We wanted to create a list of the best new Australian films, films you may have missed through the haze of recent years – there’s been some brilliant work released by our talented Aussie creators and we think this time of year provides the perfect space (once the turkey and presents are out of the way) to relax and catch up on some specialness from our own brilliantly, talented industry. As usual, we’ve only included films on our list that you can actually stream.
So, here’s our selection and we’ve included ‘where you can watch’ so think of this list as your very own little curated ‘new’ Aussie Film Festival. We’ve only included films from the last decade, and we left out the big ‘cinema release’ ones that you’re sure to know about already like Elvis, Fury Road and the Drover’s Wife (which are all brilliant by the way!).
#1 Babyteeth (Apple TV/ Prime)
With a cinema release in 2020, this little indie gem managed a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, given it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl’s fatal illness and her affair with an older, less than ideal man, we have to say it’s quite strange to report that the film is a heart lifter.
Directed by Shannon Murphy from a script by Rita Kalnejais and adapted from Rita’s play of the same title, Babyteeth is such a gentle, dreamy, beautifully shot piece with a quirky vibe reminiscent of early Sarah Polley films. It’s basically a coming-of-age story starring Milla (Eliza Scanlen) whose parents are brilliantly portrayed by Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn. Gosh, we love Ben Mendelsohn in everything he does, and he is so bloody good here!
Babyteeth earned Murphy a BAFTA nomination for best direction in 2021 and the cast and crew a swag of industry awards. We have to mention the iridescent score by Amanda Brown of Go Betweens fame – it’s superb and just perfectly pitched. And don’t let the thematic turn you off – the film is not about dying. It’s about the transformative alchemy of love and it’s a film that is utterly life affirming.
#2 Power of the Dog (Netflix)
Yes Jane Campion is technically a New Zealander, but she is based here in Australia, and she did study at AFTRS back in the day so we’re calling her ours! We don’t know about you, but we are obsessed with the new genre of wild west films and particularly this new wave of female-centred versions (you must also check out The English miniseries on Prime produced by Emily Blunt if you haven’t already).
Adapted for the screen by Campion, this glorious film won her the best director Oscar, the Silver Lion and the Golden Globe in 2022 as well as countless industry awards for the crew and cast. Campion also produced the film which was shot in New Zealand and set in Montana in 1925, it’s about a wealthy rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) who taunts his brother’s new wife played by Kirsten Dunst. The film also stars emerging Aussie talent Kodi Smit-McPhee who is definitely a star on the rise.
#3 June Again (Netflix)
Funnily enough we saw this film around the same time as we saw the critically acclaimed The Father – the two films have much in common in that they were released around the same time and both place the character with dementia at their centre, utilising a cinematic shift between the central character’s ‘lived experience viewpoint’ and the perspective of the carers/families.
June Again, written and directed by JJ Winlove in his debut feature and anchored by the perpetually talented and often underrated Noni Hazlehurst, is a much funnier film, with a lightness of spirit that manages to never disrespect the serious subject matter at hand. Shot in Sydney’s North Shore and also starring the screen lighting Claudia Karvan and dramedy king, Stephen Curry, the film definitely belongs to Noni and you can tell how much she is enjoying playing such a layered, fearless character.
June Again is quintessentially Australian in that it treads the line between heartbreaking and hilarious in slightly skewed measures reminiscent of older cult classics like Malcolm and Muriel’s Wedding. This little film has a kindness of spirit that totally captures.
#4 The Colour Room (Now TV)
So, it wasn’t shot here but the makers are Australian talents so it’s going on our list. The Colour Room follows the true story of a determined, working-class woman, Clarice Cliff, as she breaks through the glass ceiling and revolutionises the workplace in the 20th century, becoming a famous ceramic artist.
Clarice Cliff (Dynevor) is a vivacious young factory worker in the industrial British midlands of the 1920s. Bursting at the seams with ideas for colours and shapes, she takes more and more dangerous risks, managing to impress the eccentric factory owner Colley Shorter (Mathew Goode) with her talent and innovation.
In real life, Cliff ended up paving the way for other women in the creative industries and this beautifully directed and shot film by Australian husband and wife team Claire McCarthy (director) and Denson Baker (cinematographer) is well worth the watch – the duo also created the critically acclaimed and ‘gorgeous to look at’ Ophelia in 2018, if you are up for viewing more of their work.
#5 Wish You Were Here (Netflix)
Directed by actor, Kieran Darcy Smith and written by Darcy Smith and his wife, actor Felicity Price who also stars, this quietly suspenseful indie film from 2013 is a slow burning thriller which layers memory and trauma perspective over a sunny, idyllic Sydney scape.
Evocatively shot by cinematographer, Jules O’loughlin and also starring Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer, the film opens just after two couples share a holiday in Cambodia with only three of the four returning home to Australia. The film is shot in Campsie using dreamy, hazy flashbacks to the Cambodian trip.
The film was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and it won best screenplay at the 2013 AACT Awards plus a swag of well-deserved best and supporting actor and actress awards for its talented cast. We think it deserves a bit more recognition for Darcy Smith’s restrained direction and the stunning performances of Edgerton and Price.
#6 Seriously Red (Apple TV from 22 December)
In the high camp spirit of Priscilla, this quirky little film written by, and starring Krew Boylan, and directed by Gracie Otto in 2021 – did recently get a limited cinema release and it’s on our list for its serious ‘feel good’ vibes and the brilliant casting of Rose Byrne (Krew’s real life best friend) and her ‘real life’ husband Bobby Cannonvale.
Apparently, Boylan got the ‘go ahead’ from Dolly Parton herself to use the music eight years ago when Rose Byrne sneaked the script to her (now that’s a good mate!), but it took literally this long to get the money together to make the film which is part comedy, part tragedy and part love letter to Dolly.
At the films heart is the idea of bravery and being true to oneself (traits Parton is famous for) and although patchy at times, possibly due to budget constraints, ultimately the film is special, weirdly charming and quirky as hell.
#7 Adoration (Apple TV)
Originally called Two Mothers when it screened at Sundance in 2013, then Adore and now Adoration, this gentle and unnerving little film shot in Seal Rocks is a fascinating exploration of friendship, sexuality and mother/son relationships, and love.
The story is adapted by Christopher Hampton from the Doris Lessing short story, The Grandmother and French director, Fontaine is on the record as saying that Lessing told her the story was based on a true story.
Starring Naomi Watts and Robyn Wright as the lifelong friends who form sexual relationships with each other’s 19-year-old sons, the two lead’s performances are strong, and the film was nominated for a string of AACTA awards, but we do have to warn you that many audiences and critics have been scathing due to the taboo subject matter and the film’s name change just may have been about hiding some of those bad reviews.
We agree more with critic Damien Wise from The Guardian who said ‘It may be divisive, but Two Mothers is a very rare exploration of the female psyche, which with a little judicious editing, could have a long and interesting life.’
It’s still worth the delve for Watt’s performance and the beautiful cinematography and production design and just for daring to break taboos.
#8 Nitram (Stan)
We nearly didn’t put it on the list just because it’s not a heart-lifter, but the film is super, super powerful, enough so that we had to include it here. Released last year, it won a swag of awards including the Cannes Best Actor for Caleb Landry Jones and the AACTA Awards for best film, best actors, best actress and best direction for Justin Kurzel whose earlier film Snowtown is equally brilliant and disturbing.
Based on the story of Martin Bryant (Nitram is Martin spelt backwards) the film does not show the actual violent act at Port Arthur, rather it’s focus is on the ‘why’ of Nitram’s final act and what it was in him and his nurture that brought him to commit such unspeakable evil.
The film is a slow, tortuous burn and not dissimilar to Gus Van Sant’s incredible Elephant (a film of similar dark themes). But it’s Judy Davis’s stunning performance as Nitram’s mother that really put this film firmly on our top 10 list. She has always been an incredible talent and her performance here is nothing short of heartbreaking.
#9 Mystify (Netflix)
Yes, we cried buckets through this brilliant documentary by director Richard Lowenstein who also made Dogs in Space starring the film’s subject, the late, the beautiful, Michael Hutchinson.
This doco is exceptional for two reasons, one, in the amount of personal, intimate footage Lowenstein managed to gather of Michael and secondly because of the unique friendship and connection between Lowenstein and his subject.
This film examines the final years of Michael’s life and the knock-on effects of the accident that damaged his brain (he lost his sense of taste and smell) and ultimately led to the depression that killed him. If you’re a fan like us, this little film is a ‘not to be missed’ love letter to a talented, kind and special human. We still can’t listen to his music without tearing up.
#10 How to Please a Woman (Stan/Apple TV)
We have to admit, we haven’t had the chance to watch this one yet, but the reviews and trailer have us hooked and it’s on our list for post-Christmas viewing. We just love Sally Phillips from way back in the Smack the Pony days and we are keen to see her mid-life, moving into the ‘menopause years’ in a comedic film about mature age sex and new beginnings.
According to reviews, ‘the WA writer/director Renée Webster’s debut feature is surprisingly emotional for a comedy about a retrenched middle-aged woman who starts her own cleaning business with ‘sexy’ men who deliver more than clean houses! ‘Cue 50 shades of female sexual liberation, guilt-free romps and some broad-brush strokes of comedy. What elevates it is a witty, non-judgemental script that injects some suburban pathos as it becomes clear to characters and audience that the message isn’t about sex with a downmarket Magic Mike troupe, it’s about embracing your own sexuality. And having a nice, clean kitchen to boot.’*
*Paul Merril for NME
In case you missed our 10 Classic Australian Films to watch list last Christmas – it’s here.