“Mum said it was funny how one day you’re not famous, and the next day you are. Famous. And then you’re not again.” – Dale Kerrigan, “The Castle” (1997)
It is a little known fact that Australia is the founder of the feature film. Made in 1906 “The Story of the Kelly Gang” ran for more than an hour following the life and times of Ned Kelly, a real life Australian criminal deemed a hero in post production. And in history books. For some reason. Yeah yeah, I know, our country was founded by criminals.
To celebrate Australia Day on 26 January (or Invasion Day, depending on how you look at it) this year the movie world has gone ‘straight to the pool room’ and dusted off an Australian classic (and Eric Bana’s film debut), “The Castle”, bringing it back to the big screen for a two day special run. While it would be unpatriotic to say “The Castle” is anything but brilliant (the Australian equivalent of “Shawshank Redemption”, except funnier, more parochial, less of the prison scenes and more of the fighting with photocopier scenes. Okay no similarities except they are both great and beloved films), it is a timely reminder to recognise some of the other great Australian films that have gotten dusty on the shelf over the years that are also worth revisiting.
Two Hands (1999)
Filmed right before Heath Ledger jetted off to the US to serenade Julia Stiles in “10 Things I Hate About You”, he starred with a young (and unnaturally blonde) Rose Byrne in this gangsta film about a 19 year old in Sydney getting in way over his head with the local thugs…i.e. he takes on a job delivering $10,000 for them, decides to go to the beach, takes a swim, and loses it. Just. So. Aussie. You can only imagine what Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield would have done to him. Evoking the raw talent and charisma that would follow Ledger through his career, the film was our answer to “Pulp Fiction” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, but done in the way only we can. More shotties, Aussie music (hello “Powderfinger”) and bank robbery planning with the kids playing next to them and Mum bringing the tea.
The little pig that could – I don’t need to write much about this one since it was one of the few Australian films to break out internationally. Also the film that stopped me eating ham for three years. The only thing putting me off watching it is that I freaking love ham and I’ve finally recovered enough to eat it again. Baa-ram-ewe. Baa-ram-ewe. Even Scully was affected!
Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)
Long before Brooklyn-ites discovered Mumblecore, Melbourne had its own low budget version with this little classic about a day in the life of two film school students trying to find love…and another housemate. Shot without permits and marking the feature film debuts for Frances O’Connor (“A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, “Mansfield Park”, “Madame Bovary”) and Radha Mitchell (“Pitch Black”, “Olympus Has Fallen”), the film’s high stakes including transferring classes before the deadline, getting out of library fines, throwing a party and avoiding the supervisor for a thesis on Doris Day as feminist warrior. A charming and naturalistic black and white film, many of its stars went on to great careers and is highly deserving of a re-watch, even just for the 90s fashion #90snostalgia.
“Now that I realize I’ve just been suffering from a simple psychotic depression, I feel strangely empowered.” – Alice
Clint knows my feelings on the topic of Mel Gibson (I say good on “The Hangover II” cast for refusing to work with him), but this movie will always get a pass because it’s so much bigger than him, and you like to think he was so young he hadn’t gone down his hateful/mental/wayward path yet. Directed by Peter Weir (“Picnic At Hanging Rock”, “Dead Poets Society”, “The Truman Show”) the film follows two young Australian sprinters as they discover the realities of war when they sign up for World War I. Brilliantly directed, acted, and packing an extra bullet through the heart due to its historical basis (young promising Australians were basically used as cannon fodder for the British), this one has me in tears every time, and believe me, I’m not a crier.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Also known as Ballroom Dancing on Crack.
Part of an Australian film renaissance that included “Muriel’s Wedding” and “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” we’ve all come to expect the colour and frenetic energy that is Baz Lurhman’s opening move now, but in this his first film, Australian audiences were grabbed by the hand and spun into a tornado of eye shadow and hair spray that we never quite recovered from. While the film has dated in clothing and movie tropes, it is so over the top you can’t help but be taken along for the ride. Just check out the original trailer below
No we didn’t make all our best films in the 90s (this list might be skewed according to my 30s age bracket, and, as mentioned previously, #90snostalgia). Starring the powerhouse that is Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Barbara Hershey, Kerry Armstrong and more, it is a rashomon tale following the discovery of a woman’s body in suburban Sydney. Again with the acting pedigree that we’ve grown to be pretty proud of, the film also boasts hauntingly beautiful cinematography, authentic character studies, and a completely satisfying yet unexpected conclusion.
Looking for Alibrandi (2000)
Our own take on the high school experience and drama that goes with it, but on this occasion also addressing life as a third generation immigrant, juggling family secrets, studies, expectations, boys, and suicide, it packs a much weightier punch than most in this category. Bringing home talent that have spent the majority of their careers overseas (Anthony LaPaglia, Greta Scacchi) and introducing Pia Miranda and Kick Gurry, this was a fantastic adaptation to a beloved Australian novel.
Mad Max II: The Road Warrior (1981)
Doing post apocalyptic dystopia before post apocalyptic dystopia was cool, “Mad Max 2” is another one starring a young Mel Gibson as he plays a cynical drifter who comes to the aid of a small, oil rich community targeted by bandits. I’ve singled out the second of the three (soon to be four) films as the 95 minute running time pretty much consists of one classic scene after the other, and one hell of a car chase to close it off. From the outfits, to the somewhat accurate (we’ll see) prediction of oil as currency and power, to having a character called ‘Boomerang Kid’ that isn’t cute and charming and sprouting stereotypical Australian banalities like ‘blimey’ and ‘strewth’ but who slices his enemy’s hand off and then backflips back into the hole unto which he came. Yeah. It’s as awesome as it sounds. Sadly the upcoming fourth installment “Mad Mad: Fury Road” was filmed in South Africa so we can’t claim it as our own, but really, will they be able to beat this?