Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Favourite Australian Films (Part 2)

This has been a long time coming, but at long last here is the conclusion to my 10 film list. Films are in no particular order and may be added to in the future.

Mad Max 2

This is a film that holds a permanent spot in my annual Top 20 List. Beginning with archival footage showing how the world turned into a wasteland occupied by leather-clad psychopunks driving whatever spike-covered vehicle they can get their mitts on and with an unquenchable thirst for petrol, the film simultaneously SLAMS into both gorgeous Dean Semler-shot 2.35 widescreen and Surround Sound. So forget Best Australian Film - this is in the running for my favourite movie ever. And I don't say that with any tinge of sentimentalism. I didn't see this film until I quite recently, when I was twenty-six and IT BLEW MY DAMN HAT OFF. Doctor George Miller and Terry Hayes spun this yarn out of pure gold.

Best (anti)hero since Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name? Check.

Best Explosion ever committed to film? Check (and with a budget the size of the catering costs on any other "also-ran" in this category).

Best Chase Sequence Ever? Half-Check. This one's a verified, bonafide draw with the chase from TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA (listen to Hollywood Saloon's disection HERE). But equal first is no sneezing matter.

Just see it. You will not be disappointed.

P.S. This was released in the US as THE ROAD WARRIOR, so you may have to search under that title, for any out-of-Oz readers.

Dead Calm

If Terry Hayes wrote every Australian film, the Oz industry would be in a far better state. This tale of grieving parents who try to escape the memory of their son's death by going on a yacht trip is one of the simplest and most tense thrillers you will ever see. John (Sam Neill) and Rae (Nicole Kidman) spot a sinking sailboat on the horizon. When they whip out the binoculars, they see a man in a dinghy rowing towards them as though his life depended on it. The man, Hughie, scared out of his wits, leaps aboard the couple's yacht and hysterically tells them that all the crew have died of food poisoning. When Hughie passes out, the couple lock him in a cabin and John goes to investigate what's on the other boat...

What follows is an incredibly tense thriller that goes places most thrillers shy away from. There's one particular scene where I thought: "There's no way that's going to happen - that just doesn't happen in movies." Yet sure enough, it happens in this one.

I was introduced to this movie by my Mum and I had actually forgotten how good it was until I saw it again a couple of nights ago. Great script, near perfect direction by Phillip Noyce (apart from a couple of questionable shot choices) and gorgeous cinematography by Dean Semler.

Muriel's Wedding

MURIEL'S WEDDING at first glance seems like a checklist of the reasons why Australians don't see Australian films: Quirky? Check. Cheap-looking? Check. Small-scale story? Check. But this tale of an Abba-loving, frumpy outcast played by Toni Collette is like a screenwriting masterclass when it comes to character development. Muriel wants to get married. More than anything else in the world. And the audience wants it for her. But the development of her character sees her realise what she really needs is not to get married, but to be true to herself and the joy in watching the film is that we are in such lock-step with the character that as she realises it, so do we.

Plus the music is great and Bill Hunter as one-time major political contender Bill Hesslop is one of the most quotable Australian characters of all time.

Animal Kingdom

My favourite film of 2010 so far and the only one of the 25 I've seen at the cinema this year that I've bothered watching a second time. Former Inside Film editor David Mich┼Źd crafts a powerful crime story/family tragedy by borrowing elements from the true events of Melbourne's Walsh Street killings. It's a story about the end of the era of bank holdups in Australia, as much as Newsfront is about the death of the newsreel.


This is a very late addition to the list. Having been so impressed his direction on Dead Calm, I went to get out on DVD this early effort by Phillip Noyce. It ended up being so good it knocked THE CASTLE off the list.

The story of newsreel cameramen trying to maintain their integrity in the face of changing times (mainly the advent of television), this film seemed to me to have a similar premise to a lot of Peckinpah films, i.e. Unchanging men in a changing world. Bill Hunter (Australian icon who speaks as though his words begin in his lower intestine and says the word "Sheilas" as though he coined the term) plays Len Maguire, a cameraman for Cinetone, one of two companies producing newsreels to be run before feature films in cinemas.

I couldn't believe how well this film integrated archival footage into their own footage the black and white photography in particular is gorgeous and the film's depiction of the 1955 Maitland floods is a real standout - you can't tell what's archival footage and what isn't.

I was also very taken by actress Wendy Hughes, whose name I had heard but have only just put a face to the name. And what a face - she's a classical beauty and has a great part as Amy, Cinetone production assistant with ambitions to run the struggling company.

Newsfront stands as a real tribute to these men who pursued their work with such passion, that many died in striving for the perfect shot. I was very affected by the film and really hope that we can see a new wave of Australian writers and directors with such a passion for their subjects as Phillip Noyce clearly has for his.