It’s that time of year when film critics and commentators, both legit and impostors like myself, assemble their end-of-year lists praising and burying the year just gone. Given Down Under Flix’s focus on Australian films, particularly older ones, attempting a global review of the year in cinema is well outside my jurisdiction. Instead, I’ll be listing my top five new Australian releases of 2016, followed by the top ten films covered on/for Down Under Flix over the past seven months.
Top 5 New Australian Releases of 2016
1. Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016)
As similar lists published by Film Ink and The Guardian note, 2016 was an interesting year for Australian films, and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge loomed large like its titular cliff face. No film pinned me to my seat this past calendar year quite like Hacksaw Ridge, a tremendous, exhausting depiction of pacifist Desmond Doss’s faith-fueled bravery during the Second World War. Like other recent locally-made blockbusters The Great Gatsby and Mad Max: Fury Road, Hacksaw Ridge has more of an international flavour than an Australian one, but as a film made in Australia by an Australian director with a predominantly local crew – and a film recently awarded Best Film by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts – I’ve no qualms naming it my top new Australian release of 2016.
2. Goldstone (Ivan Sen, 2016)
Ivan Sen’s Goldstone is a very close second, and has Australian flavour to burn. I liked Sen’s previous thriller featuring Aaron Pedersen as Aboriginal detective Jay Swan, Mystery Road, but I absolutely LOVED Goldstone, with its combination of classic Western tropes, film noir conventions, remote Queensland setting, and seething indictment of exploitation in its many forms (of land, of sex and vice and greed, of Australia’s native inhabitants and its young Asian visitors). A masterful, classy slow burn.
3. Red Dog: True Blue (Kriv Stenders, 2016)
Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog is my favourite Australian film of the past few years, and a film seemingly chemically engineered to appeal to me. The only way I could possibly like it more is if Red Dog walked off the screen at film’s end and sat on my lap; if Red Dog set fire to my house, I’d still love the film. Consequently, I was dangerously primed for Stenders’ Red Dog: True Blue. While the film loses some of its predecessor’s vigor and spunk by foregrounding its human story over the enigmatic titular mutt, it still has bountiful charm and features a wonderful autumnal performance from Bryan Brown.
4. Down Under (Abe Forsythe, 2016)
I saw Down Under (no relation) at an advance screening followed by a Q&A with director Abe Forsythe, and I enjoyed no better communal film-going experience this year: the audience were thoroughly primed for the movie, collectively engrossed, laughing in unison in all the right places, and stunned into silence in the appropriate spots. I’m not sure how that will translate to subsequent viewings on home media, but Forsythe’s darkly comedic dramatization of racial tensions in the aftermath of the Cronulla Riots is savage and striking.
5. Looking for Grace (Sue Brooks, 2016)
Odessa Young delivered two superb breakout performances in 2016, in Simon Stone’s ornate The Daughter and Sue Brooks’ scrappier Looking for Grace. I’m not sure Looking for Grace, released on Australia Day, will make too many top five lists for 2016 – hell, it mightn’t even make Odessa Young’s top five – but I was won over by the film’s playful structure, its peculiar grace notes (pun intended), Young’s aforementioned work, and a great neurotic turn from Richard Roxburgh.
Top 10 Films Reviewed on Down Under Flix in 2016
1. The Fringe Dwellers (Bruce Beresford, 1986) – review
2. Dead Heart (Nick Parsons, 1996) – review
3. Age of Consent (Michael Powell, 1969) – review
4. Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) – review
5. Metal Skin (Geoffrey Wright, 1994) – review
6. The Last Days of Chez Nous (Gillian Armstrong, 1992) – review
7. Macbeth (Geoffrey Wright, 2006) – review
8. Swimming Upstream (Russell Mulcahy, 2003) – review
9. Sirens (John Duigan, 1993) – review
10. Yolngu Boy (Stephen Johnson, 2001) – review
I won’t reiterate the virtues of the films ranked above: the reviews are all there and speak for themselves. Ultimately, these are the 10 films that have stuck with me the hardest and continue to resonate the hardest of the 28 films reviewed for Down Under Flix in 2016. There are some interesting patterns here: four Indigenous-themed films (top pick The Fringe Dwellers, second place Dead Heart, Beneath Clouds, Yolngu Boy), two Norman Lindsay-centric films (Age of Consent, Sirens), and two Geoffrey Wright films (Metal Skin, Macbeth). Note also the presence across both lists of work by director Ivan Sen, responsible for both Goldstone and Beneath Clouds.
Down Under Flix will return to regular programming in February 2017, with some variations in format. In the meantime, there’s an article coming in January summarizing the findings of our Australian Film Survey. Click here if you haven’t participated, and check back soon to read the results…