Let’s get things clear right off the bat – everybody knows that Australian Consitution Day isn’t a public holiday. This is obvious. But it falls within the remit, because of reasons. It’s a celebrated day, and these films are (mostly) celebrated examples of Australian cinema, each one of them is worth your time and effort. Some may be harder to find than others, and some are so famous that you may already have seen them. Who knows? Who cares, really? When all is said and done, does it really matter? Does anything really matter? On with the list.
An obvious one really. Gritty, funny, brutal, and what a lot of people think might just be Eric Bana‘s greatest role. The story of Mark “Chopper” Read and his various encounters with the law, including his kidnapping of a high court judge and the murder of a local hoodlum is more fun than it should be, and it portrays Chopper himself as an interesting character without ever glamourising or defending his lifestyle. No mean feat.
Romper Stomper (1992)
Another entry in the gritty crime drama genre, Romper Stomper follows a group of neo Nazis as they terrorise their Melbourne neighbourhood. Led by a young Russell Crowe, the film shows their initial dominance before moving on to their subsequent downfall. It made a legitimate star of Russell Crowe in his home country, and he went on to find success in the US within five or six years.
The Proposition (2005)
Yet more grittiness with The Proposition, an Outback western in the mould of Ned Kelly. It follows the criminal acts of the infamous Burns brothers gang, and stars Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, and Emily Watson. Really cheaply made – less than $2 million – it went on to gross over double that worldwide, and has a killer Nick Cave soundtrack to boot. What more could you ever want? An exploding head? You got that too.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Those Australians really love the grittiness, and Wolf Creek is as gritty as they come. Loosely based around actual events – really loosely – it’s about three backpackers who find themselves held captive by a serial killer, who goes on to do quite unpleasant things to them. The film itself is incredibly shocking, and reaches impressive heights of visceral horror. It wasn’t the nicest film to shoot either, according to reports from the time, so that the film did so well domestically and internationally must come as no small relief. Check it out.
Mad Max (1979)
This list is just non-stop grittiness, and no film is grittier than Mad Max. An original vision of a dystopian future, Mad Max is the story of what happens after the total breakdown of modern society. It was a technical pioneer, being the first Australian film to be shot with an anamorphic lens, and led the Australian New Wave. Wikipedia bullshit aside, the eponymous Max Rockatansky is an ex-Main Force Patrol officer who is on a one-man mission to make his country a better place. The film has aged incredibly well, and the star that Mel Gibson went on to become shows what a solid foundation this film provided. He was damned good as Max Rockatansky, and the remake is shaping up to be even better.
Animal Kingdom (2010)
The most recent film on this list is also probably the most polished. It’s not gritty, but it’s no less impressive for that fact – it’s an atmospheric drama about a criminal family on the verge of total collapse after an appalling crime. It did really well internationally, garnering an Academy Award nomination and plaudits from Quentin Tarantino in the process. That an independent Australian crime drama could do so well in Hollywood is testament to the great performances on show here.
Lucky Miles (2007)
Also based on some true stories, Lucky Miles is about what happens when people try to enter Australia illegally. It’s little-known, even though it did reasonably well at film festivals around Australia and throughout Europe. Featuring a cast of relative unknowns and about an experience that few of us will ever have to endure, Lucky Miles is at turns surprising and endearing, with great visuals and performances.
Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
Probably the odd-one-out on this list, Muriel’s Wedding is a funny and touching display of honest sentimentalism. Starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths, it deals with the psychology of desperation and ambition in a relatively light-hearted way. The film went on to be a worldwide smash, garnering award nominations left, right and centre. No head explosions though. Sorry about that.
Happy Australian Constitution Day.