry McDonald, Helen Morse, Rachel Roberts, Martin Vaughan, Jacki Weaver; thriller
Possibly the classic Aussie film? The basic idea - a parallel universe, or something - is nuts, but it makes for a slightly creepy and very beautiful film. Much better than anything Weir has done since he's been slacking off in Hollywood.
Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975) prod. Gil Brealey, Matt Carroll, South Australian Film Corporation, wr. John Dingwall, dp Geoff Burton, music Patrick Flynn; Jack Thompson, Max Cullen, Robert Bruning, Jerry Thomas, Peter Cummins, John Ewart, Sean Scully, Reg Lye, Graham Smith, Ken Shorter, Lisa Peers
Such a realistic portrayal of a shearer's life in the 1950s that it might almost be considered to be a documentary, this film was messed about with by the distributors, so a couple of strands in the narrative look odd.
Catholic culture oppressing both the priests and the boys in a seminary.
Don's Party (Bruce Beresford, 1976) wr. David Williamson, dp Don McAlpine; Ray Barrett, Claire Binney, Pat Bishop, Jeanie Drynan, John Hargreaves, Harold Hopkins, Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell, Veronica Lang, Candy Raymond
From a David Williamson play, this offers a comedic take on bourgeois life with boozing, sexual shenanigans, and party politics - in the context of an election party meant to celebrate a left-wing win.
Storm Boy (Henri Safran, 1976) from novel by Colin Thiele, dp Geoff Burton; Greg Rowe, David Gulpilil, Peter Cummins, Judy Dick, Grant Page; white boy befriends pelican and outcast Aborigine, Fingerbone Bill, banished by his Kunai people
Gulpilil's most attractive character.
Weird, but memorable.
The Picture Show Man (John Power, 1977) wr. Joan Long from Penn's Pictures on Tour by Lyle Penn, dp Geoff Burton; Tony Barry, Patrick Cargill, Sally Conabee, Jeanie Drynan, John Ewart, Harold Hopkins, Garry McDonald, John Meillon, Judy Morris, Grant Page, Rod Taylor
You have to love this, even if only because it's about the movie business - and it has John Meillon as the lead.
I'm trying to think of a better film from the 1970s, but can't. This has religion breaking up families, an ugly American, and it's a dramatised doco of the newsreel wars of the 1940-50s. Plus my friend Sharon as an extra in the water polo scene - right next to Gerard Kennedy.
A genuine thriller from a Hitchcock-trained director; the eponymous character never speaks - or closes his eyes.
This was remade in 2008 with the same writer (tho shdn't've been: the later film is trash); the earlier is a truly remarkable film: creepy, surprising - and it has John Hargreaves: what's to not like?
George Miller's first film is still very popular: great stunts.
Money Movers (Bruce Beresford, 1979) dp Don McAlpine, operator John Seale; Terence Donovan, Tony Bonner, Ed Devereaux, Charles Tingwell, Candy Raymond, Jeanie Drynan, Bryan Brown, Alan Cassell, Gary Files, Ray Marshall, Hu Pryce, Frank Wilson, Lucky Grills, Tony Allison, Brian Anderson, Kevin Brenner, Terry Camilleri, Bill Charlton, Kathy Dior, Graham Gow, James Elliot, Robert Essex, Max Fairchild, John Hargreaves
It's easy to forget the less important films of the 1970s: this violent crime actioner still stands up to examination.
Aussies against the Boer (and the British) - fine performances, sustained seriousness.
Mad Max 2 (Dr George Miller, 1981) aka The Road Warrior, dp Dean Semler; Mel Gibson, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Max Phipps, Mike Preston, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells, Virginia Hey, William Zappa, Arkie Whitelely
Some people think the second one is better.
The ANZAC film we had to have: it's much better than it might have been; unforgettable ending.
Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981) book by Kathy Lette, Gabrielle Carey, dp Don McAlpine; Nell Schofield, Jad Kapelja, Jay Hackett, Ned Lander, Tony Hughes, Sandy Paul, Geoff Rhoe; girls want to surf too
This is not an enjoyable film, particularly because of the depiction of sexual relations between young Australians; but it's an important document of the period.
Roadgames (Richard Franklin, 1981) wr. Everett DeRoche, from short story by Richard Franklin, Everett De Roche, dp Vincent Monton; Stacey Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marion Edward, Grant Page, Thaddeus Smith, Alan Hopgood
Hitchcock-like thriller, but with human interest in the relationship between the characters played by American actors Curtis and Keach - and his dingo.
An honest little film: quasi-documentary.
Another film still popular with Aussies, it's a western romance.
The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir, 1982) wr. David Williamson, from novel by Christopher Koch; Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver, Peter Collingwood, Noel Ferrier, Linda Hunt, Bill Kerr; Jakarta 1960s
Unusual in two ways: we have few political films; and few set in SE Asia. Also the only feature with Gibson and Weaver. And Linda Hunt plays a bloke.
Written from life by Helen Garner, this is an investigation of drug addiction (inter alia) with more depth than a mere melodrama.
Man of Flowers (Paul Cox, 1983) wr. Paul Cox, Bob Ellis, dp Yuri Sokol; Norman Kaye, Alyson Best, Chris Haywood, Sarah Walker, Julia Blake, Bob Ellis, Barry Dickins, Patrick Cook, Victoria Eagger, Werner Herzog
This is the best of the Australian 'art' films, in all the meanings of the term.
It's only about a guy cracking up over the loss of his wife, but bringing together the brilliance of Ellis and Hargreaves and Cox's conviction makes it impossible to ignore.
Razorback (Russell Mulcahy, 1984) wr. Everett de Roche, dp Dean Semler; Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, David Argue, Judy Morris
Can be seen as an OTT melodramatic gothic romp, but it's set apart by a number of things, and especially the photography of Dean Semler.
Tho a bit sentimental, it was an excellent introduction to the experience of immigration - at least for me
I hardly need to tell you about the most successful Australian film ever.
David Parker had a lot of fun making the gadgets for this one, a portrait of a 'special person' engagingly created by the dependable Colin Friels - and the late great John Hargreaves is in it.
High Tide (Gillian Armstrong, 1987) prod. Sandra Levy, wr. Laura Jones; Judy Davis, Claudia Karvan, Jan Adele, Colin Friels; woman accidentally rediscovers her daughter, who has been brought up by her paternal grandmother
I'm interested in family melodramas, and this is one of the better ones: how could it not be good, with both Judy Davis and Colin Friels?
Duigan's other coming-of-age-in-country-town story: see also Flirting. He meant to make three, but didn't.
Another charming film from the Tass-Parker partnership, about a young man and his Jaguar, and his father's Cedric (that's another car).
Just a good little suburban social-realistic movie.
I love the quirky humour in this little film. Not just the set-piece graveyard scene, but right from the start, when Sam Neill's character finds his mother with her head in the gas oven. It's stylistically disunified, occasionally over the top, even surrealistic (the scene in the church), so clearly it's not perfect, but art rarely is. It's worth the price for Sam Neill's fine acting alone.
One of Duigan's two films on sexual awakening in the Australian countryside, it has no fewer than four actors who went on to Hollywood.
This is a gem.
Little ripper of a film, mostly about women: Hazlehurst really was pregnant, as you'll see (if you can ever get hold of a copy).
Two sisters, but only one Frenchman - not to mention a father and a daughter - and my favourite 'tourism' scene.
Powerful performances from all three leads. Anyone who runs down Russell Crowe hasn't seen this film. Just in case you don't already know: it's has neo-Nazis, inter alia.
Spotswood (Mark Joffe, 1992) Anthony Hopkins, Ben Mendelsohn, Alwyn Kurts, Bruno Lawrence, John Walton, Rebecca Rigg, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe; mocassin factory shaken by arrival of time-and-motion expert
Charming little film, the only one to bring Hopkins and Crowe together.
Baz's first red curtain film: the start of something.
Mostly distinguished by the fine performance of David Ngoombujarra.
Charming film with lovely 1950s production design.
Deserved its Oscars: how often can you say that? Campion's crazy idea for a big film paid off: she'll prolly never make a better: it is so impressive.
One of the ABBA films: amazing that there are two (as well as the doco about the actual band); this film has flair (and flares).
This is a European 'idea' film - similar to Herzog's Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle. Many people will find the first 15-20 minutes hard going.
A (melodramatic) comedy, so not particularly realistic; but deservedly memorable: 'You're terrible, Muriel.'
Temuera Morrison does some real acting in this: apparently it cost him. Kitchen-sink.
Traps (Pauline Chan, 1994) novel Kate Greville; Saskia Reeves, Robert Reynolds, Sami Frey, Jacqueline McKenzie, Kiet Lam; filmed on location in Vietnam; English couple come to French Indo-China, 1950, to do photo-journalism story on rubber plantation, and become involved in political developments
I hope this becomes available again; I thought it was excellent.
In the struggle between people with mental illness and the system, the system wins.
True story about a girl who killed her parents: anything made by Peter Jackson is at least interesting.
Metal Skin (Geoffrey Wright, 1995) wr. Geoffrey Wright, prod. Daniel Scharf, Southern Star; Aden Young (Joe), Tara Morice (Savina), Ben Mendelsohn (Dazey), Nadine Garner (Roslyn), Chantal Contouri (Savina's mother); drama, thriller; psycho Joe, urban misfit, craves the respect of his peers on the streets and the love of a nice girl who secretly practises black magic
This undeservedly forgotten film comments on European presence in Australia since 1788 in a unique way. Vacant possession = terra nullius, and it's actually set in modern Botany Bay. I hope it's not forgotten, and soon released on DVD; it's very good.
Cosi (Mark Joffe, 1996) wr. Louis Nowra (also play); Barry Otto, Ben Mendelsohn, Toni Collette, Pamela Rabe, Jacki Weaver, Paul Chubb, Colin Hay, David Wenham, Colin Friels, Aden Young, Rachel Griffiths, Kerry Fletcher
Based on Nowra's own experience working in an institution, this provides an opportunity for great performances from a large number of Australian actors: I think it's Wenham's best work, along with The Boys.
A rather complicated and even exploitative story, this is nevertheless the best fictional depiction of (black and white) life in a remote community.
A sordid little tale; but a beautifully crafted film: it's what David Caesar does.
Powerful film with the two best actresses of their generations playing the same character at different ages. Warning: incest.
Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett, 1996) wr. Shirley Barrett, dp Mandy Walker; Miranda Otto, Rebecca Frith, George Shevtsov, John Alansu; two sisters compete for the attentions of DJ new to small town, Sunray
A personal favourite: I like the quirky portrait of the country town, and the surrealist ending.
Another quirky part for and fine performance from Colin Friels.
A very dysfunctional family, and a heinous crime: tough going.
Possibly the most popular Australian film ever (with Australians), it's actually cutting satire, but somehow appeals to nationalism.
As I said about Idiot Box, it's a sordid little tale; but a beautifully crafted film. If it's not in my top ten, it'll have to be in the top twelve: Bill Bennett will prolly never make a better film, tho David Caesar might.
Hillcoat makes tough films; this one is Cave-free; Griffiths at her best. Only feature set in New Guinea? No, there's also Walk Into Paradise (Lee Robinson & Giorgio Pagliero, 1956).
This pretty-much took Elliott's career down the toilet, but I love it: a unique vision of Australia.
Not sure I'd watch this again, but it was impressive; excellent writer.
Very good SF.
This made an impression; a second-generation Greek Australian is both bi-cultural and bi-sexual.
One room, two men: excellent police procedural on a very small scale.
Radiance (Rachel Perkins, 1998) wr. Louis Nowra, play and screenplay, dp Warwick Thornton; Deborah Mailman (Nona), Rachael Maza (Cressy), Trisha Morton-Thomas (Mae); story of reunion between three Aboriginal sisters
Another Louis Nowra play very successfully transferred to the screen.
The Sugar Factory (Robert Carter, 1998) wr. Robert Carter; Matt Day, Rhondda Findleton, Michaela Noonan, John Waters, Tony Hayes; mentally disturbed teenager tormented by guilt over the death of a child
Matt Day's second-best film: a serious investigation of mental illness.
I'm glad we have a film about the tendency to rush off to India for instant enlightenment. This one also sends up Australian families (cf. eg. The Castle). But the guts of it is Winslet v. Keitel in an encounter only Campion could have imagined (cf. In the Cut). (So it's three films in one, like Jindabyne, qv.)
Probably forgotten by most now, it's worth it for the first three minutes, and also for Roy Billing's bus-driver.
Heath meets Rose. Gregor goes to Hollywood. Bloody good little Aussie film.
Eric Bana is scary; apparently the real Chopper Read approved - which is even scarier.
The second film from the team that made The Castle: not quite as successful, but still very good, and in the same ways.
By far the best of the Japanese-meets-Australian films, this one was shot by Oscar-winning Dion Beebe. (The goddess is a Citroën DS.)
The most popular of films about immigrants, this one has a light touch.
Monkey's Mask (Samantha Lang, 2000) novel Dorothy Porter; Kelly McGillis, Susie Porter, Abbie Cornish, Marton Csokas, Deborah Mailman; lesbian private detective dives head first into murder, manipulation and the consuming power of sex
Predictable sci-fi horror; but up there with Dark City as the best such Aussie film.
Related to the TV show Wogs Out of Work, this is great comedy: you gotta love the Chrysler Valiant.
Lantana (Ray Lawrence, 2001) wr. Andrew Bovell; Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong, Rachael Blake, Vince Colosimo, Russell Dykstra, Daniella Farinacci, Peter Phelps, Leah Purcell, Glenn Robbins
One of the best films ever written in Australia, this one allows an insight into half a dozen urban relationships of different kinds.
Spectacular! Baz will never make a better film, or have a better editor: Jill Bilcock.
Young man returns to country town, but, more to the point, to his mildly dysfunctional but basically loving family.
Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2001) wr. Christine Olsen, based on book by Doris Pilkington Garimara, dp Christopher Doyle; Everlyn Sampi, Kenneth Branagh, David Gulpilil, Tianna Sainsbury, Ningali Lawford, Laura Monaghan, Deborah Mailman; Molly Kelly and Daisy Kadibil appear briefly at the end; based on true story about Aboriginal children escaping custody in the 1930s
This is the Stolen Generations film we had to have: it's an emotional experience.
Covers some of the same ground as Samson and Delilah, but does much more also, and does it much better.
Australian Rules (Paul Goldman, 2002) wr. Phillip Gwynne (novel Deadly, Unna?), Paul Goldman, dp Mandy Walker; Nathan Phillips, Lisa Flanagan, Simon Westaway, Luke Carroll, Kevin Harrington, Martin Vaughan, Liz Black
Another take on non/Indigenous cultural collision, this offers (tho superficially) the possibility of conciliation.
My personal favourite: this shows what life is like for many rural (but not remote) First Australians - and also vignettes of their relations with (some) non-Aboriginal people. It's beautifully photographed - the director started as a stills photographer.
The Mafia - and John Goodman! - in Australia; and Bryan Brown does not get acted off the screen: all good fun.
Any film which brings together Judy Davis and Billy Connolly must be and is worth watching.
One of the 'The' films from around the same time: The Castle, The Dish, this is Bennett's shot at comedy, and it's not bad.
I admit I'm prejudiced, but I have seen this several times and I think it's ultimately charming, despite the tough beginning.
A touch too arty; but perhaps necessitated by the confronting subject-matter; Gulpilil superb.
Tony Ayres's first film has a gay subject: it's not claiming much to suggest that it's the best 'gay' film so far, as there are not very many.
Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003) wr. Alison Tilson, prod. Sue Maslin, ed. Jill Bilcock; Toni Collette, Gotaro Tsunashima; set and shot in Perth and the Pilbara; well-connected Japanese executive comes to Western Australian to inspect iron-ore mining and is driven into the bush by geologist (Collette)
Good try, especially from Collette: Japanese viewers see Hiro as too stereotypical.
Best of the many Kelly films. Not saying much.
I've seen this several times: it's fascinating.
A special little coming-of-age film.
Oyster Farmer (Anna Reeves, 2004) wr. Anna Reeves, dp Alun Bollinger; Alex O'Lachlan, Kerry Armstrong, David Field, Diana Glenn, Jack Thompson, David Kelly, Jim Norton, Claudia Harrison, Alan Cinis; romantic comedy set in Australian-style frontier country (shot on NSW Central Coast, around Brooklyn) with eighth-generation oyster farmers
A quirky and charming little film; fine cinematography from Kiwi Bollinger: shot on the Hawkesbury.
One of a kind: possibly the only feature from Fiji, and certainly the only one from Rotuma (a remote island which is technically part of Fiji).
Somersault (Cate Shortland, 2004) aka More Than Scarlet (working title); prod. Anthony Anderson, Jan Chapman, dp Robert Humphreys; Abbie Cornish, Sam Worthington, Lynette Curran, Erik Thompson, Anne Louise Lambert; premiere MIFF Wed 21 July 2004; discovery of the difference between sex and love in Jindabyne, an Australian winter ski resort town; standing ovation at Cannes 2004; Toronto FF September 2004; general release 9 Sept 2004; won all 13 awards at the AFIs 29 October 2004; review: Richard Luck, Empire, 43, October 2004: 27; see also: 35; 106 min.
Won more awards than it deserved, but is a genuinely good film.
Little Fish (Rowan Woods, 2005) Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Martin Henderson, Dustin Nguyen, Joel Tobeck, Noni Hazlehurst, Lisa McCune, Susie Porter; woman tries to escape her past as a heroin addict and set up a business in Sydney's west
Cabramatta, heroin, Little Saigon, Blanchett.
Look Both Ways (Sarah Watt, 2005) dp Ray Argall; Justine Clarke, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Andrew S. Gilbert; mix of animation and live action, as six people dealing with unexpected events find their lives intersecting
Realist drama, despite the visual art inserts.
The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005) wr. Nick Cave, music Nick Cave; Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, John Hurt, David Wenham, Tom Budge, David Gulpilil, Leah Purcell, Tom E. Lewis; epic period Western; three brothers charged with brutal crime 1880s
I personally don't like this - or anything else to do with Nick Cave - as I think it's a bunch of dark cliches: but it has a much better cast than it deserves, and gets drive from that.
Loosely based on the real-life Ivan Milat and Peter Falconio stories, this comes to very scary life with the astonishing performance of John Jarratt - one of the best in Australian film, yet not rewarded in the AFIs that year. Hugo Weaving won it for Little Fish. Jarratt was robbed, and he knew it.
Hunt Angels (Alec Morgan, 2006) docudrama; Ben Mendelsohn; little-known episode in Oz cinematic history: true and little known story of Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks, tenacious pioneers of the Australian film industry
I'm glad I was able to catch this: obviously I'm a sucker for a film about Oz Cin - but this is much better than its 20c. budget might suggest. It's also prolly much better than of the Kathner/Brooks films.
It's possible to see this as (merely) a bourgeois relationship morality drama, but the (black-white) cultural clash (tho a bit separate - as is the thriller aspect) is worth attending to.
Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr, 2006) wr. Rolf de Heer; performed entirely in the Ganalbingu language of David Gulpilil's Yolngu people and "one of the few Australian feature films to rely on English subtitles"
Much more than a pseudo-anthropological film, it has a great voice-over by David Gulpilil.
The best Boat People film, it also has fun with its Australian characters.
Eric Bana is good, but so are all the actors - in this film directed by a great actor.
Definitely the best western made in Australia.
Superficially like the The Boys - and at least as good as it is, which is saying something. But it's different; and even darker.
I can't think of another film with so many courageous performances from the women in it.
100 Bloody Acres (Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes, 2012) Damon Herriman, Angus Sampson, Anna McGahan, Oliver Ackland, Jamie Kristian, John Jarratt; comedy horror
Great fun. It subverts the gore horror flick by crossing it with not only romcom but also social problem themes. It's well-written.
Not Suitable for Children (Peter Templeman, 2012) romcom; Ryan Kwanten, Bojana Novakovic, Laura Brent, Alice Parkinson; WA
I enjoyed this very much, above all due to the participation of Sarah Snook. Excellent direction.
Great Gatsby, The (Baz Luhrmann, 2013) wr. F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel), Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce; US/Aust copro; Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Clarke, Jack Thompson
But is it an Australian film in any meaningful sense?
Mystery Road (Ivan Sen, 2013) wr. dp ed. Ivan Sen, prod. David Jowsey; Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Jack Thompson, Ryan Kwanten, Tony Barry, Tasma Walton, Damian Walshe-Howling, Siobhan Binge, David Field, Robert Mammone, Trisha Whitton; shot in Winton, Qld; Australian release 17 October 2013
It has to have a plot; everything else is superb.
New: 12 May, 2007 | Now: 21 September, 2016 | garrygillard[at]gmail.com