Baz Luhrmann’s $127m biopic extravaganza Elvis has scooped the 12th annual Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (Aacta) awards, collecting a total of 11 gongs including best film, best director, best lead actor for Austin Butler in the title role and best supporting actress for Olivia DeJonge, for her role as Priscilla Presley.
The film also made history, with Mandy Walker winning for cinematography at an earlier ceremony this week: a first for female cinematographers at the Aactas. No woman has ever won for cinematography at the Oscars or the Baftas.
In television, ABC series Mystery Road: Origin dominated, collecting seven awards from 15 nominations, including for best drama series, best direction (Dylan River), best cinematography (Tyson Perkins), best lead actress for Tuuli Narkle, and best lead actor for Mark Coles Smith. The Mystery Road franchise is now the most nominated series in Aacta’s history.
The national broadcaster’s global success story Bluey won best children’s program for the fourth year in a row, with the ABC also picking up best documentary/factual program for Miriam Margolyes’s Australia Unmasked, and best lifestyle program for Gardening Australia, now in its 32nd year.
The Netflix reboot of the 1994 classic television series Heartbreak High – nominated for nine – collected six awards, including best supporting actor in a drama for Thomas Weatherall, best screenplay, best costume design, and all three publicly voted TV categories.
In an acceptance speech delivered via live cross from London, Luhrmann said “this movie almost didn’t happen” – referring to Tom Hanks famously contracting Covid during the Elvis shoot.
“We had one goal in mind and that goal was to bring audiences back into the theatre, old and young, and it is gratifying that we did it.”
Chris Hemsworth was the recipient of the trailblazer award in recognition of his contribution to the Australian film industry; the Thor actor was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in last year’s Queen’s Birthday honours.
Aacta’s chief executive, Damian Trewhella, said Hemsworth had given “an epic performance” in bringing the international industry to Australia. The actor has repeatedly made his casting contingent on a film shooting on his home soil.
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In his acceptance speech, Hemsworth – who recently took a step back from acting, after discovering he had a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s – said he would never take for granted the start the Australian screen industry gave him. “Home and Away was the closest I got to acting school,” he said.
Film: Elvis is king, The Stranger is snubbed
Although Leah Purcell’s The Drovers Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson initially suggested strong competition (like Elvis it attracted more than a dozen nominations, including for best film and best direction), the Luhrmann biopic quickly dominated the prize pool.
Elvis creatives had already collected seven gongs in preannounced industry awards, including Walker for cinematography and Martin for costume design. Elvis also won best production design, editing, sound, makeup and visual effects.
In his speech, Luhrmann paid tribute to Elvis’s cinematographer for her world first and to his wife, Catherine Martin, who won best costume design for the film and was also recognised with the Longford Lyell lifetime achievement award.
Accepting the accolade, Martin said she needed an award to stay married to Luhrmann for 25 years. She also paid tribute to Elvis’s cinematographer. “The glass ceiling still remains glaringly intact, as we have seen at the Baftas and the Oscars,” she said.
Purcell collected the best lead actress award for the title role in the Drovers’ Wife. She was also nominated for best direction, screenwriting and as co-producer in the best film category.
Purcell has now reinvented the Henry Lawson short story three times: first as a play and then as a book. She said she worked intensively to get the Molly Johnson character right, telling Rove McManus – who was roving among the seated nominees with questions and a microphone – “It’s a relief, I can now let her go.”
In an earlier acceptance speech Purcell said: “Not only did [the character] represent my mother, my great-grandmother and all the aunties that have gone before me in a trying time in this country; I also wanted it to represent the women of the land who struggled and the hardship that came with that.”
Thomas M Wright’s controversial film The Stranger, based on the years-long police investigation that secured the confession of Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe’s killer, was nominated in 10 categories, but only carried off two awards, for Wright’s screenplay and for Sean Harris, for his portrayal of the killer in the supporting actor category.
Best documentary went to Jennifer Peedom’s River (her earlier 2017 documentary, Mountain, collected three AACTAs), narrated by Willem Dafo and featuring the music of Radiohead and William Barton.
Streaming services dominate TV categories
The ABC’s Mystery Road was the only nominee in TV’s best drama category that screened on a free-to-air broadcaster. It beat streaming service Stanthriller The Tourist, starring Irish actor Jamie Dornan and Stan’s comedy dramas Bump and Wolf Like Me, starring Claudia Karvan and Isla Fisher respectively. In the same category, Netflix had Heartbreak High and the drama Love Me, starring Hugo Weaving, screened on Foxtel/Binge.
The local networks dominated in the best miniseries category, with ABC’s Barons and Savage River, SBS’s True Colours, and Nine’s Underbelly: Vanishing Network – but it was Foxtel/Binge’s courtroom drama The Twelve that prevailed; the show was nominated in 10 categories and won for best miniseries, also earning Brooke Satchwell best performing actress in a drama.
Best comedy program went to Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell. The comedian was not present to collect the award, but in a written speech delivered by his co-star Christie Whelan Browne, he took a dry dig at his fellow nominees.
“To give you some idea how clueless [the judges] are, you only need to look at the garbage we’ve been nominated with,” the statement said. “Hard Quiz and Spicks and Specks are gameshows, probably the lowest form of television, and Aftertaste and Summer Love presumably only qualified for the comedy [category] because the writing and acting wasn’t good enough for them to get into the drama.”
Earlier, Hard Quiz’s host, Tom Gleeson, won best comedy performer.
It was arguably the most successful attempt at humour during an otherwise uneventful ceremony, with honourable mention to Rebel Wilson, who used her presenter’s role to take a dig at the Sydney gossip columnist who apologised earlier this year after being accused of trying to out her.
“Some big things have been happening in my life this year, big changes,” she said. “I did switch from dairy to soy so I thought yeah, I should say that now and get a jump on the Sydney Morning Herald.”
Nine network’s Lego Masters Australia won best entertainment program, the ABC’s Old People’s home for Teenagers won best factual entertainment program and Newtwork Ten’s MasterChef won best reality TV.