Let me do the most Australian thing ever by calling it how it is. Us down under folk are very small fish when it comes to producing tons of entertainment to compete with the likes of Hollywood or even Netflix. That said, what our little island nation lacks in production quantity we make up for in the quality stakes by punching well above our weight.
Collected below are some unmissable Aussie TV shows and feature films. These are frequently modest-budget productions that still boldly strode out onto the international stage and made many an overseas critic turn their head and say: “does Austria have a film industry...and vast deserts?”
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Best Aussie TV shows
Typically a small town Aussie cop is beset by very low-level problems. P-platers doing burnouts, kids stealing durries (cigarettes) from the servo (gas station), mind-numbing boredom – that sort of thing. James Hayes has larger issues. He's a cop who's called to the local cemetery in the middle of the night after six deceased people have inexplicably risen from the dead in perfect health but with no memory. Thus begins a quest for two things: answers and to keep the rest of the world in the dark during a somewhat futile investigation into the impossible.
2. The Secret River
This movie adaption of a bestselling novel by Kate Grenville centres on the bloody era of colonial Australia. Convict William Thornhill is sentenced to New South Wales for life for a minor offence, but earns his ticket of leave early and starts to to see the silver lining of his predicament. After all, there's “free land” going in this sunburnt continent of plenty and he need only stake his claim at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, a place frequented by the indigenous locals. Cue: high drama as a group of desperate opportunists trying to negotiate with a people unfamiliar with the concept of ownership.
Say hello to Cleaver Greene, a talented yet self-destructive Sydney barrister who's known to his enemies, and the national press, as “a dishonest lowlife who spends his days defending society's scum and his nights carousing with them”. Cleaver's average working week is a series of disgraceful and tawdry tales of dishonour and deceit – it's also damn good television. Each episode sees a new ratbag client benefitting from Cleaver's inimitable courtroom shtick (think: unorthodox arguments and barely restrained profanity).
4. Jack Irish
Former criminal lawyer Jack Irish (Emmy Award-winner Guy Pearce) isn't a man you want to mess with. Part-time debt collector with a tragic past and a penchant for sticking his nose too far into things, this Melbourne crusader is on a one-man mission to solve any cold case that stinks to high heaven. Yep, Jack is more or less a modern, Aussie incarnation of Humphrey Bogart. Netflix is serving you up a delicious heaped helping of noir with a side order of chicken schnitzel and a XXXX beer.
5. Round The Twist
I'll be honest with you now – this is a bit of a vanity inclusion. While it's absolutely true that Round the Twist was a Logie Award-winning children's series back in its day, rewatching 1989 fare comes with a fair amount of cringe factor. Great if you lived through those parachute pants years – a tough ask for modern kids who didn't. That said, there's no arguing with the storytelling abilities of Paul Jennings. The fashions may stick out like a sore thumb, but there are some timelessly entertaining yarns here involving three children, a lighthouse and many bizarre magical adventures.
Best Aussie movies
1. Mad Max Fury Road
How George Miller effortlessly shifted gears from the ultra-violent Mad Max trilogy, to Happy Feet, to a return to this quasi-reboot is something I'll never understand. What I do know is that this is just about the finest action film made in the last ten years. Fury Road is the tale of two rebels on the run who just might be able to restore order to a post-apocalyptic world --Max, a man of action and few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action desperately seeking greener pastures and redemption. The slight problem in the way of this plan: a pursuing horde of psychotic road warriors, plus a sightless man in pyjamas with a flamethrower guitar. No, seriously.
2. Muriel's Wedding
Centring on a young social outcast who is routinely described as terrible (Muriel) this comedy classic is all about the search for happiness, and perhaps love. You're looking at the breakout role that put talented Aussie actress Toni Collette on the map, plus this remains a ridiculously quotable movie twenty five years after the fact. Chock full of bogan culture piss-takes and ABBA references, Muriel's Wedding gets marketed as a romantic comedy but it's so much more than that. It was an ahead-of-its-time feminist masterpiece – a tale of self-rescue and a reminder of the power of female friendships.
You didn't think we'd have a Best Aussie movies list without including...Australia, did you? This sprawling Baz Luhrmann epic is set in the Northern Territory before World War II. An English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch reluctantly hires a rugged stock-man in order to protect her new property from a takeover plot. As the pair drive 2,000 head of cattle over typical Aussie terrain (read: beautiful but deadly and snake infested) bonds are formed as they experience the bombing of Darwin by Japanese forces firsthand.
4. The Sapphires
This musical comedy is the terrific true story of four young, talented Australian Aboriginal singers who are plucked from obscurity and hired to go off and entertain US troops. Basically, think a lot of Mo-town sounds and add a dash of Good Morning Vietnam and you're not too far off the recipe. Bursting will feel-good moments and a toe-tapping soundtrack sung by an incredibly gifted group of soul sisters lead by Jessica Mauboy, The Sapphires is a finely crafted film about love, friendship and the human cost of war.
5. Happy Feet
Any Emperor Penguin worth their adult feathers must find their soul mates through song – and we're not talking weird hooting here, rather the anthropomorphised crooning of Elvis Presley. When Mumble the penguin is born he can't sing a bar to save his (love) life. He can, however, dance like Fred Astaire, despite having the disproportionately small hind legs of a species known less for its moon-walking and more for its waddling. Suspension of disbelief aside, this is a fantastic film for the young and the young-at-hear with a star-studded voice cast to boot.
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