Butter up the popcorn as The Herald‘s film experts reveal the must-see Australian flicks of 2011.
LAST year, Australian cinema gave us a high-quality, internationally acclaimed Melbourne crime drama (Animal Kingdom), a successful adaptation of a beloved teen novel (Tomorrow, When the War Began) and an exuberant Aboriginal musical (Bran Nue Dae) – among many others. Thanks to filmmakers both long-established and freshly minted, producing everything from potent dramas and documentaries to animations and unconventional superhero movies, this year has the potential to be even more diverse, challenging and entertaining. Metro asked four of the Herald‘s film writers to tell us about the Australian flicks they’re most looking forward to this year.
Wasted on the Young Ben C. Lucas’s debut feature received an honourable mention in competition at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. It’s said to be a tense drama, set in a private school, with a twist in the narrative towards "moral fable". The cast are young and pretty and the characters indulge in lots of drugs and sex. Opens March 3.
Dreamland Ivan Sen’s latest, starring Daniel Roberts and Tasma Walton, sounds intriguing. It’s about a man (Roberts) obsessed with UFOs, who wanders around the Nevada desert near Area 51, looking up at the skies. The film was shown at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea. Expect some breathtaking imagery in an experimental vein from the director of Beneath Clouds. Opens TBC.
Hail Amiel Courtin-Wilson has been one of the bright young documentary talents since Chasing Buddha and Bastardy. This looks to be a hybrid of fiction and documentary, based on stories of former criminal Daniel P. Jones. Courtin-Wilson recorded the stories and turned them into a script. Expect this to be elegantly constructed, challenging and thoughtful. Opens TBC.
The Eye of the Storm The conjunction of veteran Australian director Fred Schepisi and Patrick White’s novel about a fractured family makes this one irresistible. Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush top an impressive bill as an estranged brother and sister brought together by the impending death of their mother, played by Charlotte Rampling – who’s unlikely to be inhibited by being chair-bound. Opens midyear.
Happy Feet 2 George Miller could be pushing his luck with a sequel to his animated hit of 2006. How funny can you continue to be about a colony of black-and-white birds who spend months on a block of ice? However, he and Australian visual-effects company Animal Logic poured such vivacity into their coming-of-age story about Mumble, the tap-dancing emperor penguin, that I’m full of optimism. Pink, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt join the sequel’s voice cast, which is again headed by Elijah Wood. Opens December 26.
Mrs Carey’s Concert The hero of documentary-maker Bob Connolly’s first film in 10 years is a Sydney high-school music director who wrangles all 1200 of her students into presenting a concert at the Opera House. The program is uncompromisingly classical. "But," the film’s teaser line says, "not everyone shares her passion." One student foments rebellion and another proves reluctant to realise her star potential. You can be sure Connolly (First Contact, Rats in the Ranks) and his co-director, Sophie Raymond, have been patient and perceptive enough to catch every nuance. Opens TBC.
Here I Am From Rabbit-Proof Fence to Samson & Delilah and Bran Nue Dae, Aboriginal stories have brought potency and vitality to recent Australian film. Indigenous director Beck Cole made a fascinating documentary that showed just how tough it was to make Samson & Delilah. With her debut feature Here I Am, Cole has made what is being called an uplifting drama about a young Aboriginal woman released from prison and trying to reconnect with her family. Opens June.
Mad Bastards Another Aboriginal story, this drama was acclaimed at both the Sydney and Sundance festivals last month. Sydney director Brendan Fletcher shows the Kimberley as the last frontier, where a tough drifter heads to see his teenage son but runs into a policeman who is just as tough. There’s a real humanity and warmth to a film that has music woven through it by the Pigram Brothers and Alex Lloyd. Opens May 5.
Snowtown There’s a lot to be said for making Australian films that appeal to mainstream audiences but my other choice this year is classic art-house material: a psychological drama based on the grisly Snowtown murders, when eight bodies were discovered in barrels of acid in South Australia. It is bound to be dark but, if it works, it could be as compelling as The Boys and Animal Kingdom. Opens May 19.
Griff the Invisible After his starring turn in last year’s Aussie western Red Hill, Ryan Kwanten continues to support top-shelf local talent during time off between seasons of the American cult TV show True Blood. Kwanten plays the role of the eponymous sensitive vigilante in the debut feature from Sydney actor, writer and director Leon Ford. Griff the Invisible thematically echoes Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. Opens March 17.
Oranges and Sunshine If we’re part-claiming The King’s Speech because of Sydneysider Emile Sherman’s involvement as a co-producer and the presence of two Australians in key roles, we’re having a piece of this for the same reasons. Hugo Weaving and David Wenham star alongside Emily Watson in a powerful drama. It’s based on the true story of a British social worker who learnt of poor and orphaned children who had been sent to live in British colonies such as Australia. Opens April 21.
The Reef Just when you thought it was safe to go diving at the Great Barrier Reef, writer-director Andrew Traucki bravely steps into Steven Spielberg’s flippers to film a tale of man versus shark, with a distinct Australian flavour. Based on a true story, The Reef reunites original Underbelly stars Damian Walshe-Howling and Gyton Grantley, dumps them in the ocean with a great white shark and looks utterly terrifying. Opens March 17.