Advertisement
Film

2014 was a Good Year for Australian Film

Australia's film industry is generally good for a few standouts, but if you're going to take in the years as a whole, it's difficult to remember one that was better than 2014.

by Lee Zachariah
30 December 2014, 12:15am

This is not a "state of the industry" piece. This is not an article that attempts to offer a solution to a perceived problem, or one that berates either filmmakers for not stepping up, or audiences for not "supporting" the product.

No, this is a celebration.

It's worth noting that not every year is necessarily worth celebrating when it comes to Australian film. There's usually a handful of standouts, but if you're going to take in the years as a whole, it's difficult to remember one that was better than 2014.

Want some proof? Let's start with the most common accusation levelled at Australian cinema: that it doesn't engage enough with science fiction, fantasy, horror, and so on. That idea was quickly put to rest with back-to-back time travel films Predestination and The Infinite Man. These both featured incredibly serpentine time travel plots that rewarded the audience member who paid close attention. Neither was perfect – I wrote at the time that I felt each film succeeded at the thing that the other had aimed for – but both were tremendous fun, and engaged in their own ways with an idea that worked on both a thematic level and a plot level: what if we can't change our future?

That sense of fatalism was present in These Final Hours, a superbly-made film about the end of the world. With only hours left to go, a man (Nathan Phillips) must decide how best to spend his last moments before Earth is destroyed. Speaking of the end of the world, Animal Kingdom director David Michôd returned with The Rover, a post-apocalyptic drama starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. A dramatic counterpoint to Mad Max, The Rover was a stunning film with outstanding performances and a gloriously grimy (and probably accurate) take on what Australia would look like if society collapsed.

Meanwhile, horror film The Babadook proved to be one of the most terrifying and interesting films of the year, with an underlying metaphor that made the surface-level scares even more potent. And if you don't believe me, you can see what Stephen King and The Exorcist director William Friedkin had to say about it. I suspect those two know what they're talking about when it comes to horror.

The Babadook hailed from Adelaide, and wasn't the only success story out of that city: 52 Tuesdays featured a story both told and filmed week-by-week over the course of a year, charting the journey of a mother undergoing a sex change transition, seen through the eyes of his teenage daughter. It subverts all the expectations you'd have about how the film would progress: the standard denial/rejection/acceptance narrative is eschewed in favour of something far more interesting and clever.

In Canopy, an Australian pilot in World War II is shot down behind enemy lines in Singapore. Told almost completely without dialogue, the film follows the pilot as he attempts to make his way safety whilst evading the ubiquitous enemy. It's tense, taut and thrilling, and, much like the protagonist, managed to slip under the radar. Hopefully, it will be rediscovered later, perhaps in the form a stunning high-definition Blu-ray transfer...? I'm just wishing out loud here. Already looking forward to a repeat viewing.

Rolf de Heer, Australia's most intriguing auteur, made one of his best films in Charlie's Country. Co-written with the film's star, National Treasure™ David Gulpilil, the film contrasts Aboriginal and white cultures in a way I've never seen done before. The divide is so clearly and delicately illustrated, and de Heer avoids overwrought sentimentality throughout, but still uses cinematic flourishes when required. It's a master at the height of his powers.

Matthew Saville directed Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney and Tom Wilkinson in Felony, written by Edgerton: a corrupt cop thriller filled with great production values and anchored by a strong narrative. This was easily one of the most entertaining films of the year, a razor-sharp thriller that will surely find the audience it deserves on home video.

Australian filmmakers Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody told a stunning love story in Ruin, which followed two young lovers escaping brutality and murder in modern day Cambodia. With crystal-clear sound design and beautiful cinematography, the film recalls the pair's previous collaboration, 2011's Hail. If this is the of sensory filmmaking they're cultivating, then I'm even more excited about what they'll do next.

Our documentaries were also among the world's best.

Mark Hartley completed his trilogy of schlock cinema celebrations with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Story of Cannon Films. Like his previous two films, Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, Electric Boogaloo took us into a corner of cinema so often ignored by academic textbooks and solemn documentaries, with kinetic editing and explosive visuals. You might not think a doco about a pair of bizarre self-aggrandising producers making ridiculous action movies would be the most entertaining film of the year, but you'd be wrong.

Meanwhile, the glorious Keep On Keepin' On focused on American jazz legend Clark Terry and the relationship he has with his blind protégé, paralleled with the story of Terry's life and career. It's addictive and impossible not to love, revealing why people love jazz in such a profound way for such a light film. It's a world away from another great musical documentary, 20 000 Days on Earth, which attempts to get inside the mind of the enigmatic Nick Cave. It is honest and artificial all at once that utilises a heavily-constructed tone usually at odds with the documentary style, perfectly deployed to illuminate this unique subject.

An innovative 21st century release method – premieres in cinemas, with a general release online – was a gamble taken by Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tony Mahony and Jaime Brown with their film The Mule. It was a gamble that paid off in a big way. But it wasn't just the manner of distribution that made it a success: the film, about a drug mule trying desperately not to evacuate the valuable contents of his bowels as police keep a close eye on him over an excruciating week, was funny and entertaining, with strong direction, strong writing, and some great performances. This, I should point out, is one you can purchase or rent right this second on iTunes. Go ahead. I'll wait.

I'm fast approaching my word limit, and I've barely scratched the surface of 2014 Australian cinema. There was also the superb true story of Robyn Davidson's trek across Australia in Tracks with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver, the elegiac tale of redemption Healing, Russell Crowe's ANZAC-themed directorial debut The Water Diviner, Josh Lawson's sex-themed comedy The Little Death, the Ewan McGregor/Brenton Thwaites prison thriller Son of a Gun, Greg McLean's long-awaited horror sequel Wolf Creek 2, slick Perth crime film The Reckoning, Brian Trenchard-Smith's John Cusack/Thomas Jane action comedy Drive Hard, Kasimir Burgess's dramatic debut Fell, Paul Fenech's broad crossover comedy Fat Pizza vs Housos, Jon Hewitt's Ozploitation remake Turkey Shoot, and Rhys Graham's stunning tale of teenage love told against the backdrop of the Canberra bushfires in Galore.

There were film festival premieres for 1970s-set crime thriller Cut Snake, Kriv Stenders' Simon Pegg-as-hitman action thriller Kill Me Three Times, Robert Connolly's uplifting family film Paper Planes, and documentaries The Search For Weng-Weng, Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, Curtain Call, and Love Marriage In Kabul.

And I'm pretty sure I've still managed to missed some. Which in itself speaks to what an undeniably great year it was for Australian cinema, and probably the best we're likely to see for some time. So spend your Summer tracking down any of the above titles you missed in cinemas, because it's always inspiring to see the home team nail it.

Follow Lee on Twitter: @leezachariah