Samson and Delilah and other great Australian stories

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Top Five lists tend to be reasonably subjective. This list consists of my favourite films of 2009. They have been selected on some combination of quality, resonance, importance and personal taste. Feel free to use the feedback form at the base of the article to nominate your own favourite films from 2009.


1. Samson and Delilah

Samson and DelilahBack in March, I strolled the streets of Fitzroy in Melbourne's inner north with Warwick Thornton, trying to find a quiet spot for an interview. Two months prior to the release of his feature debut, Thornton was quietly hopeful his film would be positively received. It would go on to win the Best First Feature award at the Cannes Film Festival, and to claim seven prizes at the 2009 AFI Awards, including best film and best direction.

Review — Lessons in empathy for racist Australia: Samson and Delilah is an ode to Alice Springs and its extremes. It's an ethereal love story between Aboriginal adolescents, that takes place against a backdrop of addiction, violence and displacement. Racism is not an explicit presence in the characters' lives, but it is there, like a foul breath that muggies the air around them. Read more


2. Synechdoche New York

Synechdoche New York An imaginatively conceived and realised meditation on art, God and the fear of death. The directorial debut of scarily weird screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) survives — virtually requires — repeat viewing.

Review — New York's God of rot: Theatre director Caden Cotard sets about producing the most ambitious play in history. His cast of characters includes himself and those nearest to him, play-acting the events of his domestic life. Don't think for a second that this is inaccessible muck. Kaufman's sense of humour is dark and absurd but always surprising. Read more


3. Beautiful Kate

Beautiful Kate A haunting parable about a rural Australian family that has long since been fragmented along the fault-lines of guilty secrets. Particularly notable for strong and understated performances by Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Griffiths and newcomer Sophie Lowe.

Review — Incest and redemption: The publicity poster for Beautiful Kate is as ambiguous as the controversial Bill Henson photographs it so blatantly references. The film unpacks these ambiguities, not solving but exacerbating them and making them sing with empathy. Read more


4. Blessed

Blessed Consider it a nod to what has been widely described as one of the greatest years ever for Australian films, that my top five contains three local offerings. Blessed is an immaculate, sad and, at times, deeply disturbing exploration of working class angst.

Review/interview — When parenthood is a mixed blessing: Roo makes a quick buck starring in a porn film. Trisha and Katrina are arrested for shoplifting. Orton and Stacey are runaways from an untenable home life. In act two we relive the same day from the mothers' point of view. Blessed finds hope in the cracks between mothers and their teenage children. Read more


5. Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are Strange and dark and beautiful: more a film about what it's like to be a child, than an actual children's film. Consider this a nod to my penchant for quirky films — its director, Spike Jonze, directed Being John Malcovich, the aforementioned American 'indie-wood' film written by Charlie Kaufman.

Review — Children and other wild things: Max has an erratic imagination, and is prone to extremes of emotion. There are hints of mental illness, but, really, he is simply Every Child. Following a ferocious fight with his mother, he flees into fantasy and becomes king to a group of melancholic monsters. Read more


Honourable mentions:
BaliboDiscerning truth in Balibo's fiction
DisgraceSouth Africa's lesson for post-apartheid Australia
DoubtNo cheap shots in clergy abuse drama
Revolutionary RoadHow to escape the hell of suburbia
Gran TorinoRedeeming the all-American racist


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by Melbourne's The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: samson and delilah, warwick thornton, synecdoche new york, charlie kaufman, blessed, beautiful kate



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Existing comments

Thanks for the reviews this year, Tim. You're usually on the money with most films. Will have to check out those on your list I haven't seen.

My list would have to include Pixar's beautiful Up, and the surprisingly good indie sci-fi movie, District 9.

Michael | 17 December 2009  

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