Five Film Favorites: Cinematic Things from Australia

I have posted this list too late to properly celebrate Australia Day, which occurs annually on 26 January. In fact, my continued lateness has prevented me from using the International Date Line as an excuse. Tardiness aside, I still wanted to outline my favorite things about Australian cinema: films, directors, and actors. There is much more to Australian film than the contents of my list, but here is what I love the most.  By the way, if you have trouble finding Australians in films, just look for the American made films about British people; the British people are played by Aussies.  Apparently, the British are too busy playing the roles of Americans.  I suppose that the result of all of this anglophone migration will eventually lead to Canadians playing all the parts of New Zealanders.  Anyway, without further ado, my five favorite cinematic things from Australia:

Walkabout (1971) – Directed by Nicholas Roeg

Even though Roeg is not an Aussie, this is my favorite Australian film.  Prior to making Walkabout, Roeg had spent the previous twenty years working as cinematographer and technician.  His skill is on display as Walkabout sacrifices narrative fluidity for the sumptuousness of the imagery.  Ostensibly about a young woman and her younger brother who are abandoned in the harsh climate of the Australian outback and eventually befriended by an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout, the film is actually an imagistic examination of Australian identity and nationalism; violence is always present but so is the hope of joy and tenderness.  Walkabout is one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen.  Even though he was born in London, no one captures the beauty (and brutality) of the Australian landscape better than Roeg.

Hugo Weaving

With four syllables and four long vowels, Hugo Weaving is fun name to say. Boxing announcer Michael Buffer would be able to draw out his name for three minutes.  (“Ladies and Gentleman, the Australian Assassin, HUUUUGOOOOOOOOOO WEEEEAAAAAAAVIIIIING.)  Alas, Weaving did not pursue a boxing career, yet he does often play rugged men and villains, most notably Douglas Jardine, whom many Australians probably regard as history’s greatest monster.

He certainly has the skills to take hold of leading roles and perform them with aplomb.  Yet he has seemed content to latch onto lesser, supporting roles in major films: not a bad way to make a living.  Even if the name is unfamiliar to you, the face and voice are not.  Weaving played Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy and the Elf Lord Elrond in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (I personally think all sci-fi and fantasy trilogies should include a good dose of Weaving.) Weaving will still makes smaller, lesser known Australian films when he does not take part in the giant blockbusters.

Hugo Weaving:Australian actor::Gary Oldman:English actor

Cate Blanchett

I compare Weaving to Oldman, but there is no one I can compare to Blanchett, my favorite actress.  Like Weaving, she still does the occasional small Australian film, yet she continues to rake in the big bucks by working in supporting roles in giant Hollywood productions: Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I carry an enormous crush for Blanchett, whom I categorized as one of my favorite female face objects.  I adored her in the touching but much flawed Oscar and Lucinda (1997), and I adored her more as Jude, aka Bob Dylan, in I’m Not There (2007). She has the charisma and chops to make rather mundane fare watchable.  I find it difficult to write about someone by whom I am awed and simultaneously smitten with.  So I will stop now and simply remind everyone that Cate Blanchett is fantastic.

Peter Weir


Roeg may have directed my favorite Australian film, but Weir is my favorite Australian director.  Indeed, he is the quintessential Australian director.  His films of the 1970s and early 1980s truly set the standard for contemporary Australian film making.  Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), and Gallipoli (1981) all speak to Australian identity and the very concept of what Australia is and what it was.  Weir does not shy away from Australia’s history, which like many Western nations, has deep seeded and violently racial post-colonial politics.  Yet Weir’s films are more than academic history lessons; they are superb films.  Even his later, non-Aussie works display a fluidity and maturity of action and storytelling.

Jackie Weaver

Weaver’s inclusion in my five favorites is almost entirely the result of her amazing performance in last year’s Animal Kingdom (2010).  As the matriarch of a crime family, Weaver is stunningly evil as Janine Cody.  What is truly scary about her performance is not that her character desires power or wealth, but that her character simply loves her sons.  She loves them so much that she gives her blessing to the killing of innocent police officers and the attempted murder of her nephew.  Such love is actually frightening.  Aside from her brilliant turn as mother Cody, Weaver also had a prime role in Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and was a staple of Australian television for years.  In her sixties now, it is now unlikely that Weaver will find film roles that will give her exposure beyond Australia’s shores.  This is our great loss.  So go out and watch her in Animal Kingdom.

About Todd Hunter Starkweather

Todd Starkweather is an Assistant Professor of English at South University-Richmond. He has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Illinois-Chicago; his interests include film, Victorian studies, sport, and post-colonialism.
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4 Responses to Five Film Favorites: Cinematic Things from Australia

  1. “The Proposition” is another great Australian gem. And then there’s Kookaburra liquorice. That’s so great it deserves its own column…

  2. Todd Hunter Starkweather says:

    “The Proposition” is great. I had actually thought about including “Australia” just to discuss what Luhrmann wanted to achieve. Even with its fatal flaws, I found it intriguing. Yet it simply was not one of my five favorite things to come from Australia. I also thought about including “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.” I would have included “The Sundowners,” but even though it is set in Australia, it had no actual Australian connection. It was directed by Zinneman and featured Mitchum and Kerr.

  3. Jere Kittle says:

    Oh, you got me started about Australian films… here is an arresting array of some of Aussi picks:

    Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
    My Brilliant Career (1979)
    Breaker Morant (1980)
    Strictly Ballroom (1992)
    Heavenly Creatures (1994)
    Muriel’s Wedding (1994)
    Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
    Mary & Max (2009)

  4. Lucy says:

    Cate was fantastic in Little Fish with Weaving. I love aussie actors and their movies.

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