Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top 5 Australian Films of 2012

As we draw near the conclusion of 2012 I thought I would look back and highlight some significant Australian releases over the last 12 months. Though there have been some absolute duds hit cinemas this year, it has been a strong year for Australian film overall. All of the films I mention below are very different and show off some of Australia's best up-and-coming talent. I think you will see, judging by my list, that the AACTA voters for the nominees (courtesy of Graffiti With Punctuation) got it pretty much right.


5. The Sapphires - Understandably, following a heap of buzz following the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, audiences came in droves to see The Sapphires. It became one of the biggest box office hits of the year. The film is a lot of fun and can't be faulted for its energy, offering up a series of catchy soul beats and lively stage performances. Despite uneven pacing and oversimplification of some serious national issues, not to mention the grittier aspects of Vietnam struggle, viewers recognise that it is more interested in being a charming underdog story, producing laughs and lighting up the screen with renditions of soul favourites, than it is about detailing such dramatic issues. This is acceptable. It is a spirited, heartwarming tale and a celebration of the extraordinary story of these women. With a funky soundtrack, glowing cinematography and fine performances from (including the roguish, scene-stealing Chris O'Dowd) this is destined to become a classic.


4. Not Suitable For Children - A romantic comedy focusing on Jonah (Ryan Kwanten), a freewheeling young guy who sets out to ensure he fathers a child before he becomes infertile, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer. It is the directorial debut of Peter Templeman (Oscar nominated for his short film, The Saviour, in 2007). It is a light, amusing adult comedy with a consistent offering of laughs and a strong soundtrack. The use of montage cleverly pushed the story along, allowing for plenty of awkward exchanges between Jonah and his housemates, who try and talk reason into the shell-shocked partier whose paternal instincts have kicked into serious overdrive. Features great chemistry between Kwanten and Sarah Snook (in a breakout role) as well as effective support from Ryan Corr as Jonah's housemate and stressed-out party maestro.



3. Hail - The tale of a broken man without self-control, and stuck within the confines of a violent criminal past, his present social position and the company he keeps, there is little hope for him evolving. When tragedy hits close to home, he feels like he has nothing to live for and descends into a spiral of merciless self-destruction and madness. Hail, a docu-drama of astounding authenticity, tells a nightmarish and uncompromising revenge tale brimming with harsh verbal and physical brutality and a sensory bashing that will be tough to shake. Based on the life and stories of former prisoner Daniel P Jones, who stars in the film as himself, Hail is a rough-looking film tracking the raw realities of the return of an ex-con to society following his release from a Melbourne prison. With his bold first feature Melbourne filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy) blurs the line between fact and fiction and creates a brutal, unsettling and audacious film sure to be admired by tough-skinned viewers.


2. Wish You Were Here - A relevant, engaging and cleverly conceived Australian drama, and the directorial debut of veteran actor Kieran Darcy-Smith. It is co-written by Darcy-Smith and his wife, Felicity Price (who also stars) and impressively, was selected to screen at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Blending the vibrant atmosphere of a beautifully lensed Cambodia with a suffocating and threatening mood of Sydney, this taut and powerfully acted story is told through a non-linear narrative style. It is emotionally stirring and conceptually satisfying. The success of the storytelling rests in the editing. To tell a non-linear tale, and to gradually introduce audiences to events in the past, while keeping the present events running smoothly, rests in the thoughtful introduction of these inserts. What is especially impressive about this film is the fact that the crumbling of Dave (Joel Edgerton, oustanding) and Alice’s (Price) trust for one another is directly linked to the events that occurred on their holiday – and as they are revealed to the audience, their relationship is affected. On one level it is a holiday gone wrong, and the other it is a domestic unraveling. Both layers are brilliantly conveyed.


1. Lore - Tells a bleak, uncommon, and harrowing tale of a Nazi siblings traverse across war-ravaged Germany in search of their grandmother's home following the imprisonment of their parents. Directed by Australian director Cate Shortland (AFI winner for Somersault), this international co-production screened at the Sydney Film Festival as part of the Official Competition. Featuring a breakthrough role from Saskia Rosendahl, this is a stirring and emotionally resonating war drama that comes highly recommended. The tense atmosphere - which captures a reality as grim as they come and offers up a suffocating level of foreboding - is beautifully conveyed in the stunning photography courtesy of Adam Arkapaw (Snowtown and Animal Kingdom), one of Australia's best DP's. You feel every step the children make through the mud, and can almost smell the stench of death surrounding them. Lore is also very effectively scored by Max Richter, and the young actors all deliver mature performances. The conclusion is powerful because it is evident how much Lore (Rosendahl) has changed - coming to terms with her family's accountability and adjusting her own prejudices having learned that they never would have made it without the aid of Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina) considered a friendly to the American forces. The emotions that weigh on her having turned Thomas away, knowing that he would not be welcomed to her grandmother's house, involves heartbreaking revelation. This very well crafted film from Shortland is not just the best Australian production this year, but one of the best films, period. It is Australia's representative for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards and has a real shot at being nominated. 

3 comments:

  1. Great article Andy. I've been catching up on Aussie films too after the AACTA nominations. Have you seen Burning Man or are you considering that a 2011 release (I haven't seen it.)

    I haven't seen LORE or HAIL either and am trying to get to them as soon as you can. Lore is in the top 4 odds for Foreign Language Film so I think it's looking good!

    I really enjoyed Wish You Were Here too.

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    1. Burning Man was a 2011 release, but just missed the cut off for AACTA consideration. Lore has a great shot at a nomination. Thinking back to SFF and the films that screened in competition. I have seen almost all of them - and I would only rank it behind Monsiuer Lazhar and Caesar Must Die. Essential viewing.

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