Recently in response to a [post] where I reminisced about a 90’s band Color Me Badd, my blogging friend [visit his blog here] mentioned that the States don’t get any Aussie TV shows. That really doesn’t surprise me, considering the plethora of television shows in the US, but it is sad because if you haven’t visited Australia or done much research as to the country/culture/people etc you may be inclined to believe we all have a pet Koala, drink too much beer (maybe true), are constantly ‘throwing a
shrimp prawn on the Barbie’ and have Kangaroos jumping down the streets. Aussie television and film are a great way to immerse yourself in our country’s diversity and cultural ethos.
So in the spirit of sharing and to hopefully encourage your Australiana education, here is my list of acceptable/good/great Aussie-made films and TV shows (set in and about Australian life) for your viewing pleasure!
- Offspring [2 seasons; 2010-current] “Offspring is centred around 30-something obstetrician Nina Proudman and her family, as they navigate the chaos of modern life. The show mixes conventional narrative drama with flashbacks, graphic animation and fantasy sequences.” This is my favourite Aussie show; it’s funny & relevant and I love the cast. Read more here & here.
- The Secret Life of Us [4 series aired 2001 – 2004] “The Secret Life of Us traces the lives of eight twenty-somethings sharing a Melbourne apartment block who are all looking for the same thing—love, sex, romance, success—and anything else that’s worth going after. The problem is they haven’t worked out how to get it yet—so they make it up as they go along.” Cast members starred some of Australia’s popular actors (Claudia Karvan, Anna Torv, Deborah Mailman, Asher Keddie, Joel Edgerton, Samuel Johnson, Stephen Curry, Rhys Muldoon, Pia Miranda, Vince Colosimo, Damian de Montemas and Michael Dorman) Read more of the show.
- Home and Away [1987 – current] I’ve never gotten into Home & Away but it is Australia’s second longest-running drama and most popular soap on TV. Apart from all the teenagers in the country, the folks in Ireland and the UK are obsessed. It’s filmed in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and over the years has been a nursery for Aussie actors who’ve made it big in Hollywood (Heath Leger, Melissa George, Isla Fisher, Julian McMahon,
Chris Hemsworth, Simon Baker, Guy Pearce, Ryan Kwanten, Sharni Vinson and Naomi Watts). It focuses on the people of a (fictional) town called ‘Summer Bay’ and their lives which are very exciting for a sleepy beach-side town!
- McLeod’s Daughters [8 seasons; aired 2001-2009] Tells the story, trials & tribulations of 5 women who run a cattle station ‘Drovers Run’ in the outback of South Australia. Main story revolves around the sisters who are reunited after inheriting the cattle station. I loved this show for the first 3 seasons and then the cast started changing with the death of the principal character (Claire McLeod played by Lisa Chappell). With the amount of ‘daughters’ appearing out of the woodwork, old man McLeod was a total whorebag! Also starred Bridie Carter, Simmone MacKinnon, Rachael Carparni, Aaron Jeffery, Michala Banas, Abi Tucker and John Jarratt. Random fact is that my cousin in Germany watches this show! I wonder how it sounds with German voiceover…
- Neighbours [1985-current] This is Australia’s longest-running and most successful TV media export with it showing in over 50 countries. Hugely popular in the UK where it has the highest rating of any daytime show outside of the news bulletins. The show revolves around the residents of Ramsey St (a cul-de-sac in a fictional town called Erinsborough) and it’s surrounding area. Most notable cast members include Kylie Minogue, Alan Dale, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Ian Smith, Tom Oliver, Delta Goodrem and Natalie Imbruglia. I loved this show when I was in high school! They actually shoot the external scenes on a real street called Pin Oak Court in Vermont South, VIC. Visit the official site here.
- Underbelly [aired in 2008*] Spanning the years between 1995-2004 this 13-part series is “the true story of one of the bloodiest crime battles in Australian history, follows the rise and fall of notorious career criminal Carl Williams who sought to be king of Melbourne’s underworld. The series, based on the factual book Leadbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule, is the compelling dramatisation of Melbourne’s infamous gangland killings that started in 1998 with the murder of Alphonse Gangitano.” [*exception of Victoria who were under an injunction from the Supreme Court due to in-progress trails surrounding the real life characters] source
- Underbelly; The Tail of Two Cities [aired 2009] this 13-part series is the “account of the Australian criminal underworld, loosely based on events in New South Wales and Victoria between 1976 and 1987. The story revolves around the organised crime groups that stemmed from the Griffith-based marijuana trade, led by “Aussie Bob” Trimbole (Roy Billing) and “Kiwi Terry” Clark (Matthew Newton)” and their start up of the Mr Asia drug running trade out of Indonesia.
- Underbelly; The Golden Mile [aired 2010] this 13-part series chronicles the years 1988-1999 of the Kings Cross nightclub scene and the police corruption leading up to the 1995 Wood Royal Commission. The principal character is the well-known Sydney nightclub owner John Ibrahim (played by Firass Dirani) as well as shady characters in racing, drugs and politics. Let’s not forget the prostitute turned copper Kim Hollingsworth (played by Emma Booth).
- Underbelly; Razor [aired 2011] ” It was the 1920s, Sydney, Australia and the gutters were running with blood as the underworld exploded in violence. Vice in the harbour city was dominated by two powerful women — Tilly Devine, a sharp-tongued cockney who ran a chain of 40 brothels, and her bitter rival Kate Leigh, an Aussie battler who’d built an empire out of sly grog, thieving and cocaine. But there was only room for one woman at the top.” It’s based on the novel Razor by Larry Writer. Brilliant acting by the two real-life best friends Danielle Cormack (Kate Leigh) and Chelsie Preston Crayford (Tilly Devine). The premier episode was the highest rating drama in Australian history. source
- The Slap [mini-series, aired 2011] Based on the acclaimed novel by Christos Tsiolkas, the ABC is currently screening the mini-series. I read the book a couple of years ago for book club and didn’t really like it. It was definitely a conversation starter and we spent a good few hours discussing the book in great detail arguing our thoughts on the main story line which is at a BBQ a man slaps a child who he is not related to. The ‘slap’ divides family and friends and has shattering repercussions; there is court hearing, a verdict, discoveries of secrets & lies, infidelity, unhappiness, jealousy and racism. Each chapter of the book is an account of the life of and perception of the event by a different character in the story. The premise is brilliant, the writing is OK and you immediately either hate or love each character with their flaws, secrets and morals. I am thoroughly enjoying the mini-series. So much in fact that I want the DVD for Christmas! It has been brilliantly cast; to name a few actors Melissa George as Rosie, Alex Dimitriades as Harry, Sophie Lowe as Connie, Essie Davis as Anouk, Sophie Okonedo as Aisha, Julian Mineo as Hugo and Jonathan LaPaglia as Hector. Following the format of the book, each episode is from the perspective of a different character. The acting is excellent. Visit the official site here.
- Cloudstreet (2011) This mini-series is based on the book by brilliant Aussie author Tim Winton, who writes about relationship dynamics and self discovery set against the harsh Australian landscape (usually in Western Australia). “It chronicles the lives of two working class Australian families who come to live together at One Cloud Street, in a suburb of Perth, over a period of twenty years, 1943 – 1963.” It’s poignant and beautifully acted & directed. Stars Stephen Curry, Essie Davis, Emma Booth, Kerry Fox, Geoff Morrell, Todd Lasance and Hugo Johnstone-Burt. Visit the official site here.
- Little Fish (2005) “How do you learn to love again when the pain of the past won’t let you go? When you’re 32 with a troubled history and a doubtful future, it’s a question that isn’t so easy to answer. And for Tracy Heart it’s a question she can no longer ignore. A story about families. About lies. And about learning to love again.” see full review here. Starring the incredible Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving.
- Wolf Creek (2005) “Stranded backpackers in remote Australia fall prey to a murderous bushman who offers to fix their car, then takes them captive.” (IMDB) The situation is seriously scary and even more so because it’s based on a true story. Just like hundreds of American movies have taught me never to go on a road trip in the back ends of the country (aka Psycho/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Deliverance), this movie warns you never piss off the locals in an outback town and then take their offer of a lift once your car has broken down!
- The Castle (1997) “A Melbourne family is very happy living where they do, near the Melbourne airport. However, they are forced to leave their beloved home, by the Government and airport authorities. ‘The Castle’ is the story of how they fight to remain in their house, taking their case as far as the High Court.” This movie is Australian lore. There are so many quotes from this movie that are quintessentially Aussie colloquialisms and part of our everyday language. It stars Eric Bana, Michael Caton, Sophie Lee, Bud Tingwell and Stephen Curry. “Straight to the pool room!”
- Chopper (2000) “Chopper tells the intense story of Mark “Chopper” Read, a legendary criminal who wrote his autobiography while serving a jail sentence in prison. His book, “From the Inside”, upon which the film is based, was a best-seller.” (IMDB) Starring Eric Bana in a fricking legendary role that garnered him praise in Australia and got Hollywood’s attention.
- Storm Boy (1976) This movie, based on a children’s book by Colin Thiele, came out before I was born, but I watched over & over when I was a kid. It’s beautifully and simply written and directed, using emotions more than dialogue to convey the story of a reclusive man and his young son (Mike aka Storm Boy) who finds 3 pelican chicks when their mother is shot, names them Mr Proud, Mr Ponder and Mr Percival, raises them and then returns them to the wild. The boy’s loneliness is abated when Mr Percival returns. But tragedy soon strikes when poachers come.
- Two Hands (1999) “A 19 year old (Heath Ledger) finds himself in debt to a local gangster (Bryan Brown) when some gang loot disappears and sets him on the run from thugs. Meanwhile two street kids start a shopping spree when they find the missing money. Rose Byrne co-stars as a country girl, who Ledger starts a romance on his trip.” (IMDB)
- The Man from Snowy River (1982) “A story about Jim Craig and 18 year old who has recently lost his father in trying to capture ‘the colt from Old Regret’ has to win the respect from the men of the high country to run his fathers farm located near Mt. Kosciusko. After his father’s death he is forced to work on the low lands for Harrison whose brother is good friends of Jims. While working on the farm Jim falls in love with Harrison’s daughter Jessica. After Harrisons’s prize colt has disappeared a roundup of the brumbies in the highlands is going to be conducted with Clancy of the Overflow in the lead.” (IMDB) The cinematography is beautiful.
- The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) “A cock in a frock on a rock!” This movie is ostentatious, theatrical and over the top. I love this film! Stars Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terrence Stamp as a band of drag-queens who raise eyebrows touring the outback in their awesome bus.
- Animal Kingdom (2010) Bloody brilliant acting by Jackie Weaver (in her Oscar nominated role), Joel Edgerton and James Frecheville in a story about a “seventeen year-old J (Josh) as he navigates his survival amongst an explosive criminal family and the detective who thinks he can save him.” official movie site here.
- Australia (2008) This epic Baz Luhrmann film “centres on an English aristocrat in the 1930s, played by Nicole Kidman, who comes to northern Australia to sell a cattle property the size of Belgium. After an epic journey across the country with a rough-hewn drover, Hugh Jackman, they are caught in the bombing of Darwin during World War II.” Critics caned this movie but I liked it. I know Nicole Kidman sometimes over-acts but the landscape, the little boy, Hugh Jackman shirtless….I loved it! official movie site here
- Romper Stomper (1992) The disturbingly confronting film centres around the “exploits and downfall of a neo-Nazi skinhead group in blue-collar suburban Melbourne” starring Russell Crowe in the lead.
- The Black Balloon (2008) Thomas is a normal teenager, with normal parents, normal dreams, and a brother called Charlie. When we let go of our differences, We discover who we are. Normality is relative. Starring Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Gemma Ward, Luke Ford.
- Dead Calm (1989) Tom Cruise apparently fell in lust with Nicole Kidman after watching her in this film about “A mass-murderer kidnaps and seduces a young woman after leaving her husband to die on the vessel whose crew he’s just slaughtered.” This thriller also stars Sam Neill and Billy Zane. Directed by Phillip Noyce.
- Beautiful Kate (2009) this is one of the best Aussie movie’s I’ve seen. The harsh outback landscape mirrors the emotional turmoil and inner void that the main character (played by Ben Mendelsohn) feels. “A writer, Ned Kendall, is asked to return to the family home by his sister Sally, to say goodbye to his father who is dying. The family home is in a very remote and isolated area. While back home, Ned starts having memories of his beautiful twin sister and himself when they were children. These memories awaken long-buried secrets from the family’s past.” (IMDB) Introduces Sophie Lowe as Kate and also stars Bryan Brown and Rachel Griffiths. Directed by Brown’s wife, actress Rachel Ward.
- Candy (2006) Starring Abbie Cornish as a beautiful poet who falls in love with a heroin junkie artist played by Heath Leger. Their love heartbreakingly beautiful & disturbing and their dependence on each other is only surpassed by their addiction to heroin.
- Lantana (2001) directed by Ray Lawrence (who also directed Jindabyne) this movie is based on the play Speaking in Tongues by Andrew Bovell and stars Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong, Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey. It won 7 AFI awards. “Set in suburban Sydney and focuses on the complex relationships between the characters in the film. The central event of the film is the disappearance and death of a woman whose body is shown at the start of the film, but whose identity is not revealed until later. The film’s name derives from the plant Lantana, a weed prevalent in suburban Sydney.” (IMDB)
- Muriel’s Wedding (1994) this is one of the quirky films beloved by millions of Aussies. This funny and charming story tells of Muriel (played by Toni Collette) who was always the outsider and an embarrassment to her politician father. She loves ABBA and dreams of a big white wedding. Along with her crazy best friend (Rachel Griffiths) they defy the bitchy social norm and make their own life. It’s an Aussie classic, complete with quotes like this gem “The truth? I tell the truth too. Nicole’s having an affair with Chook. Muriel saw them fucking in the laundry room on your wedding day. Stick your drink up your ass, Tania! I’d rather swallow razor blades than have a drink with you. Oh, by the way… I’m not alone. I’m with Muriel.“
- Looking for Alibrandi (1999) another high-school curriculum novel turned into a movie this “teenage Australian girl deals with the traumas of everyday life. These include her difficult relationship with her single mother, the unexpected return of her long-lost father, the disapproving nuns at her strict Catholic school, the acceptance of her schoolmates,and romantic dilemmas over two very different boys.” (IMDB)
- The Wog Boy (2000) written and starring Aussie comedian Nick Giannopoulos “Steve liked Celia from the moment they met. But following a clash with her boss, Raelene Beagle-Thorpe, Minister for employment, he finds himself on national television branded as Australia’s biggest dole bludger. Now Steve has to prove to Celia, to himself, and to the whole country, that there’s more to him than meets the eye. With a little help from his friends, he might just do it.” (IMDB) It’s hilarious!
- The Heartbreak Kid (1993) hello Alex Dimitriades! I had a 15 yo crush on him in this film! Based on a play by Richard Barrett, it tells the story about a teenage boy and his romantic relationship with a teacher at his school (played by Claudia Karvan).
- Garage Days (2002) directed by Alex Proyas, this film stars Pia Miranda and Kick Gurry as the two leads. The tag line reads “What if you finally got your big break and you just plain sucked?” It’s a story of a garage band in Sydney trying to make it big. Random fact, when I lived in Potts Point I would always see Pia Miranda at Kings Cross Coles supermarket!
- Crocodile Dundee (1986) this movie was probably one of the first to make it big at the overseas box office. It launched Paul Hogan’s movie career and caused controversy (when he had an affair with his co-star Linda Kozlowski). The best line is “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” Again a quote that is colloquially Aussie.
- The Dish (2000) “tells the story of how the Parkes Observatory was used to relay the live television of man’s first steps on the moon, during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.” (Wikipedia)
- Paperback Hero (1999) starring Hugh Jackman as a rural truck driver who writes a romantic best-seller but is embarrassed and uses his friend’s name as the author, played by Claudia Karvan. It’s a romantic comedy.
- Kokoda (2006) based on true accounts of the battle between Australian and Japanese fighters in WWII along the gruelling Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.
- Hating Alison Ashley (2005) This film was based on the book of the same name by Robin Klein. This book was also part of the high school English curriculum. Starring Delta Goodrem and Saskia Burmeister.
- Rogue (2007). Horror film about a giant human-eating crocodile. By the same team that made Wolf Creek. Starring American Michael Vartan and Aussie Radha Mitchell.
- Newcastle (2008) Set in my hometown this tells a story of a bunch of surfers who deal with a tragedy. Stars Xavier Samuel.
- Young Einstein (1988) this movie was directed and stars Yahoo Serious (yep, that is his name!) “Albert Einstein, the son of an apple farmer in Tasmania in the early 1900s, splits a beer atom with a chisel in order to add bubbles to beer, discovers the theory of relativity and travels to Sydney to patent it. While there, he invents the electric guitar and surfing while romancingMarie Curie. He invents rock and roll and uses it to save the world from being destroyed due to misuse of a nuclear reactor under the watchful eye of Charles Darwin.” (IMDB)
- Strictly Ballroom (1992) I think this was Baz Luhrmann’s first movie. It’s a romantic comedy starring Paul Mercurio, Gia Carides and Tara Morice about competing at the Pan-Pacific Ballroom Dancing competition.
- Gallipoli (1981) I first watched this film in year 9 or 10 English. It stars a young Mel Gibson (when he still had an Aussie accent). My Dad actually worked on the door at a club in South Australia where the actors would go to drink after the day’s filming. Dad said that Gibson was a bit of a cocky tosser even though he wasn’t a major star yet. He is brilliant in this role as a soldier Sprinter in WWI. It’s a story of Aussie mateship and camaraderie. Directed by Peter Weir.
- Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) directed by Phillip Noyce. “A touching tale of an appalling chapter in Australian history, told with great sensitivity if not great depth.” (full review here)
- Somersault (2004) premiered at Cannes Film Festival and won 13 AFI awards, this movie stars Abbie Cornish as a 16 year old who runs away from her home in Canberra to the ski slopes in Jindabyne and starts a relationship with an emotionally stunted boy (played by Sam Worthington).
- Jindabyne (2006) Premiered at the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals to critical acclaim. Stars Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney, Deborah-Lee Furness and John Howard. This is a thoughtful and haunting story of moral indifference when a group of men go fishing, find the dead body of an Aboriginal girl and then decide to continue fishing for the weekend instead of heading back to report the body. The impact of their misdeeds shocks their friends and family and ripples through their relationships.
- Evil Angels (1988) this movie was known as ‘A Cry in the Dark’ outside of Australia. Based on the true story of Lindy Chamberlain who’s baby Azaria was taken in the night by a dingo at a camp near Ayers Rock. She was later charged with the baby’s murder and served 4 years in prison before the life sentence was overturned due to new evidence and better DNA testing. I actually went to school with the older kids and was friends with Aidan in high school. The movie stars Meryl Streep as Lindy and Sam Neill as her husband Michael. This story ignited the imagination and conversations of Australians for years. To this day people have strong beliefs as to whether Azaria’s disappearance was murder or not. It’s fascinating.
- Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) Directed by Peter Weir (showing his age) The book is an Australian literary legend. “The film relates the story of the disappearance of several schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic to Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day in 1900, and the subsequent effect on the local community.” (Wikipedia) The movie is eerie and it’s one of those stories where you don’t know if it actually happened or not. Proves that if you have great direction you don’t need a huge budget and special effects to give people goosebumps!
- The Sum of Us (1994) Wikipedia describes it as “a meditation on the enduring strength of love, both familial and romantic, in the face of adversity”. Based on a play of the same name by David Stevens, this is a story of a father (played by Jack Thompson) and his gay son (played by Russell Crowe).
- Ned Kelly (2003) The movie that sparked the love affair between Heath Leger and Naomi Watts tells the story of Australia’s most notorious outlaw. The movie tag line reads “When the law tried to silence him a legend was born.” It’s a great representation of the legend! Also stars Orlando Bloom and iconic actor Geoffrey Rush.
- Sleeping Beauty (2011) written & directed by Julia Leigh this film received critical acclaim at this years Cannes Film Festival. It stars Emily Browning as young student who performs a special type of erotic service to pay her way through university. It’s a long way from Lemony Snicket to the character she plays in this film, but she’s brilliant – she captures the fine line between erotic innocence & sexual deviance perfectly. Rachel Blake plays the ‘madam’.