By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 27, 2012 at 1:01PM
Though born in New Zealand, Andrew Dominik, the director of this week's "Killing Them Softly," moved to Australia at the age of 2, and was raised there. And around thirty years later, he provided a firecracker up the arse of the nation's film industry by directing "Chopper," a biopic of colorful criminal Chopper Read that made Eric Bana a global star, and firmly launched Dominik as a filmmaker to watch.
Australia's film industry has had its bright spots -- the grindhouse scene of the 1970s, the emergence of directors like Peter Weir and Gillian Armstrong in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the feel-good 1990s comedies of Baz Luhrmann, Stephan Elliot and P.J. Hogan. But "Chopper" seemed to launch a decade for the nation's film culture that might number among the finest in its history, with a host of uncompromising directors emerging over the following decade that have led some to talk of an Australian New Wave or New Australian Cinema movement.
And while Dominik has moved away from home, delivering his second slice of brilliant Americana with "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford," being followed by "Killing Them Softly," we thought the release of the latter this Friday seemed like a good opportunity to shed a light on some of the other key figures of this movement. So below, you'll find five of the most important Australian directors to emerge in recent years. We didn't have space for everyone ("Samson & Delilah" helmer Warwick Thornton might have made the cut, but he's mostly been MIA since that film came out), but readers from the Southern Hemisphere, and elsewhere, can let us know who else they tip in the comments section below.
Older and more experienced than most of the names of these five, Hillcoat was born in Queensland, Australia in 1961, but spent a portion of his childhood in Canada and Connecticut. By the 1970s he had returned to Australia, working by filming bands on the Melbourne post-punk scene, where he befriended a promising musician named Nick Cave. Hillcoat stayed principally in the music world, making his directorial debut with the INXS documentary "Swing and Other Stories" in 1985, but had stayed close to Cave, and the duo teamed up for the director's feature film debut, 1988's "Ghost Of The Civil Dead," a tough, brutal prison movie co-written, co-starring and scored by the musician. Despite the presence of Cave, by then an international superstar, and a Venice Film Festival premiere, the film, while well received, didn't make too much of an impression around the world. However, Hillcoat embarked on a successful and lucrative career helming music videos for the likes of Bush, Suede, Depeche Mode, Manic Street Preachers, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Another feature followed, the romantic drama "To Have & To Hold," starring Tcheky Karyo and Rachel Griffiths, but that too rather disappeared without a trace. Nearly a decade later, having continued in the promo world, Hillcoat came roaring back, reteaming with Cave on the western "The Proposition." Starring an international cast of character actor favorites including Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Emily Watson and John Hurt, it's a grubby, nasty tale of violence and loyalty, with an uncommon emphasis on the Aborigine people (still a somewhat taboo subject in Australian cinema) and a hall-of-fame score from Cave and Warren Ellis. It picked up great reviews around the world, and ever since Hilllcoat has ensured that similar decade-long gaps wouldn't lapse between his next films. 2009 saw the release of "The Road," another typically bruising, powerful widescreen epic, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning post-apocalyptic novel. And this year brought his most commercial film to date, in the shape of Prohibition-era crime tale "Lawless," an entertaining picture that proved a modest hit. All share a no-nonsense muscularity, an almost classical, John Fordish style, and an ability to extract fine performances from performers as diverse as Viggo Mortensen and Shia LaBoeuf. Next up, all being well, is L.A. cop thriller "Triple Nine," and we're looking forward to Hillcoat bringing his skills to the big city.
"I'd like to see your film, smartass" -- the common refrain of internet commenters, incensed at a bad review given to their own personal favorites. It's a silly idea (you don't need to be a chef to know when someone's pissed in your soup), but even so, David Michôd, a former journalist with Australian film craft magazine Inside Film, must have left a few tails between legs when he premiered the astonishing "Animal Kingdom" at Sundance back in early 2010. Michôd was born in Sydney before heading to university and film school in Melbourne. When he moved back to his birthplace, he ended up answering phones at the magazine. Within six months, Michôd was Deputy Editor, and he went on to be Editor there for three years. But directing was always the end game, and he left his job in 2006 to focus on it, with short film "Ezra White, LL.B" hitting the festival circuit that year. Two shorts followed in quick succession, "Crossbow" and "Netherland Dwarf," playing Sundance and picking up awards around the world. It was 'Dwarf''s run at Sundance that saw him come into contact with Nash Edgerton and Spencer Susser, who also had shorts at the festival, and they joined forces to create Blue Tongue Films (see below), putting "Animal Kingdom" into development. The film -- which saw Michôd return to the crime-riddled Melbourne he remembered for his college years -- was a powerful, rich and complex crime tale, immaculately helmed by the director, and it launched half its cast to stardom; Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn and Sullivan Stapleton have all gone on to greater things, while a cameo-ing Joel Edgerton has only gone from strength to strength since. Michôd has reteamed with the latter for his next project, a futuristic Western developed from an idea by the director and the actor named "The Rover," which has Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce and Scoot McNairy set to star. Filming is slated set to start soon, so fingers crossed, we'll see before 2013 is out.