Cinema Autopsy on the 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Feature Film Nominees

8 December 2010
Bright Star: Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish)

Bright Star

For me the two films eligible for the 2010 Australian Film Institute Awards that really stood out over everything else were David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (2010) and Jane Campion Bright Star (2009). Both films have deservedly picked up a number of nominations this year (Animal Kingdom in particular) and while I’d like to see a few nods go to Bright Star, I suspect Animal Kingdom is going to sweep the floor. I certainly believe it will win both the AFI Members’ Choice Award and the Samsung Mobile AFI Award for Best Film, plus the awards for direction and original screenplay as well.

Of all the films nominated for best adapted screenplay I believe that The Tree is the one that should win for Julie Bertuccelli’s fine work. I also admired Tomorrow, When the War Began on many levels but I still firmly believe that the way the invaders where represented was a poor choice and for that reason I believe it is a flawed adaptation (you can read all the debate that my stance on that issue created in the comments under my original review).

Beneath Hill 60

Beneath Hill 60

Everybody nominated for the cinematography award did outstanding work but for me it will once again be between Adam Arkapaw for his work on Animal Kingdom and Greig Fraser for his work on Bright Star. However, I would love to see Fraser ultimately get the nod for this in recognition of just how much good work he has done recently on other films such as Let Me In, The Boys Are Back and Last Ride. As for the editing award I really have no idea who I would ultimate pick from the terrific nominations so I’ll simply pick recent Australian Screen Editors Awards winner Dany Cooper ASE for her work on Beneath Hill 60. However, I am steadfast in my belief that Beneath Hill 60 should win the best sound award as the use of sound in that film was astonishing.

While I wasn’t a fan of Bran Nue Dae, it is the only musical nominated for the original music score award so I won’t be the least bit surprised if it wins. However, once again I return to Animal Kingdom and Bright Star as the films I feel should be recognised for they way they used music to so effectively create atmosphere. While I usually get frustrated by the conservative and bland approach of always giving production design and costume awards to period films, in this instance I believe that Janet Patterson should win both awards for her stunningly expressive work in Bright Star.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Finally the acting awards, which Animal Kingdom dominates yet again with multiple entries in both the lead male and supporting male categories. Nevertheless, I think Ben Mendelsohn truly deserves to win the best lead male award for his terrifying performance as Pope. Mendelsohn has been nominated several times before and won a supporting actor award in 1987 for The Year My Voice Broke but I think his work in Animal Kingdom is a career best. On the other hand, while I realise that Jackie Weaver is probably the favourite for the best female actor award for her performance in Animal Kingdom, I would really like to see that award go to Abbie Cornish for giving such a moving yet measured performance in Bright Star. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about who should win the supporting actor awards but I’m inclined to thing the awards will go to Joel Edgerton and Laura Wheelwright, both for Animal Kingdom.

The 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Industry Awards presented by Digital Pictures will be held on Friday 10 December 2010.

The 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Ceremony will be held on Saturday 11 December 2010 and televised at 9.30pm on Channel 9.

UPDATE (12/12/10) I won’t be writing a separate article this year about the actual winners as the awards more or less went to the films that I expected/wanted them to. Check out the list of all the winners here on the AFI website.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Animal Kingdom (2010)

31 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Very loosely inspired by the Walsh Street police murders in 1988, Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama that doesn’t feel like anything else that has come before it. Tonally it owes more to Rowan Woods’s excellent drama The Boys rather than other Australian crime films like The Square, Gettin’ Square or The Hard Word and yet it still follows the conventions of a crime drama to result in a complex and gripping piece of cinema.

At the centre of the film is Joshua ‘J’ Cody (played by newcomer James Frecheville), a socially inept and introverted teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) after the death of his mother. Janine’s sons (played by Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton and Luke Ford) are career criminals whose lives are increasingly under treat from a group of vengeful and trigger-happy detectives.

Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver)

Writer/director David Michôd achieves a remarkable intensity throughout Animal Kingdom with his command over film style. Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw’s superb slow and fluid camera movements often creep up behind characters or emerge from behind obstructions to give many scenes a sense of paranoia and vulnerability. Composer Antony Partos’s haunting music often consists of a slow series of heavy notes but the result is an atmosphere of utter menace. One scene where a television in the background plays the video clip to Air Supply’s softrock hit “All Out Of Love” is made extraordinarily creepy by the addition of Partos’s music to really reinforce the threat posed by one of the characters.

Michôd takes an extremely low-key approach to the violence so that it never has a chance of becoming entertaining spectacle. Violence is an important part of Animal Kingdom but it occurs quickly, often without warning and in an almost muted way. The result is that the actual physical acts of violence are not under scrutiny but we are instead compelled to focus on the aftermath to confront the horror of what has happened and the fact that human beings are capable of such acts. The violence in Animal Kingdom is never graphic but it is always chilling.

Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

While Animal Kingdom is a tightly written and expertly directed film it still owes much of its power to its fantastic cast. James Frecheville is remarkable as J and the film really takes advantage of the fact that Frecheville is the unknown actor amid many of Australia’s finest and most well known performers (also including Guy Pearce). For most of the film Frecheville is a blank slate – almost the ultimate innocent bystander – but in one key scene where he does emote he gives a performance in one or two minutes that many actors strive for throughout their entire careers.

All the actors playing the Cody brothers are wonderful but it really is Ben Mendelsohn who shines as Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody. Pope is first discussed in the film as being the one everybody else feared but when we first see him he looks so inconsequential that you cannot help but wonder if there was an error in the script. However, as the film builds Mendelsohn brings a simmering furiousness to Pope that is truly terrifying. Mendelsohn constantly keeps this energy right below the surface so that it is never obvious but always present enough for us to see it and dread what he could be capable of.

Animal Kingdom is the best crime film ever made in Australia and it’s one of the best crime films full stop. Michôd really gets us into the world of these characters in a way that makes them completely fascinating without ever glorifying the destructive lives they lead. A film like this should horrify and revolt you but when it is this well crafted and so lovingly and intelligently made by everybody involved, the results are captivating.

Listen to Thomas Caldwell’s interview with actors James Frecheville and Luke Ford.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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An interview with James Frecheville and Luke Ford from Animal Kingdom

30 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

James Frecheville makes his feature film acting debut in Animal Kingdom playing J, a teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine, played by Jacki Weaver, after the death of his mother. J is exposed to a world of violence and criminality via his four uncles, in particular the very dangerous Pope, played by Ben Mendelsohn.

While promoting Animal Kingdom I spoke with James and Luke Ford, who plays J’s youngest uncle Darren. The pair spoke about creating the dynamics between the family members and in particular Ben Mendelsohn’s methods of creating tension on set that would carry over into the film. James spoke about the key scene in the film where J’s virtually blank exterior breaks down during a brief outpouring of emotion and Luke, who previously won an Australian Film Institute award for his portrayal of an autistic boy in The Black Balloon, spoke about how he gets into the head of a character.

This interview was recorded on Monday 24 May 2010 and then played on The Casting Couch on Saturday 29 May 2010. The interview took place in the hotel where the actors were staying so the sound quality is not as good as a studio recording.

Download link (interview running time = 8:50)

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