In this final entry in our five part series on the greatest Australian films of all time, we focus our attention on the best Australian movies made since 2005. While the financial challenges of local film production continue to this day, a brief look at the output of the last ten years reveals an impressive selection of commercially driven works of popular entertainment, and introspective films with a strong focus on investigating the true fabric of Australia. All in all, it has been an exciting period for Australia’s national cinema.
There will inevitably be films that we have missed, or movies that many feel should not have made the cut, but there in lies the fun. So without further ado, here is the final entry in our series on the 100 greatest Australian movies of all time.
The Proposition (2005)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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 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)
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)
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 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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.