When the last Lord of the Rings film won Academy Awards glory in 2004, jokes were made about running out of Kiwis to thank. Taika Waititi’s nap and Anna Paquin’s stutter have also made Oscar night news through the years. Along with the Oscar magnet that is the Weta effects empire, comes a largely unsung legacy of Oscar recognition. Celebrate some of the Kiwi winners and nominees via NZ On Screen's collection of Kiwis at the Oscars: from hobbits, heavenly creatures and whale riders to Two Cars, a woozy gold rush tale, an extreme ski documentary and more...
Youngsters Romeo, Ed, and Polly wait in two cars after dark while their parents are inside drinking. It’s a situation many Kiwis would recognise: cars in loco parentis outside the bar or rugby club. Soon cross-car rivalry warms to budding friendship. Winning performances, and the tender mix of comedy and romance saw the tale of a Te Kaha pub carpark become an international hit. Two Cars won a boot-full of awards, launched Waititi’s career, and was the second NZ short to gain an Oscar nod (Waititi infamously feigned sleep during the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony).
Ada (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. An especially big hit in Europe, Jane Campion's Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the bush is the only NZ film to have won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and Return won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar; the box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on NZ tourism.
Bob Stenhouse worked largely alone to visualise this luminously-animated ode to the "nation of drunkards" (as New Zealand was tagged in the House of Lords in 1838). A shepherd tricks a Mackenzie barman out of a bottle of ‘Hokonui Lightning', but too much pioneer spirit sees him haunted by the devil's daughter. In 1986 Frog was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short; later an animation festival in Annecy, France judged it one of the best animated films made that century. A short 'making of' clip at the end offers hints of the hard work behind the film's distinctive look.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang-glide, walk, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst requisite spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary in 1977); the LA Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
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.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
Set in 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 became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
New Zealand’s Antarctic presence is still in its infancy as this striking Academy Award-nominated NFU documentary chronicles the six month polar summer of 1963/64. Sled teams pulled by teams of huskies are despatched to explore far flung corners, nothing is too small — or too great — to be analysed by a battery of scientists, and the base at Cape Hallett is resupplied (it suffered a serious fire shortly afterwards). However, all of this activity seems to make little impression on a remarkable polar landscape constantly threatening to reassert itself.
Peter Jackson's love affair with moviemaking and special effects was ignited by seeing the original King Kong (1933) as a child. Jackson's Kiwi-shot remake takes one of cinema's most iconic monster movies, retains the 30s setting and iconic New York finale, and toughens up the "beauty" (Naomi Watts). The film also transforms the male (non-ape) lead from lunkhead to sensitive playwright (Adrien Brody). Exhilarating, Oscar-winning CGI brings the great ape to life, alongside rampaging dinosaurs, and oversized weta inexplicably absent from the maligned 1976 remake.
The Fellowship of the Ring was the film that brought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first instalment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) is Bilbo, and Peter Jackson is again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.
After only 17 days in international cinemas, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy stacked up enough treasure to become 2012's fourth highest-grossing movie. In part two director Peter Jackson ups the adventure quotient further, thanks to spiders, high speed river rides and the first encounter between hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Smaug the Dragon, as envisioned by Weta Digital and British star du jour Benedict Cumberbatch. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), one of the breakout characters in the Lord of the Rings movies, also makes an appearance.
Touted as the defining chapter of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies sees Smaug wreaking havoc from the sky, Thorin Oakenshield succumbing to dragon-sickness, and a climactic battle to dwarf anything seen in the first two Hobbit films. As Orcs look to the Lonely Mountain with their eyes on the treasure, dwarves, elves and humans must decide whether to unite and fight them off. The final Hobbit film arrived in cinemas 15 years after Peter Jackson first trained his cameras on Middle-earth — and made it clear that global blockbusters could come from New Zealand.