• Actress Jacki Weaver attends the 'The Polka King' premiere at Sundance (Photo: Nicholas Hunt) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It’s been a bumper year for Australian films in Sundance – but Australians have been killing it in US films too.
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27 Jan 2017 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2017 - 2:56 PM

Danielle McDonald

You might have missed Danielle McDonald in her first feature film The East, which premiered in Sundance in 2013 and also her small role in Trust Me. Now it seems the burly 25 year-old Australian will be hard to miss as her comedic portrayal as a teenage New Jersey rapper in Patti Cake$ has taken Sundance by storm. The film has been picked up by Fox Searchlight for US$10.5 million in one of the Festival’s biggest deals and McDonald has been deemed the overall breakout star. Sundance director John Cooper compared her arrival on the scene to that of Jennifer Lawrence seven years ago in Winter’s Bone.

Patti Cake$
 

Jacki Weaver

There’s no letting up for Jacki Weaver who turns 70 in May. The rambunctious Aussie’s comments to Variety regarding her sex scene with Jason Schwartzman, 36, in The Polka King starring Jack Black were picked up around the globe. So I went to see the film for myself. Sporting a hot pink negligee as the eccentric Schwartzman lands on top of her is certainly one of the film’s funniest moments. Wearing caked-on mascara and a tight-coiled perm, her controlling and opinionated character is based on the real life-mother in-law of the so-called Polka King, a colourful Polish American entertainer called Jan Lewan, a kind of Liberace of Polka, who was convicted of a Ponzi-scheme and sent to jail.

As Weaver stood on the stage for a post-screening Q & A, I mentioned how critics were saying she stole scenes from Black, who also produced.

“You’re Australian!” she hollered. “No, I don't know about that. I will tell you something funny. At the premiere last night the real Marva [Lewan’s wife] was here and she came up to me and said, ‘Oh you went easy on my mom! She was much worse.’ It was the only thing [that was difficult]; it was more difficult than getting into bed with Jason.” Schwartzman put his arm around Weaver and kissed her furry Cossack hat. “I was so nervous about hitting that old lady who was 90. I was terrified I was going to hurt her.”

 

Emily Browning

In Golden Exits, the latest film by Alex Ross Perry, the under-used, infinitely talented and gorgeous Emily Browning (Sleeping Beauty) is excellent as the object of many a New York man’s desires. She plays Naomi, a visiting student from Australia who’s taken a short apprenticeship with an archivist called Nick (Adam Horovitz) who develops quite a magnificent obsession with her, even if he has a beautiful, smart wife, Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny in one of her best roles in a while.)

The male characters aren’t the only wayward ones, Browning says. “I’m sensitive to that kind of stuff. I think Naomi is just as much. She’s fully aware that Jason’s character is married,” she says of Perry regular Jason Schwartzman who Naomi attempts to seduce. (Schwatzman is getting a lot of play with women in festival films!) “Naomi’s kind of awful too, even if she’s not attached to anyone but it’s sort of seen as a horrible thing that men do.”

 

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

The Australian musical maestros were not in Sundance yet they scored one of the best Festival films, Wind River, the directing debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario), which affords Jeremy Renner one of the best roles of his career. A thriller set on a Native American reservation, it follows the investigation of a beautiful young Indian woman, who has been raped (a common occurrence on reservations) and is found dead in the snow.

Why did Sheridan hire Cave and Ellis?

“Some musicians speak to certain people and I thought their score for The Proposition was the most unique, most cathartic thing I’d ever heard and I wanted the same for my film,” Sheridan explains. “I gave them a lot of rules before we started. I said, ‘You can’t use any flute, I don't want any percussion, I don't want bass, I don't want any Indian drum. I want it to sound like we’re on another planet.’ And they were able to do that and I’m in love with the score.”

Screen Daily also highlighted the Aussie composers in their review.

“Music, from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, seems to underline the isolation and alienation of the reservation, to speak of the sadness of a people set apart.”

 

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