The upcoming release of Australia -- directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann, shot in Australia and starring Australian-born actor Hugh Jackman, and Australian-raised Nicole Kidman -- inspired me to take a look at the Australian film industry, thinking I could easily pick out seven highlights. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for everyone else, Australian films are a much richer and more daunting prospect. I decided to stick to films shot in Australia by directors born there, thus eliminating things like Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout (1971). I also eliminated New Zealanders like Jane Campion and Peter Jackson, who deserve their own list. At the 11th hour, I had to eliminate such an obviously great film as Babe (1995); though it qualifies under my rule, the Hoggett's farm could actually be just about anywhere (it's more of a fairy tale world, and Australia is never mentioned). And no, Crocodile Dundee (1986) didn't make the cutoff, but here's what did:
The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller)
This movie represents everything that's badass about Australia. It opened there in 1981 as Mad Max 2, mainly because everyone had seen Mad Max (1979). Here, it opened a year later, in the summer of 1982, with the changed title, hoping that Americans could be tricked into thinking it wasn't a sequel. It didn't matter; this film is far starker, funnier and all-around better than the original. Rarely have the roar of engines mixed so well with the wide, empty, sun-baked dust of the outback. Miller was -- and still is -- one of the most interesting Down Under directors, but he works slowly and sporadically and stays out of the limelight. (In the thirty years since Mad Max, he has directed only seven feature films.) And Mel Gibson may have gone a little nuts lately, but we'll always love him for this.