We wanted to create a list of the best Australian films ever.. but then we realised that some of our top 10 like ‘Love and Other Catastrophes’ and ‘Thank God He Met Lizzie’ aren’t available on any streaming platforms! So, we’ve only included films on our list that you can actually stream and luckily, quite a few on our list are available for free on SBS and iView.
So, here’s our selection and we’ve included ‘where you can watch’ so think of this list as your very own little curated Aussie Film Festival. So much fun to revisit some old favourites! Oh, and we left out the ones we already know are your favourites like Muriel’s Wedding, The Man from Snowy River, Pricilla Queen of the Desert and The Castle, figuring you’ve already seen these. We also left off great films like Romper Stomper, Rowan Wood’s The Boys and Phillip Noyce’s Samson and Delilah, not because they’re not brilliant films but because we’re just not feeling the gritty and harsh moment right now… instead, searching more for the uplift!
1. The Year My Voice Broke 1987 (Amazon Prime)
Wow, this was a seminal film for us. Written and directed by John Duigan, it was the first time we saw a coming-of-age movie set in 1960s rural Australia. Noah Taylor was well and truly discovered here as was Ben Mendelsohn with his star turn as a small-time criminal. And Loene Carmen was so impossibly cool!
2. Last Days of Chez Nous –1992 (Google Play)
This is on our list for its flawless script, written by our all time favourite Helen Garner and largely autobiographical. It’s about a sister’s betrayal and has some stand out performances from Lisa Harrow, Bruno Ganz, Kerry Fox and a very young Miranda Otto. Directed by the prolific Gillian Armstrong.
3. The Sum of Us – 1994 (SBS Movies)
1994 doesn’t seem all that long ago to us but it’s quite amazing to see the societal shift from 1994 to now in terms of LGBTQ experience. I remember it was shocking at the time to see two men (in this case a very young Russell Crow and John Polson) kissing on screen. We also think this gentle little comedy is one of Jack Thompson’s best performances and in a way, he was perfectly cast. Directed by Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton, it was a very important film when released with its comment on Australia’s particular brand of toxic masculinity. It’s an extremely funny and moving film.
4. Somersault – 2004 (SBS on Demand)
Directed and written by first time director Cate Shortland, this poignant story of a naïve young girl fleeing her hometown for the Australian Alps, and the new experiences that teach her the differences between sex and love won Shortland the ‘Best New Director’ star at Cannes. The two lead performances by Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington made them both Hollywood stars!
5. Gettin’ Square (Amazon Prime)
Director, Jonathan Teplitsky, teamed up with barrister come novelist and debut screenwriter Chris Nyst for his second film after Better Than Sex. Gettin' Square is a cleverly told yarn with a swathe of credible characters brought to life by a talented cast including Sam Worthington and a memorable star turn from David Wenham as Spit, a disenfranchised ex-convict.
6. Flirting – 1991 (Amazon Prime)
Another Noah Taylor vehicle from John Duigan – Noah was our John’s Molly Ringwald wasn’t he? This poignant little film also introduced Naomi Watts, Nicole Kidman and Thandie Newton to audiences and is beautifully shot and scripted.
7. Jindabyne – 2006 (Amazon Prime)
Directed by Ray Lawrence and inspired by Raymond Carver’s short stories, we found this movie stayed with us perhaps due to the great ensemble cast which includes Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney, Chris Haywood and Leah Purcell. A quick check on Rotten Tomatoes shows a not too exciting rating, but in our ‘list defence’ the film did win 11 AFI awards at the time. And, it has a gorgeous, pared back score by Paul Kelly.
8. Death in Brunswick – 1991 (Prime Video)
Directed by John Ruane and starring everyone’s favourite, a very young (and handsome) Sam Neil, this story of a reserved man in need of a job is funny and dark and very 90s Melbourne. Neil stars as Carl Fitzgerald who finds employment at a Greek restaurant and meets waitress Sophie. Though it seems things are improving for Carl, an unexpected situation leads to the death of Mustafa, a shady co-worker, and Carl must figure out how to cover up the incident. Unsure of what to do, Carl enlists the help of his buddy, Dave played by the hilarious late John Clarke.
9. Malcolm – 1986 (Netflix)
Nadia Tass’s ‘Malcolm’ is also a quirky black comedy. A chronically shy mechanical genius who has just been fired for building his own tram meets Frank, who has just been released from jail, and they move in together to share the bills. Malcolm, with Frank's help, turns to a life of crime. It seems blaringly obvious on the re-watch that Colin Friel’s Malcolm is living with autism, something audiences may not have quite understood at the time. It’s a very special little film with a superb performance by Friels – we still think he is one of Australia’s best actors!
10. A list of all the great films that we couldn’t fit in the top 10...it’s just too hard!Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Proof (Russell Crowe, image above) – 1991 (Stan, SBS)
John Curran’s Tracks -2013 (Netflix),
Paul Maloney’s Crackerjack – 2002 (Netflix),
Neil Armfield’s Holding the Man – 2015 (Netflix),
Rob Sitch’s The Dish – 2000 (Netflix),
Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence – 2002 (SBS on Demand),
Garth Davis’s Lion – 2016 (SBS on Demand),
Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours – 2018 (SBS on Demand),
Gregor Jordan’s Two Hands – 1999, (Netflix),
The Black Balloon – 2008 (iView),
Rowan Wood’s Little Fish – 2005 (iView),
Josh Lawson’s Little Death – 2014 (iView),
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook – 2014 (Netflix),
Bruce Beresford’s Puberty Blues – 1981 (Netflix),
Bill Bennett’s Kiss or Kill – 1997 (Stan),
Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright – 1970 (Stan),
Johnathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man – 2013 (Stan),
David Caesar’s Idiot Box – 1996 (Amazon Prime),
Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant – 1980 (Netflix),
Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career – 1979 (Stan)
High Tide – 1987 (Amazon Prime)
Richard Lowenstein’s He Died with a Falafel in his Hand – 2001 (SBS on Demand)