Arm yourself with jaffas and get set for debate: NZ On Screen has gone out on a limb and selected an all-time NZ feature film Top 10. Starring the icons of the Kiwi big screen — Blondini, Ada, Beth, Boy. Whet your appetite for our finest features via choice 10-minute excerpts of the movies. Cook the man some eggs, we're taking this Top 10 to Invercargill!
Geoff Murphy's second feature was a low-budget smash, definitively proving that New Zealanders could make blockbusters too. Young rascal Gerry steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John, who wants his wife back; and a hitchhiker named Shirl. Soon they are driving to Invercargill to find her, with the cops in hot pursuit. Eluding the police with hair-raising driving, verve and trickery, it's not long before the "Blondini gang" are hailed as folk heroes, onscreen and off.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) has been mute since she was six. She travels from Scotland with her daughter (Anna Paquin) and her grand piano to colonial New Zealand for an arranged marriage. When her husband, a stoic settler (Sam Neill) sells the piano to Baines (Harvey Keitel), Ada and Baines come to a secret agreement. She can win her piano back key by key by playing for him, as he acts out his desire for her. Jane Campion's Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the mud and bush is the only NZ film to have won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
The movie that saw splatter-king Peter Jackson lauded by a whole new audience was born from Fran Walsh's long fascination with the Parker-Hulme case: two teenagers who invented imaginary worlds, wrote under imaginary personas, and in June 1954 murdered Pauline Parker's mother. Walsh and Jackson's kinetic vision of friendship, creativity and tragedy was greeted with Oscar nominations, deals with indie powerhouse Miramax, and rhapsodic acclaim for the film, and newbies Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Time magazine and 30 other publications named it one of the year's 10 best films.
Once Were Warriors was an internationally successful film that honestly opened the eyes of cinema goers to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's visceral and hard hitting depiction of gang and domestic violence amongst an urban Māori whānau, was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel by screenwriter Riwia Brown. Produced by Robin Scholes, the film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Mus and Beth Heke. It is NZ most watched local release (besting Boy by bums on seats measure).
Set at the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider met with sizeable success worldwide, winning audience choice awards at Sundance and Toronto.
When his father dies, Paul, a world-weary war journalist, returns to his Central Otago hometown. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young girl. Their relationship is frowned upon by and when she disappears, the community holds him responsible. The events that follow force Paul to confront a tragic incident he fled as a youth, and to face dark adult secrets. In My Father's Den marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent. It was tragically also the last feature for writer-director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.
Taika Waititi's blockbuster second feature revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy trying to make sense of his world - and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (played by Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy was inspired by his Oscar-nominated short Two Cars, One Night and mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. Boy won Grand Prize in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, and within a month of its March 2010 release, had become the most successful Kiwi comedy released on its home soil.