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Five Films about Australia better than ‘Australia’

This is a guest post written by Greg Davies. Greg is known in social media circles as cGt2099, and runs the sites The-TrukstoP.com and WallabyDown.com. We’ve previously featured his inestimable talents on the post:
Before the Galaxy Far, Far Away: Influences on ‘Star Wars’

©Annie Leibovitz for Vogue
© Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

One of the most expected movies of 2008, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, also turned out to be one of the most polarizing. When the film was finally released, it was subject to a wide range of reviews; from positive to neutral to negative… it was unmistakable that the movie would not be universally loved as the hype before release had many people believe.

While Australia is not exactly a terrible film, it’s not exactly an exceptional one either. It does have its flaws; though it was overall well-received in my home nation from which the film gets its namesake.

It can be quite exasperating for many Aussies though, when only certain films about the Great Southern Land get all of the misdirected worldwide attention, while other fabulous movies are frighteningly underrated and rarely get seen by people outside of Australia.

Before you dive into renting or buying a copy of Luhrmann’s Australia on DVD/Blu-Ray (available Tues, Mar. 3rd); contemplate some of the following Aussie films that not only capture the essence of the Australian spirit, but are far superior documentations of Australian culture and history…

The Castle

the_castle

Many Americans have probably never heard of The Castle, but it has got a minor cult following in the USA. Released in 1997, the film was an Aussie comedy featuring the unique and hilarious talents of Michael Caton and Eric Bana (While we’re on the subject, for those who are unaware, Eric Bana actually began his career in Australia as a television comedian – well before the days of turning into the Hulk). The plot behind the film follows a Melbourne airport wanting to take over the main character’s family home and property for expansion purposes. However, this plot line, while solid and entertaining, takes second place to the ethics and attitude of working class Aussies (“the battlers”) and how they fit into contemporary Australia.

Ned Kelly

heath_NedKelly

While the Americans had Billy the Kid and Jesse James; Australia’s celebrated outlaw was Ned Kelly. Now a cultural icon, and a hero in the eyes of some, Ned Kelly was a bushranger that became a hunted lawbreaker by the Victorian police. He has been the subject of many films (including one misguided attempt in the 1970’s featuring Mick Jagger in the lead role), but undoubtedly the best film to portray this historic figure was one released in 2003, with Heath Ledger acting as Ned. Accompanied by Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, and Joel Edgerton, the movie was based on the novel Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe; and is considered to be perhaps one of the more precise portrayals of Ned Kelly. On top of that, the movie depicts the hardened and muddied lives of Australians during the late 1800’s, from the dishonesty among authorities to the light-hearted larrikinism of the working-class of the time.

Gallipoli

gallipoli

Every year, on April 25, Australians commemorate ANZAC Day – a day of remembrance and tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in the First World War, and all the wars that followed. The day of celebration gets its name from the ANZACs – The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The events of Australia’s involvement in World War I was the coming-of-age for the nation; and culminated in the Battle of Gallipoli, fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey – conceivably one of the most bloodiest and brutal battles of the war. Tens of thousands of ANZAC troops fought at Gallipoli – and many of these young men faced their deaths on this battleground. It was a time of grieving for the young nation of Australia – and the remembrance is always celebrated with more sobering respect than with elaboration or fanfare. Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli not only portrays the battlefield events of this chapter of the First World War, but leads up to the climactic battle with finely honed accuracy of the Australian identity – from the lifestyles down under during the time period, to the Australian solidarity among soldiers during war time. The film was a massive success in Australia, was a launch pad for Mel Gibson’s career, and is perhaps one of the best known films for capturing the Aussie spirit.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

priscilla_queen_of_the_des

Irreverent humor is a part of the Australian uniqueness, and has been for decades. Out of many of the Aussie films to surface over the years, Priscilla is most definitely one that plays on the distinctive Aussie sense of humor. The story centers around three drag queens (including General Zod and Agent Smith!), travelling from Sydney to Alice Springs in a bus (dubbed Priscilla) for a show at a casino. While the movie is well known for its breathtaking footage of the outback, it is perhaps better known for highlighting the immense contrast between Aussie city culture and Aussie rural culture – and highlights the issues surrounding tolerance and acceptance of other people in the modern era. Besides all this, it’s a magnificent film – even worth seeing just to hear Terence Stamp say the line, “That’s just what this country needs. A cock in a frock on a rock”… or of course another classic: “Now listen here, you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get, sweetheart!”

Rabbit-Proof Fence

rabbit-proof-fence

This movie is unmistakably one of the more striking and significant Australian films to have been released in the last decade. The account is a tale from the Stolen Generation – a generation of young Australian Aboriginal children who were ‘stolen’ from their parents by the government in a foolish attempt to integrate them into “White Culture”. The Aboriginal people of Australia have been subject to many injustices by the governments through history, and the tale of the Stolen Generation is but a part of a long and sad tale of how such a rich and vibrant culture was almost erased by ignorant powers-that-be. The story of Rabbit-Proof Fence follows the trek of three young girls who run away from the Moore River Native Settlement in an attempt to return to families. Their journey home shows them following the 1,500 miles of the Australian rabbit-proof fence (a fence created to exclude rabbits, and other pests from pastoral areas). Rabbit-Proof Fence is an moving film – one that not only how far we have come in Australian race relations, but also one that gives a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to travel. The movie was the recipient of several awards, and also features a remarkable performance by Kenneth Branagh.

Honorable Mention:

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

max-2

While The Road Warrior is not necessarily a film that captures the quintessence of the Australian spirit, it is significant in its international impact as an Australian film. The movie helped strengthen the strength of the growing Australian film industry; and it also popularized the post-apocalyptic film genre that would see many imitations appear from all corners of the globe for decades after its release.

99 thoughts on “Five Films about Australia better than ‘Australia’

  1. I have only seen Gallipoli, an astounding film, but I also would have included “Walkabout” a file from the 70’s that I think is fabulous. Strongly recommend it folks.

  2. I have only seen Gallipoli, an astounding film, but I also would have included “Walkabout” a file from the 70’s that I think is fabulous. Strongly recommend it folks.

  3. No mention of The Proposition?

    I know it’s fiction, but Australia is as much a character in the film as anyone else.

  4. No mention of The Proposition?

    I know it’s fiction, but Australia is as much a character in the film as anyone else.

  5. Yeah I agree. The Proposition was pretty well done. I would put it up in there.

    Another one that I would have said was Choppa Reed & The Hand. Mureals Weeding. They all had some real ozzyness to them.

  6. Yeah I agree. The Proposition was pretty well done. I would put it up in there.

    Another one that I would have said was Choppa Reed & The Hand. Mureals Weeding. They all had some real ozzyness to them.

  7. Please let us not omit “Walkabout” which is a wonderful story dealing with a great relationship formed between an original Australian and his Western counterpart starring the fantastic David Gulpilil and Jenny Agutter providin great early performances in their careers.

  8. Please let us not omit “Walkabout” which is a wonderful story dealing with a great relationship formed between an original Australian and his Western counterpart starring the fantastic David Gulpilil and Jenny Agutter providin great early performances in their careers.

  9. How could you have left out Picnic at Hanging Rock?
    Seriously… probably the best aussie film out there.

  10. How could you have left out Picnic at Hanging Rock?
    Seriously… probably the best aussie film out there.

  11. How about:
    Picnic at Hanging Rock
    Shine
    Lantana
    The Boys
    Two Hands
    The Interview
    Bad Boy Bubby
    Gettin Square
    The Proposition
    Noise
    The Jammed
    The Dish
    Romper Stomper

  12. How about:
    Picnic at Hanging Rock
    Shine
    Lantana
    The Boys
    Two Hands
    The Interview
    Bad Boy Bubby
    Gettin Square
    The Proposition
    Noise
    The Jammed
    The Dish
    Romper Stomper

  13. I can give you a better movie about Australia that absolutely deserves to be on this list. The Man From Snowy River! It has great scenery, a beautiful love story, and Kurt Douglas as a one-legged crazy old coot.

  14. I can give you a better movie about Australia that absolutely deserves to be on this list. The Man From Snowy River! It has great scenery, a beautiful love story, and Kurt Douglas as a one-legged crazy old coot.

  15. Another vote for both Walkabout (oneof the greatest films ever made, anywhere) and The Proposition.

  16. Another vote for both Walkabout (oneof the greatest films ever made, anywhere) and The Proposition.

  17. Face it, ‘Mars Attacks’ was a better movie about Australia than ‘Australia’. Good list, but I would have mentioned ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘The Coca-Cola Kid’ in that group. MFSR had wonderful camera work and beautiful scenery, as well as a lead with great spirit. And some great machismo moments.

  18. Face it, ‘Mars Attacks’ was a better movie about Australia than ‘Australia’. Good list, but I would have mentioned ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘The Coca-Cola Kid’ in that group. MFSR had wonderful camera work and beautiful scenery, as well as a lead with great spirit. And some great machismo moments.

  19. I would also recommend “Out of the Blue,” which is actually set in New Zealand , but hey, it’s about the Aramoana Massacre in which a resident shot and killed 13 people before getting killed himself by the police. It stars Karl Urban, o.a. While on the subject of Karl Urban, also check out “The Price of Milk,” a querky comedy that totally captures the weird Australian humour.

  20. I would also recommend “Out of the Blue,” which is actually set in New Zealand , but hey, it’s about the Aramoana Massacre in which a resident shot and killed 13 people before getting killed himself by the police. It stars Karl Urban, o.a. While on the subject of Karl Urban, also check out “The Price of Milk,” a querky comedy that totally captures the weird Australian humour.

  21. George Miller’s “The Man from Snowy River” has a quintessential Australian quality. Don’t discount it because of its family friendly nature.

  22. George Miller’s “The Man from Snowy River” has a quintessential Australian quality. Don’t discount it because of its family friendly nature.

  23. It must have been very difficult to narrow this list down to five, given what a self-important, self-indulgent hack Baz Luhrmann has proven himself to be over the years. The question is not who can make a better film set in Australia than anything Luhrmann farts out, but rather who could not.

    But seriously, no love for the original Mad Max? Admittedly, as an action film it has more than its share of problems, but as a historical document of a time when even the outskirts of major cities were quite pastoral, it is with few equals.

  24. It must have been very difficult to narrow this list down to five, given what a self-important, self-indulgent hack Baz Luhrmann has proven himself to be over the years. The question is not who can make a better film set in Australia than anything Luhrmann farts out, but rather who could not.

    But seriously, no love for the original Mad Max? Admittedly, as an action film it has more than its share of problems, but as a historical document of a time when even the outskirts of major cities were quite pastoral, it is with few equals.

  25. What about “Muriel’s wedding”??? this was the film that introduced australian filmmaking to me, brilliant!
    and “Picnic at hanging rock”? Captivating!!!
    great article!
    Cheers mate!

  26. What about “Muriel’s wedding”??? this was the film that introduced australian filmmaking to me, brilliant!
    and “Picnic at hanging rock”? Captivating!!!
    great article!
    Cheers mate!

  27. I don’t know but wouldn’t Chopper be on that list? I thought Eric Bana was great in it. But I guess it’s more of a film about him rather than the country

  28. I don’t know but wouldn’t Chopper be on that list? I thought Eric Bana was great in it. But I guess it’s more of a film about him rather than the country

  29. Gallipoli is a fantastic movie. I watch it at least once a year. Walkabout is a good movie, worth watching. Breaker Morant is a great movie too, although I’m not sure it has much to do with Australia outside the colonial “us vs. them” perspective.

    I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock on the big screen during my years as a film student and I was really disappointed. Perhaps it was due to unrealistic expectations caused by hype for the movie, but I thought it was petrifyingly boring. Of course, as with Fargo, there’s also the problem that it’s said to be a true story when it really isn’t. Dishonesty aside, all I could think of during and after watching it was, “Who cares?” I am genuinely puzzled as to what I missed.

  30. Gallipoli is a fantastic movie. I watch it at least once a year. Walkabout is a good movie, worth watching. Breaker Morant is a great movie too, although I’m not sure it has much to do with Australia outside the colonial “us vs. them” perspective.

    I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock on the big screen during my years as a film student and I was really disappointed. Perhaps it was due to unrealistic expectations caused by hype for the movie, but I thought it was petrifyingly boring. Of course, as with Fargo, there’s also the problem that it’s said to be a true story when it really isn’t. Dishonesty aside, all I could think of during and after watching it was, “Who cares?” I am genuinely puzzled as to what I missed.

  31. Good God what about Walkabout for crying out loud! Not to mention the Proposition, another great film.

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