Cinema Autopsy on the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Winners

13 December 2009

Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) from Samson and Delilah

While I would have liked to have seen Balibo pick up a few more of the major awards at the 2009 Samsung Mobile Australian Film Industry Awards, I am nevertheless thrilled by how well Samson and Delilah did. As a professional voting member of the AFI I did vote for Balibo to win Best Film (in both the industry choice and the AFI’s member choice categories) and Best Direction as I truly think it is the most remarkable film I have seen this year. Nevertheless, I am also extremely fond of Samson and Delilah and since I gave it my second vote in the above mentioned categories I was more than happy to see it come out on top.

My original reviews of Samson and Delilah and Balibo.
My interviews with Warwick Thornton and Kath Shelper (Samson and Delilah) and Robert Connolly (Balibo)

José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) and Roger East (Anthony LaPaglia) from Balibo

Among other things Samson and Delilah also picked up the awards for Best Original Screenplay (Warwick Thornton), Best Cinematography (Warwick Thornton) and Best Sound while Balibo also won Best Adapted Screenplay (David Williamson and Robert Connolly), Best Lead Actor (Anthony LaPaglia) and Best Editing (Nick Meyers ASE). All these awards reflected the way I voted. I also voted for Blessed to win Best Lead Actress (Frances O’Connor) and I was pleased to see that come through as well. While the Best Supporting Actor award for Balibo (Oscar Isaac) and Best Supporting Actress for Beautiful Kate (Rachel Griffiths) did not reflect the way I voted, I thought they were the strongest categories in the awards this year with little separating the nominees.

My disappointments were minor but I would have much preferred to see the Production Design and Costume Design awards go somewhere other than Australia. It always frustrates me the way these awards tend to automatically go to period films rather than to films that use production design and costumes to subtly convey character information. I also wasn’t impressed with Mao’s Last Dancer getting the Best Original Music Score as its music was merely serviceable. Finally, I was a bit sad that Mary and Max didn’t pick up any awards and as I mentioned in my previous post about the feature film nominees (and the following comments) it was a real shame that Disgrace didn’t even get any nominations.

The Cat Piano

As well as voting in several feature film categories, I also was pleased to vote for Best Feature Length Documentary, Best Short Fiction Film and Best Short Animation, and the winning films in all these categories reflected how I voted. While The Cat Piano was by far the best film in the Best Short Animation category, I found most of the films nominated in the Best Short Fiction Film to be very strong this year. Although I did vote for the winning film Miracle Fish, Water and Burn were not too far behind. I voted for Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts for Best Feature Length Documentary but Bastardy was also an incredibly strong contender for that award.

A complete list of all nominees & winners from the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards

AFI 2009 Best Short Animation The Cat Piano (Ari Gibson and Eddie White, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Cinema Autopsy on the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Feature Film Nominees

29 October 2009
Damon Gameau as Greg Shackleton in Balibo

Damon Gameau as Greg Shackleton in Balibo

The nominations for the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards have come out and in a year that has been very strong for Australian cinema the nominations have nicely captured the diversity of Australian films that were eligible. This was the first year that I voted in the individual categories as a professional member of the Australian Film Institute and while the nominations don’t 100% reflect how I voted, I would have never expected them to and I’m overall pleased with the outcomes.

Among the feature film nominees I’m particularly happy to see Balibo, Samson and Delilah and Mary and Max – the three films that I regard as easily the best Australian films of 2009 – to be nominated for both the AFI Members’ Choice Award and the Samsung Mobile AFI Awards for Best Film. I’m less enthusiastic, but not surprised, about Beautiful Kate and particularly Mao’s Last Dancer also getting nominations in both these categories but I certainly don’t begrudge the fact that are included. Having said that, I would up upset if Mao’s Last Dancer won anything over the far superior films that it is up against.

Blessed_D03B_0025.jpg_cmyk_scaled

Trisha (Anastasia Baboussouras) and Katrina (Sophie Lowe) in Blessed

The interesting point of difference between the two best film categories is that Australia got the sixth nomination for the AFI Members’ Choice Award while Blessed received the sixth nomination for the Samsung Mobile AFI Awards for Best Film. Both films are flawed but nevertheless contain elements of considerable merit. They also curiously represent the growing divide between the different types of films that various commentators argue we should be making more of or less of depending on where these commentators stand on the whole art versus commerce debate.

There were a number of films not represented in the nominations that I would have liked to see included but in the majority of cases their absence is understandable. I only saw Newcastle recently and was completely bowled over but its energetic depiction of youth surf culture, however I am aware that I am somewhat on my own with just how highly I regard Newcastle. Lake Mungo, Van Diemen’s Land and $9.99 are other films that I wish had picked up at least a couple of nominations each but they are all niche films and their absence is hardly surprising.

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David Lurie (John Malkovich) and Lucy (Jessica Haines) in Disgrace

The real shock this year is the complete lack of nominations for Disgrace. While it is a film I had issues with (although I am increasingly realising that was exactly the point) I am still very surprised not to see it represented at all. It is an acclaimed film, technically very impressive, it contains strong performances and it is adapted from a well-renowned novel. So what went wrong? Perhaps it was too challenging and confronting. This is an unlikely explanation considering the number of nominations for other ‘challenging and confronting’ films such as Balibo, Samson and Delilah, Mary and Max, Blessed and Beautiful Kate. Maybe Disgrace wasn’t considered Australian enough (which is reasonable) and didn’t attract votes as a result (which is not so reasonable). Again, if that was the case then how do we explain the large number of nominations for Mao’s Last Dancer? I honestly have no brilliant explanation but the complete exclusion of Disgrace is the only significant sour note in the nominations this year.

Hopefully I’ll get the chance to discuss each category in more detail closer to the 2009 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Ceremony on Saturday 12 December and I’ll also then mention the mostly brilliant feature length documentaries, short fiction films and animated shorts that have been nominated this year.

In the meantime, below is a personally ranked list of all the feature films that were eligible for nomination:

✭✭✭✭✭
Balibo
(Robert Connolly, 2009) 14 nominations

✭✭✭✭✩
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009) 11 nominations

✭✭✭✭
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009) 4 nominations

✭✭✭✩
Disgrace (Steve Jacobs, 2008)
Newcastle (Dan Castle, 2008)
Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008) 
Van Diemen’s Land (Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009)
$9.99 (Tatia Rosenthal, 2008)
Cedar Boys (Serhat Caradee, 2009) 1 nomination
The View from Greenhaven (Kenn MacRae and Simon MacRae, 2008)

✭✭✭
Blessed (Ana Kokkinos, 2009) 4 nominations
My Year Without Sex (Sarah Watt, 2009) 2 nominations
The Combination (David Field, 2009)
Beautiful Kate (Rachel Ward, 2009) 10 nominations
Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008) 6 nominations
Dying Breed (Jody Dwyer, 2008)

✭✭✩
Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin, 2009) 2 nominations
Charlie & Boots (Dean Murphy, 2009)
Two Fists, One Heart (Shawn Seet, 2008)
Mao’s Last Dancer (Bruce Beresford, 2009) 9 nominations
Stone Bros. (Richard Frankland, 2009)

✭✭
Lucky Country
(Kriv Stenders, 2009) 1 nomination
Closed for Winter (James Bogle, 2009)

✭✩
Under a Red Moon (Leigh Sheehan, 2008)


Beautiful (Dean O’Flaherty, 2009)


Sweet Marshall (Eva Acharya, 2009)

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Film review – Beautiful Kate (2009)

23 August 2009
Kate (Sophie Lowe)

Kate (Sophie Lowe)

For her feature film debut as a writer/director, Rachel Ward has created a dark, gothic drama about family conflict and taboo relationships. Ben Mendelsohn plays Ned who is returning to his family home after a 20-year absence to see his dying father Bruce (Bryan Brown), whom he still blames for the suicide of his older brother. It’s a classic Prodigal Son narrative but made much murkier once we learn about Ned’s twin sister Kate, who also died young.

Beautiful Kate begins very contrived and unfocused but after about a third of the way in, it settles into the main story and becomes highly engaging. Ward’s direction initially seems weak but by the end of the film you feel as if you’ve just witnessed her evolution into a director of considerable confidence and assurance. Mendelsohn, Brown and Rachel Griffiths (playing Ned’s other sister) are excellent but the highlights of Beautiful Kate are the performances in the flashback sequences by newcomers Scott O’Donnell as 16-year-old Ned and Sophie Lowe as Kate. Beautiful Kate is an odd and inconsistent film but overall it is an atmospheric, visually striking and moving piece of cinema.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 335, 2009

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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