Top 10 Australian
films of 2023

by Bill Mousoulis

It's been a great year in 2023 for Austalian films at the independent level. Like it is most years, if one digs a little below the surface of the whole industrial mainstream scene (and the main film festivals reflect that scene of course).

For me, the real highlight has been the emergence of some young Adelaide filmmakers, mainly through Flinders University, filmmakers supported by the screening/production collective moviejuice.

And at the more indie level of the mainstream scene there are always some interesting films.

The list below is a mix of items. Some were actually unveiled in 2022, but I include them because I first saw them in 2023.

Top 10 Australian films of 2023

1. Ships that Bear
(Gabriel Bath, 47 mins)

A portrait of various counter-culture (anti)heroes of the '60s (Castro, Warhol, Solanas, Spector), done by Flinders Uni students in a dress-up pastiche way, for no money. Director Gabriel Bath is like an Australian Kuchar Brother here. Wild, funny, riotous, experimental, abstract, political, playful, joyous, this is the best Australian film of the year by far. Now this is the kind of cinema Australia needs! See it here.


2. Memory Film: A Filmmaker’s Diary
(Jeni Thornley, 82 mins)

A legacy film (or "death poem" as the film itself says) by legendary Sydney feminist filmmaker Jeni Thornley, Memory Film is a very satisfying biography, especially because there is no voice-over narration (the words written on the screen instead are poetic and fitting). The fleeting (yet gloriously restored) Super 8 images give testament to a life well lived. A magnificent, transcendent film.


3. Undercurrents: Meditations on Power
(Margot Nash, 19 mins)

And, to join the title above, another new magnificent film from another Sydney feminist film legend, Margot Nash. Nash also uses images of her own from the past, but combines them with recent socio-political world images, to create an urgent and extraordinary essay on the state of the world. Godard himself would be smiling at this despairing and intense, but philosophical and hopeful, vision of humankind.


4. The Boat with no Name
(Phil O'Brien & Jeffery Baxter, 94 mins)

Directed by the whitefella knock-about comic Phil O'Brien (with some help from Indigenous local Jeffery Baxter), The Boat with no Name is a miracle of a film made in North Eastern Arnhem Land. A nominally amateur/community project, the film exudes wonder and joy (and lots of dry humour). A radiant, big-hearted film, it captures the beauty of the land and the sea better than any big production! See it here.


5. Mr. Cripes Blimey
(Saidin Salkic, 65 mins)

Bosnian refugee Salkic keeps producing work at an astonishing rate. Pleasingly, his portraits of trauma now utilise people other than himself, people like Dirk de Bruyn and (starring in this film) John Flaus. Mr. Cripes Blimey is an experimental portrait of disorientation, with dementia the sub-text. Experimental because the film mirrors the disorientation by cutting the time-frame to shreds. Engrossing cinema.


6. The Survival of Kindness
(Rolf de Heer, 96 mins)

De Heer does it again! After any great narrative success (Bad Boy Bubby, The Ten Canoes), he always goes off to do an experimental film or two. This latest film of his is riveting and quite shocking, a realistic but still symbolic (or sci-fi) rendering of colonialist subjugation. As time passes, de Heer's reputation increases, and one wishes more Australian mainstream filmmakers would take his lead and be this bold.


7. My Friend the Moon
(Mark La Rosa, 88 mins)

La Rosa's 2nd full feature, after the dream-like Boundless in 2018, My Friend the Moon is strictly realistic, the outback landscape used once again but this time drained of colour. A brother and sister wander around, doing some filming, discussing their lives, in La Rosa's typically meticulous and minimalist style. Features an extraordinarily unself-conscious performance from Petra Glieson, surely the performance of the year.


8. Crossways
(Max Hammerstein, 25 mins)

Young Adelaide filmmaker Hammerstein's film Crossways is a disciplined, mysterious observational mood piece. High on atmosphere and low on dialogue and exposition, it's a tense film, about murder and surveillance, the most subtle thriller you can imagine. The sound is multi-layered and dense, like a Lynch movie, and the form is intriguing, with rhythmic editing and a slow-burn emotion.


9. Shayda
(Noora Niasari, 117 mins)

Lauded Iranian refugee Niasari's debut feature Shayda is well designed and beautifully acted, but almost marred by poor editing (over-long and repetitive scenes). There is a jewel of a film within this 117-minute work, a tight and powerful shorter film, a Ken Loach-like film, with a great story of freedom and women's rights, and with an emotional punch. An example of resources (funding) overloading the pot.


10. Paco
(Tim Carlier, 90 mins)

Adelaide's Flinders Uni obviously has a great film program with great teachers. This is a very nice follow-up student feature after Kyle Davis' Dry Winter a few years back, this time around an absurdist comedy about a boomie (sound recordist). Alternative people and inner-city locations feature, and it's quite a hoot overall. It does thin out a bit towards the end unfortunately, running out of ideas somewhat.


Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker, a programmer of Australian indie films, and an occasional writer on film.

Published December 28, 2023. © Bill Mousoulis, 2023