The top ten: best Australian films of 2023

It's been a bumper year for Australian films. Enjoy our top-ten list, and see which film comes in at number one.

From the power of nature and the strength of solidarity to demonic forces and the banality of human evil, it’s been a remarkable year in Australian cinema that has both set our hearts soaring and our eyes darting behind our fingers.

Here’s our top-ten faves from Australian filmmakers, whether they enjoyed a general release, landed on a streamer or enjoyed a festival berth this year.

10. Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism

Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism. XYZ Films.

The scariest thing about Melbourne director Nick Kozakis’ nerve-shredding movie is that this grim tale of a rogue exorcist (Tim Pocock) abusing a mentally unwell woman (a compelling Georgia Eyers) as her weak sauce partner (Dan Ewing) looks on is that it’s drawn from real-life events occurring in rural Victoria in the mid-90s. Debuting at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, it shook up MIFF locally before taking home the audience award at Sitges. No William Friedkin knock-off, instead it leans into the grim reality of unfettered religious fundamentalism.

9. The Rooster

The Rooster. Image: Bonsai Films.

The inimitable Hugo Weaving should be commended for lending his gravitas to so many Australian indies. He turns in a fine performance here as a hermit hiding out in the woods who finds some strange sort of comfort when Clickbait star Phoenix Raei’s grieving copper stumbles into his run-down hut (though not before shooting at him). Marking the feature debut of actor-turned-writer/director Mark Leonard Winter, his haunting tale of wounded masculinity berthed at MIFF before heading to Adelaide FF audiences with its deft balance of dark wit and tenderness.

Read the ScreenHub review.

8. Shayda

Shayda. Image: Madman Films.

Opening this year’s MIFF, Iranian-Australian filmmaker Noora Niasari’s astute debut feature channels her mother’s true story of fleeing an abusive relationship (Ali’s Wedding star Osamah Sami will make you shiver) to tell a deeply affecting tale of sisterhood, celebrating the bond between the title character (portrayed by Holy Spider lead Zar Amir Ebrahimi) and her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia). Set on the approach to Persian New Year in 1995, it also champions the women who shelter by their side in a Melbourne refuge and yearns for the loss of culture.

Read the ScreenHub review.

7. Late Night With the Devil

Late Night With The Devil. Image: Future Pictures.

Scary movie siblings Colin and Cameron Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres) terrorised Australian film festival circuit audiences with their rabble-rousing hit, which premiered at the original SXSW in March and picked up a screenplay award at Sitges. Deploying ever-creepy American actor David Dastmalchianas a Don Lane-style ’70s talk show host who makes a Faustian bargain to win the ratings war – move over Jennifer Aniston – only for all hell to break loose when he invites a possessed Satanic cult escapee onto his Halloween special. As you do. Devilishly good fun.

Read the ScreenHub director interview.

6. The Giants

Image: Bob Brown in The Giants. Supplied.

Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens Party and a titan of environmental and gay rights activism from way back, towers over directorial duo Rachel Antony and Laurence Billiet’s dreamy documentary. Dividing its runtime between an intimate portrait of the man behind the myth and a trippier framing mechanism in which the David and Goliath symbiosis of the mycelium network tracing a lifeline between the tallest of ancient trees and the teeniest fungi, it’s equal-parts rousing and soothing; a beautiful reminder that we’re stronger together.

Read the ScreenHub director interview.

5. The New Boy

Cate Blanchett and Aswan Reid in The New Boy. Image: Roadshow Films.

Opening the Sydney Film Festival after bowing at Cannes then enjoying a local release, Sweet Country filmmaker Warwick Thornton’s latest adept wrangling with this land’s brutal colonial history examines Catholicism’s central role in the Stolen Generations. The incomparable Cate Blanchett depicts an alcoholic nun who’s convinced she’s doing the right thing, taking lads like remarkable newcomer Aswan Reid’s unnamed new boy of the title into her care. But at what cost, as his connection to his people and shared Culture slowly diminishes? Achingly beautiful.

Read the ScreenHub review.

4. Limbo

Limbo. Image: Bunya Productions.

Debuting at Berlinale, where it was nominated for the Golden Bear, before opening here in May, Mystery Road director Ivan Sen’s black and white outback noir delivered another devastating look at the scars gouged into this country’s soul. A career-best Simon Baker plays a drug-addicted cop trying to get to the bottom of a cold case that has scarred Rob Collins’ drifter and, to a lesser extent, his sister, as played by the brilliant Natasha Wanganeen. Its haunting silences echo deep, like the cratered caves of the film’s eerily ethereal location work in Coober Pedy.  

Read the ScreenHub director interview.

3. The Royal Hotel

Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick in The Royal Hotel. Image: See Saw Films.

Melbourne filmmaker Kitty Green spun a horror story of sorts from the monsters lurking behind #MeToo-exposed abuses in devastating, US-set testament The Assistant. Her star Julia Garner returns as a backpacker sinking in deep shit in an outback pub alongside Jessica Henwick’s fellow traveller. But who’s more at risk? The Americans, or the drunken tradies who may just have bitten of more than they can chew in another discombobulating, rules rewriting thriller  that’s good it opened both the Adelaide Film Festival and Sydney’s inaugural SXSW.

Read the ScreenHub review.

2. Housekeeping for Beginners

Housekeeping for Beginners. Image: Focus Features.

Melbourne-based Goran Stolevski, the gifted writer/director behind lovelorn epic Of an Age, returned to North Macedonia, his birth country, to spin this luminous story of found family that picked up the Queer Lion at Venice. Again turning to You Won’t Be Alone star Anamaria Marinca, she plays Dita, a social worker tangled up with her Roma client Suada (Alina Serban) as the pair wrangle a household full of the latter’s kids and assorted blow-ins, like Armistead Maupin’s Barbary Lane. See if you can leave without beaming from ear-to-ear at this very queer joy.

Read the ScreenHub review.

1. Talk to Me

Still from Talk to Me. Image: A24/Umbrella Entertainment.

Closing the Philippou brothers’ hometown fest, Adelaide, late last year before scooting to Berlinale – where we saw it – in February, there’s no denying this darkly comic, nerve-eviscerating teen possession shocker has taken over the world since, with its box office domination here and abroad all the sweeter for Danny and Michael refusing to cash-in Hollywood cheques, standing staunch in telling it their way with local actors Sophie Wilde, Joe Bird, Alexandra Jensen and Zoe Terakes. If you haven’t seen it yet, grab the hand and give in to its gruesome charms. It’s by far the best Australian film released locally this year.

Read the ScreenHub review.

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