My five favourite Australian films of 2021

Our favourite Australian films of 2021

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I’m a little late to share my favourite Australian films from 2021, but better late than never as they say.

I managed to see over 70 Australian feature films and documentaries last year, as well as an endless stream of short films, and I couldn’t be prouder of Australian filmmakers and the quality of films delivered throughout the year.

I’ve shared my yearly top films list since I launched Cinema Australia in 2013, but what’s unique about this particular list is that I’ve included a few films that premiered at local film festivals throughout the year. I wouldn’t usually do this, but considering all the Covid interruptions over the last few years, it’s worth considering everything I’ve seen.

I’d love to know what your favourite Australian film of 2021 was, so comment below if you’d like to share it.

by MATTHEW EELES

5. We’re Not Here to Fuck Spiders

Written and directed by Josh Reed
Produced by Rob Gibson and Sarah-Jane McAllan
Starring Stephanie King, Lindsay Farris, Max Brown and Fayssal Bazzi

Listen to our Podcast episode with Josh Reed here.

What’s it’s about: Ice dealer Anton Berger and his crew go about their daily lives, working towards a potentially lucrative home invasion robbery with corrupt cop Det. Sgt. Gordon Godfrey, unaware someone has broken into their house and rigged it with hidden cameras.

Why I loved it: We’re Not Here to Fuck Spiders hits harder than a sledgehammer. Josh Reed’s gripping found-footage noir is so intoxicating that you can almost feel yourself becoming one of the film’s depraved, drug-fuelled characters the longer you watch it. With limited resources and a modest budget, We’re Not Here to Fuck Spiders is a potent example of high-quality independent filmmaking and everthing we love to celebrate about independent Australian cinema. It isn’t for everyone, and it’s a tough watch. But if immersing yourself in bold, fearless storytelling is your thing, then we urge you to seek it out.

4. Streamline

Written and Directed by Tyson Wade Johnston
Produced by Blake Northfield, Nathan Walker and Jay Douglas
Starring Levi Miller, Laura Gordon, Robert Morgan, Tasia Zalar, Jake Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Steve Bastoni, Hunter Page-Lochard and Sam Parsonson

Read our full review here
Read our interview with Tasia Zalar here

What’s it’s about: Streamline follows 15-year-old swimmer Benjamin Lane, whose name could not be more apt. On the cusp of qualifying for the olympic games, Benjamin’s disciplines are challenged when his father is released from prison. While Benjamin is at the peak of physical fitness, he is forced to confront the ongoing psychological effects of a troubled upbringing at the hands of an abusive father.

Why I loved it: Tyson Wade Johnston’s semi-autobiographical Streamline is a gripping, powerful, emotionally-charged family drama. This taut exploration of teenage masculinity and family connection never misses a beat in this masterful, razor-sharp filmmaking debut. At the forefront of Streamline is the imposing, Adonis-like Levi Miller in his most mature role yet, and his best performance ever. Miller excels in bringing humanity and empathy to an otherwise melancholic character. Rather than making professional swimming the main focus, Streamline is a solid character study about a young man who’s beginning to crumble under the pressure of professional sports stardom while dealing with trauma. On the surface Streamline is moody and dark, but just below is a shining light that will inspire.

3. Disclosure

Written and directed by Michael Bentham
Produced by Donna Lyon and CJ Welsh
Starring Geraldine Hakewill, Mark Leonard Winter, Matilda Ridgway and Tom Wren

Listen to our Podcast interview with Michael Bentham and Matilda Ridgway here

What’s it’s about: When a 4-year-old girl makes an allegation against the son of a politician, an attempt by the children’s parents to resolve the situation soon degenerates into a vicious confrontation.

Why I loved it: Disclosure is the most adult of dramas, and if you have children in your life in any capacity, you’re likely to relate to this film more than any other on this list. These characters, phenomenally performed by Hakewill, Leonard Winter, Ridgway and Wren, are put in a situation none of us ever want to find ourselves in, but the truth of the matter is that what’s happening here is very common, and it’s very real. I found Disclosure to be so engaging that I watched it three times – more than any other film this year. Disclosure is a simple film technically, but the characters, and the film’s script are extraordinarily complex. 

2. Nitram

Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Shaun Grant
Produced by Nick Batzias, Shaun Grant, Justin Kurzel, Virginia Whitwell
Starring Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia and Sean Keenan

Listen to our Podcast interview with Justin Kurzel and Shaun Grant here

What’s it’s about: Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones) lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that friendship meets its tragic end, and NITRAM’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent into a nightmare that culminates in the most nihilistic and heinous of acts. 

Why I loved it: When Nitram was first announced back in November 2020, Cinema Australia was one of the first media outlets to question the subject’s relevance as a film. Did we really need a movie about the monster responsible for Australia’s worst mass murder? Having seen the film multiple times now, the answer is a rock-hard yes. For those who don’t know much about the monster’s background and the events leading up to the atrocity, Nitram answers a lot of questions. It’s hard not to admire what the filmmakers have accomplished here, and they deserve to be applauded for their sensitive approach and faultless execution.

1. Here Out West

Directed by Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy, Julie Kalceff, Ana Kokkinos and Leah Purcell
Written by Nisrine Amine, Bina Bhattacharya, Matias Bolla, Claire Cao, Arka Das, Duygu Dogan, Vonne Patiag and Tien Tran
Produced by Annabel Davis, Sheila Jayadev and Bree-Anne Sykes

Listen to our Podcast interview with Arka Das and Bina Bhattacharya here

What’s it’s about: A baby is kidnapped from a western Sydney hospital by a desperate grandmother. Her flight sets off a chain of events that brings together complete strangers over the course of one dramatic day.

Why I loved it: “We are one, but we are many.” The I Am Australian song lyrics could not be more apt to describe Here Out West. The film is a superb reflection of modern Western Sydney, but the true genius here is that the stories explored throughout the film are so universal that it could be set anywhere in the world. For an anthology film compiled by such a massive team of creatives, Here Out West flows smoothly and seamlessly, making it a pleasure to lose oneself in. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but the film never loses sight of itself, and it’s never overindulgent. Here Out West is a flawless film and you need to do whatever you can to see it when it’s released nationally on February 3.

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