Today is Australia Day, and to celebrate here at Audiences Everywhere, I asked the non-Australia based writers to write about their favourite movies from Down Under. Australia Day celebrates the arrival of the First Fleet from Great Britain to these shores. It is also known as Invasion Day and seen as a day of mourning for the destruction wrought by the arrival of the First Fleet from Great Britain upon the indigenous cultures who already inhabited these lands. Today in Australia, it will be a day of BBQs, parties, protests, and conversations about #ChangetheDate. It’s also a chance for you lot outside of the Lucky Country to educate yourself on the cinema of Australia with the handy recommendations provided below. – Sean Fallon (Pommie living in Australia)
After a noble losing battle against Braveheart for Best Picture in 1996, in which the family film became a dark horse family favorite whose momentum was pushed by its audiences appreciation for its feel good delivery, Babe kind of tapered off, resigned to the warm corners in the hearts of its first viewers. We don’t talk about Babe with the same frequency and excitement that we talk about certain ’90s family films (namely the classic Disney films of the same era) and that’s our loss. Any return visit to the film reveals that Chris Noonan’s direction, James Cromwell’s stern-faced but sympathetic performance, and the reserved work on the animal elements of the story have held up really well (interesting to remember that Babe defeated Apollo 13 for the Best Visual Effects Oscar). But more than that, Babe’s sense of intimacy, kindness, and warmth is unwavering, right up until the final, perfect sequence and a tearjerking last line. – David Shreve, Jr.
The Black Balloon (2008)
Toni Colette is one of Australia’s greatest treasures, generally known for her roles in Little Miss Sunshine and The United States of Tara, but she really shines in her Australian roles, in particular as Maggie Mollison in The Black Balloon. It’s sometime in the ‘90s and the Mollisons have moved to a new town, a ripe setting for drama to occur. As a messy coming-of-age indie dramedy, we’re meant to focus on Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) and his struggles through teenage romance in a new town while living with his autistic brother, Charlie (Luke Ford). However, once again Collette steals the show with her portrayal of a pregnant, exhausted mother coping with the same. Something about her performances are always earnest and authentic, and this lends her to any film that talks about real, down to earth issues and people. First-time director Elissa Down frames the family in such a compassionate light that it’s easy to fall in love with every character and sympathize with their personal struggles. Simon, Thomas and Charlie’s father, speaks frankly about taking care of his own when asked about his thoughts on Charlie’s ADD and autism. Thomas’ love interest, Jackie (Gemma Ward) brings an added warmth and understanding to the family, reaching out to Charlie more than is expected or required of her, consistently pushing past her own discomfort. The family is tender and loving, but everyone is tired in their own way. Like most teens, Thomas just wishes everything about his family was “normal” and, predictably, he’ll come to see that it is—in all the ways that really matter. After all, as someone once said, “you can shit in one hand and wish in the other and see which fills up faster.” Though crass, it’s true, and it’s a lesson we all have to learn eventually. If only we could all learn it in such a charming, touching way as The Black Balloon shows it can be done. – Becky Belzile
Mad Max (1979)
While it’s The Road Warrior and Fury Road that receive the most critical acclaim for their ambition and impact on genre films, Mad Max carries a significant weight all of its own. George Miller’s independent film offers a world that’s not so far removed from our own (and that’s remained true whether we’re talking about 1979 or 2017. It’s a world on the brink of collapse, with goodness, order and sanity as scarce as gas. Miller, through his construction of Max Rockatansky as one of the last sources of law in the near barren landscapes of Melbourne, and Mel Gibson’s earnest and clean-cut portrayal position Mad Max as a film about a hero. He’s not just situated as a hero capable of defeating a crazed biker gang, but a hero capable of turning the world back from the Its hedonistic lust for destruction. He’s the one who can seemingly restore the traditional values of family and career to a world that’s in the process of forgetting those things ever mattered. It’s only later that we realize that Miller isn’t interested in telling a hero’s story but the fall of an ordinary man who cannot both survive and hold on to his sanity in a world that has lost all value for human life. Much has been made over the years about Miller’s guerrilla filmmaking style, his willingness to shoot without permits or many of the luxuries afforded to studio films. But what’s most irregular about Miller’s filmmaking is how he ambushes the audience’s expectations of a hero’s journey and offers them something different: the brutal birth of a road warrior who could and would become an enduring figure in a world that no longer plays by the rules. – Richard Newby
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Even more than forty years after its release, Picnic at Hanging Rock endures as a classic of Australian cinema, beloved by film fanatics the world over. Atmospheric and moody in a way that lingers long after you’ve finished watching, the film—and its story of the Valentine’s Day disappearance of several boarding school girls and their teacher on an outing to a nearby rock formation—still has the power to haunt. Once you’ve seen the movie, you can spot its ethereal influence pop up in the cinematography and production design of countless other films that followed. And, though based on a novel, the belief by many that Picnic is based on real events, still persists in a way that supplants even the pre-internet Blair Witch fandom. Its director, Peter Weir, is arguably the continent’s greatest-living filmmaker with a lengthy career knee-deep in both Australian classics—The Last Wave, Gallipoli—and acclaimed stateside hits—Witness, Dead Poets Society. This unconventional mystery, a surprise global hit, gives the outsider a privileged snapshot of a very specific moment in Australia’s history. We’ve seen the Victorian era of England on film countless times, but Australia’s indigenous culture adds an enriching depth to Picnic. While audiences are now more conscious of avoiding the condescension of indigenous-equals-mystical storylines, it’s important to remember that sexuality was also a deeply cloaked topic at the time, and its suppressed energies nevertheless pulse through the entire film. There are more realistic depictions of the continent to be sure, but for me, none is as evocative and memorable as this must-see classic. – Samantha Sanders
The Proposition (2005)
John Hillcoat’s directorial debut from a script written by legendary musician Nick Cage stands as the best screen work of both its director and screenwriter, in large part because it finds a perfect pyschic landscape in the untamed outback of the 1880s. The Proposition is the undercelebrated perfect Western of a year that saw the genre’s resurgence in films like No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the 3:10 to Yuma remake. Of all of these films, The Proposition is the most reinventive, gritty, and powerfully reserved. The story of an outlaw brother sent by a vicious sheriff hellbent on civilizing the landscape to assassinate his older brother (the leader of their criminal gang) in exchange for the life of his younger brother, The Proposition is a Shakespearian epic tired by being dragged bloody through the Australian dirt, infused with emotional weight and unbearable tension. Bolstered by performances from acting royalty Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Emily Watson, and Danny Huston, The Proposition is a can’t miss Western that somehow was far too missed. – David Shreve, Jr.
Wake in Fright (1971)
A favorite of horror fanatics and elitist cinephiles alike, Wake in Fright is a grueling film experience capturing the alcohol-fueled spiral of a middle school teacher, bound by indentured servitude in the basement of human impulse, as defined by the Outback lifestyle. Like The Proposition, but far less inhibited, Wake in Fright is a measurement of Civilization by the forcing of its characters in the opposite direction. Begrudged civil servant John Grant (played by a tortured Gary Bond) never has a chance, even in those brief moments of hope in which it seems he may climb upward. Based on the novel of the same name from Kenneth Cook, this screen translation is unflinching in adapting the material, so much so that it’s impossible to recommend Wake in Fright without providing a warning to anyone who loves animals (there’s a vicious climax involving kangaroos in which John Grant is reduced to his most animalistic in participation in a hunting party). When Martin Scorsese selected this film to screen at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, he spoke toward his being unnerved by its story, and if that doesn’t sell fans of bold cinema, I’m not sure what will. – David Shreve, Jr.
At first glance, Walkabout is a tale of survival. An unnamed girl (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother are stranded in the outback after their father snaps and shoots at them during a family picnic. Shielding themselves from his rage, the girl witnesses him light the car on fire and shoot himself in the head. Scarcely missing a beat, she gathers whatever supply she can and leads her brother away from the mad tragedy. Together they wander across the desert, at first only due to the girl’s impressive instinct to survive and then because of the aborigine youth who crosses their path.This is where the thoughts deepen to consider the film a quiet commentary on isolation and communication. As a rite of passage, the aborigine boy journeys through the arid wilderness on his walkabout. The goal or outcome of every walkabout is as varied and mysterious as its owner. One may find spiritual healing and enlightenment in the expanse as they step into manhood, another might view it as a necessary symbolic separation from the state or the status quo. Guiding the siblings through the desert and helping them survive, the aborigine boy confronts his own purpose and direction in life in a way they—and we, by extension—cannot understand. Walkabout is a minimalist’s film, shot with an impeccable eye that focuses on life and draws out the blinding colour of an otherwise dead place. Its wildest moments are intercut with quick shots of city life, but even in these flashes it gives no firm opinion and expects no particular reaction. It inspires thoughtful viewing with a light hand and artistic touch, and for that alone it will be appreciated by fans for years to come. – Becky Belzile
Featured Image: Universal Pictures