After a few COVID-induced, cinematically-subdued years, cinema is finally back. This year, the world has been buzzing about Barbenheimer, but what about the films made closer to home? It’s time to talk about the best Australian films 2023 has delivered.
The Sundance Film Festival took place in January, and marked the world premiere of Shayda and Talk to Me. Both films were received well, and have gone on to find incredible success. Talk to Me was quickly acquired by A24, and has since become the company’s highest grossing horror film in North America, surpassing both Hereditary and Midsommar. Meanwhile, Shayda has been selected as Australia’s submission for Best International Feature at the 2024 Academy Awards.
Of course, the year’s not done yet. Just around the corner, Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel is about to hit cinemas, and we’re still waiting for The Dry 2 to be released. But until then, these are the best Australian films 2023 has had to offer so far.
The Best Australian Movies of 2023
Directed by: Robert Connolly
Written by: Robert Connolly, based on the novel by Tim Winton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Albert Mwangi, Ariel Donoghue
Synopsis: Follows Abby, a child who befriends a magnificent wild blue groper while diving. When Abby realises that the fish is under threat, she takes inspiration from her activist Mum, Dora, and takes on poachers to save her friend.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video
Worth it for the stunning underwater cinematography alone, Blueback is a sincere, heartfelt film for the whole family. Timely as ever, Blueback drives home the importance of saving our local wildlife in a way that’s both accessible and enjoyable.
Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles
Directed by: Sally Aitken
Written by: Sally Aitken
Starring: Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, Greg Page, Emma Watkins, Paul Paddick, Lachlan Gillespie
Synopsis: The incredible true story of early childhood teachers and friends, The Wiggles, who rock ‘n’ rolled their way into the hearts of millions around the globe in one of the greatest entertainment stories of all time
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video from October 24
A wholesome, heartwarming, and surprisingly emotional look at The Wiggles’ meteoric rise to global domination, Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles is bound to wiggle its way into your heart. Director Sally Aitken brings viewers behind the scenes as all the Wiggles, past and present, reflect on the journey of one of Australia’s biggest bands.
The New Boy
Directed by: Warwick Thornton
Written by: Warwick Thornton
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Aswan Reid, Deborah Mailman
Synopsis: The mesmeric story of a nine-year-old aboriginal Australian orphan boy who arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun.
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Prime Video
A visually stunning film, Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy is a compelling story that grapples with issues of colonialism, faith and autonomy. Cate Blanchett and Aswan Reid’s deliver moving performances that will keep you engrossed from start to finish, and stay with you after the credits have run.
The Royal Hotel
Directed by: Kitty Green
Written by: Kitty Green, Oscar Redding
Starring: Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Herbert Nordrum
Synopsis: US backpackers Hanna and Liv take a job in a remote Australian pub for some extra cash and are confronted with a bunch of unruly locals and a situation that grows rapidly out of their control.
Where to watch: In cinemas November 23, 2023
Based on the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie, The Royal Hotel is a visceral, slow burn thriller that will have a knot forming in your stomach as you wait for the inevitable to unfold. Unnerving, tense, and endlessly claustrophobic, Kitty Green’s skillful direction and Julia Garner’s magnetic performance make The Royal Hotel a haunting, unmissable experience.
Directed by: Noora Niasari
Written by: Noora Niasari
Starring: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Leah Purcell, Lucinda Armstrong Hall
Synopsis: A young Iranian mother and her six-year-old daughter find refuge in an Australian women’s shelter during the two weeks of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz).
Where to watch: In cinemas now
Based on writer/director Noora Niasari’s own childhood experiences growing up in an Australian women’s shelter in the ’90s, Shayda is a delicate balancing act of fear and hope, anxiety and joy. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, Shayda was recently announced as Australia’s submission for Best International Feature at the 2024 Academy Awards.
Directed by: Jub Clerc
Written by: Jub Clerc, Steve Rodgers
Starring: Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Tasma Walton, Carlos Sanson Jr.
Synopsis: An Indigenous teenager discovers photography during a youth trip in Western Australia.
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Prime Video
A smart, sensitive film, Sweet As takes the viewer along on a coming-of-age journey that will stay with you beyond the film’s 87 minute runtime. With an all-Indigenous soundtrack to boot, you may just discover your next favourite artist, as well!
Talk to Me
Directed by: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Written by: Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman, Daley Pearson
Starring: Sophie Wilde, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto
Synopsis: When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and unleashes terrifying supernatural forces.
Where to watch: In cinemas now.
The debut feature from Adelaide-born twin brothers Danny and Michael Philippou — aka YouTube’s RackaRacka — Talk to Me was met with instant buzz after its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and things haven’t slowed down since then.
The film was picked up by indie distributor A24, and soon dethroned Hereditary as A24’s top grossing horror film at the North American box office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sequel is already in the works.
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