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!
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
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 (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.
The movie that won splatter king Peter Jackson mainstream respectability was born from writer Fran Walsh's long interest in the Parker-Hulme case: two 1950s teens who invented imaginary worlds, wrote under imaginary personas, and murdered Pauline Parker's mother. Jackson and Walsh's vision of friendship, creativity and tragedy was greeted with Oscar nominations, deals with indie company Miramax, and rhapsodic acclaim for the film, and newbie actors Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Time magazine and 30 other publications named it one of the year's 10 best films.
Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
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.
When his father dies, Paul (Matthew Macfayden), a world-weary war journalist, returns to his Central Otago hometown. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a teenage girl (Emily Barclay). Their relationship is frowned upon 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 face dark secrets. Critically-acclaimed, In My Father's Den marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent: it was the only feature from writer-director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.
Taika Waititi's blockbuster second movie revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy (James Rolleston) trying to make sense of his world — and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. A winner in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, Boy soon became the most successful local release on its home soil (at least until the arrival of Waititi's 2016 hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople).