Six Underrated Local Films For Your Ultimate Australia Day Movie Binge
It is your duty as an Australian to stay inside most of this long weekend, and watch at least 12 hours of homemade cinema.
Beware of Aussies bearing tongs! If, like me, you’re the kinda person who’d rather spend Australia Day avoiding all contact with things like sunshine, Southern Cross tattoos, and bogans drinking craft beers (because that’s a thing now), then it’s probably best you just stay inside and binge on movies like a true patriot.
Personally speaking, the fact that The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Muriel’s Wedding helped bring about the mid-‘90s ABBA revival fills me with immense pride. Nothing quite fuels the stirrings of national appreciation like watching a movie about a mythical boar rampage through the outback in Razorback (1984), or Sam Worthington’s beautifully mangled Shakespeare in Macbeth (2006), you know? Here are a few other left-of-centre Aussie film recommendations to make your day “as good as an ABBA song”, as good as ‘Dancing Queen’.
For ‘Invasion Day’ activists:
Where The Green Ants Dream (1984)
Eccentric German auteur Werner Herzog is famous for films like Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (2010), rescuing Joaquin Phoenix from a car accident in the Hollywood Hills, and eating a shoe. So if you were unaware that he once visited Australia and made a movie about Aboriginal land rights, then you’d be forgiven. Where The Green Ants Dream was inspired by a real court case — Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd of 1971 — and is about a mining company attempting to destroy a part of the desert that’s sacred to native Australians. It’s strange, but Herzog’s impassioned weirdness make this sombre film a fascinating oddity.
For the romantic at heart:
All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007)
Let’s face it, Australian filmmakers don’t really ‘do’ romantic comedies. Sure, our hearts swelled when Alex Dimitriades received a gobbie in a Footscray alleyway in Head On (1998), but rivals to the Hollywood tradition are few and far between. In a pinch, you could watch Dating The Enemy (1996), wherein Guy Pearce and Claudia Karvan swap bodies, and Better Than Sex (2000) might live up to its title depending on who you’ve been shagging, but the most charming is probably Louise Alston’s All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane. It helps that it’s both romantic and comedic, but also has a little something to say about twenty-something ennui. It’s quirky without going full Zooey Deschanel, and features a great soundtrack and a sense of humour that’s blissfully un-Americanised.
For an Australian version of Girls:
Strange Planet (1999)
Before Naomi Watts made it big with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), she was cavorting around a pre-millennium Sydney with Claudia Karvan and Alice Garner in Strange Planet. It hails from an entirely different era for Australian cinema, and is so ‘90s, from the fashions to the soundtrack, which includes Regurgitator’s ‘! (Song Formerly Known As)’. The trailer, with its deeply Australian voice-over, even quotes the now defunct TV Hits with this bon mot: “FUNKY? Yep. SPUNKY? Yep. FANTASTIC? You betcha!” Can you deny TV Hits? No.
For a dose of WTF?:
The Return Of Captain Invincible (1983)
Australia’s proud history of movie musicals — think Starstruck (1982), Moulin Rouge! (2001), and The Sapphires (2012) — collided headfirst with our not-so-proud history of superhero movies in The Return Of Captain Invincible (1983). This completely baffling, unexplainable spoof is truly a one of a kind, as Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee sing songs written by Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This infamous box office flop was described by famed British fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett as “a series of bad moments pasted together with great songs and a budget of fourpence.” Indeed. Check out the recent Griff The Invisible for a better twist on the genre.
For crime-drama enthusiasts:
Australian film and TV makers are obsessed with crime. They love the stuff, and can’t get enough. Audiences seemingly do too, which makes it even more disappointing that Noise disappeared without a trace into the void of Aussie cinema, because Matthew Saville’s palpable, thrilling, slowburn murder mystery is one of the best films ever produced in this country. Now’s as good a time as any to catch up, as Saville — who between films directed episodes of The Slap and Please Like Me — has a new movie out this year called Felony, starring Joel Edgerton, Melissa George, and Tom Wilkinson.
For a bit of brilliant nepotism:
Three Blind Mice (2008)
Matthew Newton, son of Bert and Patti, is nobody’s idea of a good guy these days, but once upon a time he used industry connections to his advantage and wrote, directed and starred in perhaps the best Australian film of the decade. Amassing an all-star cast, including a performance by then girlfriend Gracie Otto that should have sent her into the stratosphere, Three Blind Mice is a witty, sly and ultimately searing portrait of cowardice and identity. In retrospect, it stings with irony but ignore the press for 90 minutes and enjoy this brilliant piece of cinema.
If that’s not enough to fill up your long weekend, you could also watch post-apocalyptic teens fighting for survival in Dead End Drive-In (1986); Claudia Karvan and Ben Mendelsohn stealing cars and falling in love in The Big Steal (1990); the scariest killer croc flick, Black Water (2007); Rolf de Heer’s ode to jazz in the outback in Dingo (1990); the dark, violent revenge of The Horseman (2008); Hong Kong super-cops in Sydney with The Man From Hong Kong (1975); and the touching adoption drama, The Waiting City (2009). It’s your duty as an Australian citizen.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.