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.


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.


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:

(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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The Casting Couch is now being podcast!

20 July 2009

Every Saturday I host the film review and discussion show The Casting Couch with Mark Pace on JOY 94.9.

The Casting Couch is now being podcast, which means that you can now catch the show at a later date if you aren’t able to listen to it live on Saturdays.

Podcast feed URL:

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.

The last 5 episodes are currently available plus we’ve uploaded some of our major interviews from the year. At the moment you can hear our interviews with:

The 10 Conditions of Love director Jeff Daniels
My Year Without Sex writer/director Sarah Watt
Mary and Max director Adam Elliot & producer Melanie Coombs

Our interview with Bastardy director Amiel Courtin-Wilson and subject Jack Charles is currently only available within the episode that went to air on 20 June 2009. Hopefully sometime over the next week or two we will also upload the interview that I did with Warwick Thornton and Kath Shelper (Samson and Delilah) in March.


PS There’s more information about what’s coming up on The Casting Couch and previous playlists on the On Air page.

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Film review – Mary and Max (2009)

5 April 2009
Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette)

Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette)

After the 2003 film Harvie Crumpet won the Academy Award for Best Short Film in the Animation category, expectations were very high for what its creator Adam Elliot would do next. Once again working in the painstaking style of animation known as claymation, the Australian writer/director has made Mary and Max, his first feature. It not only fulfils all expectation about what the talented filmmaker would do next, but exceeds them. Mary and Max is a beautiful film and Elliot’s biggest success yet. Mary and Max still possesses Elliot’s trademark slightly grotesque yet simple visual style and droll approach to storytelling but this time with more dynamism and complexity. The film covers 20 years but only explores the lives of its two characters – Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette) and Max Jerry Horovitz (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman). Mary is a sad 8-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne. Bullied at school and neglected by her parents, Mary’s loneliness is lifted when she begins a pen friendship with Max, a 44 year-old-man with an eating disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome who lives in New York. It’s a frequently turbulent relationship as the curious nature of Mary letters often set off Max’s anxiety attacks but gradually the pair learn how to manage their communication so that they can each remain the source of joy for the other in otherwise unhappy lives.

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