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.

Disgrace,arrival_farm,13-3,card1_026.jpg_cmyk_scaled

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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Interviews from The Casting Couch available as podcasts

15 September 2009

After a short absence The Casting Couch podcasts are up and running again so if you haven’t done so already you can subscribe to the podcasts by either clicking the link at the bottom of The Casting Couch program page or by going direct to the podcast hosting page. MP3s of the shows can also be played from these pages.

Podcast feed URL: http://www.cpod.org.au/feed.php?id=147

Some of the featured interviews from the show are also saved as separate audio files, which I’ve listed below:

Interview with Blessed director Ana Kokkinos from 5 September 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1998

Interview with Balibo writer/director Robert Connolly from 15 August 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1796

Interview with The 10 Conditions of Love director Jeff Daniels from 18 July 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1621

Interview with My Year Without Sex writer/director Sarah Watt from 23 May 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1525

Interview with Samson and Delilah writer/director Warwick Thornton and producer Kath Shelper. Recorded 10 March 2009 and broadcast 2 May 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1660

Interview with Mary and Max writer/director Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs from 4 March 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1615

You can find more information about The Casting Couch and what is coming up each week on the On Air and Podcasts page.

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Film review – Blessed (2009)

8 September 2009
Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) and Orton (Reef Ireland)

Stacey (Eva Lazzaro) and Orton (Reef Ireland)

Blessed is a film about seven children and five mothers, told over a twenty-four hour period first from the perspective of the children and then from the perspective of the mothers. The five intertwining stories are all about children who have either literally or spiritually run away or become lost to their mothers. A 14-year-old boy has run away from his neglectful mother but is followed by his younger sister, two 15-year-old school girls skip school to go shoplifting, another run-away boy is sexually exploited, another boy commits an unintentional act of violence and a young adult Indigenous man struggles with the fact that he was raised by a white woman.

Directed by Ana Kokkinos, who made the contemporary Australian classic Head On, Blessed is initially hampered by some very stagy dialogue. This is likely to be directly attributed to the fact that Blessed first began as an adaptation of the play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? Nevertheless, the film does find its rhythm reasonably quickly and its initial disjointedness makes much more sense once you reach the half-way point in the film and realise that you’ve only witnessed the day’s events from one set of perspectives.

Rhonda (Frances O'Connor)

Rhonda (Frances O'Connor)

Blessed is a difficult film because not all of it works and it takes a while to penetrate. At times it feels too much like it wallows in every type of unpleasant and depressing situation that could be imagined, as if it is ticking off Confronting Issues from a checklist. The inclusion of the Indigenous story in particular feels a little unnecessary. At the same time Blessed is an incredibly emotional and accomplished film with an astonishing use of music, colour and editing. Kokkinos achieves a remarkable degree of intimacy by shooting the majority of the film in tight close-ups and medium close-ups so that the faces of the actors are nearly always filling the screen. She certainly gets the best out of her cast as all the acting in Blessed is superb. However, the standout performance is Frances O’Connor (Three Dollars, Artificial Intelligence: AI). O’Connor’s portrayal of Rhonda, one of the mothers, is shattering and her final scenes in the film will linger with you for a long time. Blessed is uneven and overall not as good as Kokkinos’s other films but it nevertheless contains some of her best work to date.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

Interview with Blessed director Ana Kokkinos from The Casting Couch 5 September 2009
http://www.cpod.org.au/download.php?id=1998

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