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AACTA Awards: Sapphires takes pole position in Oz film industry night of nights

The feel good and best performing Australian film of 2012, The Sapphires, leads this year’s AACTA nominations. But there were also some surprises.

The Sapphires

Nominations for the second annual Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards were announced yesterday, with director Wayne Blair’s top-tappin’ crowd-pleaser The Sapphires – about four Aboriginal Australian women who form a soul group and perform for US troops in Vietnam – taking centre stage.

The film picked up 12 nominations including all the major categories: Best Film, Best Direction, Best Lead Actor (Chris O’Dowd) and Best Lead Actress (Deborah Mailman). Netting over $13.5 million in local revenue, it is the third film in as many years to land in the top 15 of Australia’s all-time most successful homegrown titles at the local box office (following Red Dog in 2011 which collected $21.3 million, and Tomorrow, When the War Began in 2010 which also took around $13.5 million).

The biggest surprise was the double digit success of Gettin’ Square director Jonathan Teplitzky’s scorching non-linear drama Burning Man, which snapped up 10 noms including Best Film, Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay. The film opened November 17 in 2011, 10 days after the cut-off period for AACTA eligibility, meaning it had to wait another year for consideration. Burning Man is a dizzyingly paced semi-autobiographical rumination on the loss of a loved one (Teplitzky’s wife passed away from cancer) told in a whirlwind style that gradually gains clarity as the story unfolds. You can read my review of the film here and my interview with Teplitzky here.

Other big performers include Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here, Cate Shortland’s Lore and P.J. Hogan’s Mental. Each chalked up eight runs on the board. Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s well-regarded genre-crossing drama Hail failed to make any impact and Rob Sitch’s rom-com Any Questions for Ben? scored the same amount of nominations as it has original ideas, which is zero.

From my perspective the best news from yesterday’s announcements was the nomination of Garry Waddell in the Best Supporting Actor category for his unforgettable turn as a bogan wastoid in Rolf de Heer’s The King is Dead! A tale of domestic horror in its purest and most prosaic sense, the film revolves around an average Joe and Jane who buy a home in the burbs and are pushed to the brink of desperation by drugged-out neighbours, led by a meth-addicted loose cannon played by Waddell. His performance is electrifying.

In July I wrote: “in 15 years of film reviewing I have never seen a performance quite like it.” I was so impressed, in fact, I decided I had to meet Waddell to find out how he did it. Over a couple of pots at a pub he spoke candidly about incarnating King, years spent disbelieving in himself as an actor and how substance abuse self-sabotaged early phases of his career, amongst many other things.

The King is Dead! opened in very limited release; barely enough screens to make it eligible. Waddell, who was nominated for an AFI in 1975 for his wired performance in Bert Deling’s grungy classic Pure Shit, will compete against American Liev Schreiber (Mental), Anthony Starr (Wish You Were Here) and Ryan Corr (Not Suitable For Children).

For the complete list of nominations, including television programs, visit the AACTA website.

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