My Favourite Australian Movies

Dec 18, 2006

The Bottom Line Something for everyone, all imbued with a unique Australian spirit.

Such a subjective thing to do, select movies and tag them with the "best" label. So instead I will be listing my 10 favourite Australian movies and there's quite an eclectic mix amongst them too. It seems to me that Australian movies are of one extreme or another. Comedies all seem to contain a certain amount of skewed humour that takes a certain part of the Australian social landscape and then turns it on its head so that we can see just a teeny hint of ourselves in it, but only enough to make us think that they’re talking about someone else. When it comes to drama, violent movies aren’t simply violent, they’re downright brutal, and for some reason Aussie thrillers often display tinges of the supernatural. Why? Dunno.

So here they are, a feast of Australian movies.

Gallipoli (1981)

This is an incredibly moving story based around the battle that was fought on the Turkish peninsula whose name is now synonymous with Australian courage, mateship and senseless loss of life. This is the story of a couple of young men (Mark Lee & Mel Gibson), both champion sprinters who met at an athletics meet and went on to join up – their ultimate destination – the shores of Gallipoli. The opening and closing scenes of this movie are still etched deeply into my memory.

Muriel's Wedding (1994)

The movie that launched Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding is a delight with the overweight underdog Muriel Heslop striving to achieve her one goal in life – to get married. The notable scene from this movie would have to be Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths’ lip-synching to Abba’s Mamma Mia, sparking another revival of the Swedish super group here in Australia. Ever present Bill Hunter (has there been an Australian movie released that doesn’t contain this guy?) plays Muriel’s disgraceful father in memorable style but it's Collette as Muriel and her will to prevail against the odds that steals the show.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

Remember the pan pipes. The legend of Hanging Rock was created thanks to a combination of a diabolically clever plot that leaves the fate of the school girls who disappeared while on an excursion open and a soundtrack that wormed its way right into the middle of your brain, never to leave again. Set somewhere around the turn of the 19th century, this spooky thriller works wonderfully well simply by never answering the question of whatever happened to the girls.

The Adventures of Priscilla - Queen of the Desert (1994)

How can a bunch of drag-queens trooping through the Australian desert in a big silver bus not be a formula for a hit movie. The costuming is brilliant, the soundtrack contains just about every gay anthem ever released. This was quite simply just great fun and Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp and Guy Pearce looked like they had great fun doing it. And who should they meet out in the middle of nowhere but Bill Hunter (has there been an Australian movie released that doesn’t contain this guy – I’m asking you).

Shine (1996)

The story of David Helfgott, a piano-playing prodigy who suffered a monumental nervous breakdown, largely attributed to his overbearing father. Won Geoffrey Rush an Oscar for his performance, although personally, I thought the performance of the movie was by Noah Taylor who plays the young Helfgott. I thought this was simply a fascinating story (made more so by the fact that it’s a true story). At times there is a manic quality about the movie, others its quite poignant, but throughout it’s wonderfully acted and tightly directed by Scott Hicks.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Ahead of it's time! Just check out the success of Dancing With the Stars and the makers of this movie must be cursing the fact that they didn't hold it back a few years. The dancing of Paul Mercurio is wonderful, as is the bitchiness of all the other ballroom dancers against whom he competes. We are taken into a whole ‘nuther world when we walk into the halls of a ballroom competition where rules are made never to be broken and competition is fierce. The whole movie is one big hilarious metaphor for life. Bill Hunter in a wig is worth watching too (has there been an Australian movie released that doesn’t contain…aw forget it).

Mad Max (1979)

(Titled “Road Warrior” in the US) Mel Gibson’s first motion picture and what a memorable one it was. Set sometime in the future in the desolate roads along which criminal predators prowl, this is the ultimate revenge hunt filmed with an obviously limited budget but it has huge appeal. The sequels Mad Max II and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome are testament to this. I wasn’t allowed to watch this when it first came out thanks to its R rating and my tender age, I was desperate to see it and when I did, it appealed largely through its otherworldly feel and setting.

Crocodile Dundee (1986)

Paul Hogan, the Aussie comedian who’s comedy specials were hits for years and years, hit the big time with this outback comedy of the larrikin crocodile hunter who meets and falls in love with a pretty journalist from the US. Filled with charm and plenty of humour, not to mention some breathtaking scenes of the Australian outback, this was an instant winner with all Paul Hogan fans. Containing typical Hoges humour from the first scene to the last, the “that’s not a knife…that's a knife” quote is still a favourite.

Romper Stomper (1992)

Not Russell Crowe’s first movie but boy oh boy does he make an impact as Hando, the neo-Nazi skinhead who takes on a group of Vietnamese on the streets of Melbourne. This is pure hate-filled violence and Crowe gives a powerful performance. Not for the faint hearted or weak-stomached.

The Boys (1998)

Set in Sydney’s Western Suburbs this is the story of a lower class family who welcome home Brett Sprague who has just been released from prison where he served time for assault. Out on parole there is no doubt that he hasn’t come out a changed man and immediately goes on the hunt again. This is a dark movie that suggests great violence without actually displaying it, making it even more disturbing, strangely enough. Anger and hatred oozes off the screen as the intensity builds constantly. David Wenham is absolutely outstanding in the role of Brett.

Other notables
Moulin Rouge! – colour, movement, love and loss. What a hectic movie, great on the eye and with a love story to boot.

Breaker Morant – another historical drama based on the court martial of Harry Morant during the Boer War.

The Dish – the small NSW town of Parkes plays a great role in the mission to set man on the moon. This small budget movie is a comedic triumph written and produced by the Working Dog team that brought us television comedies such as The Late Show, The Panel and Thank God You’re Here.

Chopper – I only wanted to mention this to note Eric Bana’s role as criminal Mark “Chopper” Read and to acknowledge his wonderful performance.

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