Critically and commercially 2011 has been another largely forgettable year for Australian films with the notable exceptions of Red Dog and Mrs Carey's Concert, a decent result for Oranges and Sunshine and plaudits for a few titles including Snowtown and The Tall Man.
But the outlook for 2012 seems a lot brighter, with Roadshow Films' managing director Joel Pearlman forecasting a “great” year for Australian cinema.
True, Pearlman is biased because his optimism is based chiefly on four films his company will release: Working Dog's comedy Any Questions for Ben?; the big screen debut of the dysfunctional mother and daughter duo in The Kath and Kim Filum; Goddess, a musical starring Ronan Keating and West End actress Laura Michelle Kelly; and the return of cackling serial killer Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek 2.
To be fair, Pearlman also pointed to two Australian titles his competitors will release next year which he expects will be hits. On January 26 Icon will open Stephan Elliott's comedy A Few Best Men (pictured), written by the creator of the hysterically funny Death at a Funeral. Universal is distributing P.J. Hogan's Mental, which reunites him with his Muriel's Wedding discovery Toni Collette alongside Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Rebecca Gibney and Kerry Fox.
Roadshow struck gold with Red Dog, which earned more than $21 million, a tally that Pearlman acknowledges “exceeded our wildest expectations,” but it was disappointed with the meagre dividends from The Cup. “We think Simon Wincer made a great film but it didn't resonate with the public,” he said.
The distributor hopes to finish the year on a high note with George Miller's Happy Feet Two which opens on Boxing Day against two Steven Spielberg epics, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
The animated sequel rang up $US21.2 million in its opening weekend in the US, about half of the $41.5 million that Happy Feet raked in on the same weekend in 2006. Still, Pearlman said, “The first one performed extremely well and we believe the same is possible for the sequel. We're doing a huge campaign and Robin Williams is coming out to promote it.”
The distributor is sure he has a winner with Any Questions for Ben?, Working Dog's first feature since The Dish in 2000. Directed by Rob Sitch, it stars Josh Lawson, Christian Clark, Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and Rachael Taylor and is described by Pearlman as a “romantic comedy and coming-of-age story about a guy in his 20s who, after a particular event, starts to question where he is with his life.”
Directed by Ted Emery, The Kath and Kim Filum will follow the characters created by Jane Turner and Gina Riley as they travel to Italy. Richard E. Grant guest stars as the page to the king of a fictional principality with whom Magda Szubanski's Sharon falls head over heels.
Goddess is based on Joanna Weinberg's one-woman show Sinksongs. Scripted by Weinberg and director Mark Lamprell, the movie follows a young mother who installs a webcam in her kitchen and creates a buzz in cyberspace with her songs while her husband is off saving whales.
Director/co-writer Greg McLean starts shooting Wolf Creek 2 in January, again starring John Jarrett as the outback serial killer. Pearlman won't divulge the plot, saying only, “It's a cracking script”.
On paper, all that sounds highly promising and may herald a resurgence for Australian cinema after a dismal year which saw many local films crash at the boxoffice, among them Burning Man, Big Mamma's Boy, Wasted on the Young, A Heartbeat Away, Cane Toads: The Conquest, The Reef, Mad Bastards, Blame, Here I Am, Sleeping Beauty and The Hunter.