'Samson' nabs 11 AFI noms

'Australia' missing from best film category

SYDNEY -- In a year when the Australian Film Institute has introduced a new award for the highest-grossing local film, the top and third-ranked Aussie films at the local boxoffice -- “Australia” and “Charley and Boots” -- were absent from the major categories in the AFI Award nominations announced Wednesday. 

Rather it could be seen as a year when indigenous film making achievements came to the fore, with director Warwick Thornton’s debut feature, “Samson and Delilah,” picking up 11 nominations and “Australia’s” young aboriginal star, Brandon Walters, nominated in two categories, for best supporting actor in Australia and Best Young Actor. 

However it was Robert Connolly’s “Balibo,” the tale of Australia and New Zealand journalists shot by Indonesian militia in East Timor in 2005, that led the pack with 14 nominations. Rachel Ward’s debut feature “Beautiful Kate” picked up 10 nominations, while Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” picked up nine. 

“Australia’s” nomination as best feature in the new “members choice” category, chosen by general members of the AFI rather than the professional members, was one of seven noms for the Baz Luhrmann blockbuster, which included five nominations in the craft categories. 

Announcing the nominations across 15 feature film categories, 13 TV and 10 non-feature categories, AFI CEO Damien Trewhalla said the awards celebrated what’s been a “remarkable” year in Australian film, resulting in nominations for best features increasing from four to six, the introduction of the two new awards, members' choice and the AFI highest-grossing film award .  

The six nominees for best feature are “Balibo,” “Beautiful Kate,” “Blessed,” “Mao’s Last Dancer,” “Mary and Max” and “Samson & Delilah." The line-up for members' choice nominations was the same with the exception of “Australia,” which bumped out “Blessed."

Helmers Robert Connolly (“Balibo”), Rachel Ward (“Beautiful Kate”), Bruce Beresford (“Mao’s Last Dancer”) and Warwick Thornton (“Samson & Delilah”) were nominated in the best director category.

Sophie Lowe (“Beautiful Kate”), Frances O’Connor (“Blessed”), Sacha Horler (“My Year Without Sex”) and Marissa Gibson (“Samson & Delilah”) were named in the best actress category, while Anthony LaPaglia (“Balibo”), Ben Mendelsohn (“Beautiful Kate”), Hugo Weaving (“Last Ride”) and Rowan McNamara (“Samson & Delilah”) are vying for best actor. 

Nominations for the AFI International Award for best actor are Russell Crowe (“State of Play”), Martin Henderson (“House”), Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace”) and Guy Pearce (“Bedtime Stories”).  The nominated actresses are Rose Byrne (“Damages”), Toni Collette (“United States of Tara”), Melissa George (“In Treatment”) and Mia Wasikowska (“In Treatment”).

The AFI said it has been a milestone year for Australian film with boxoffice figures exceeding AUS$65 million ($59 million) from October 2008 to current. While that equates to around 6% of the local boxoffice compared to 4% in recent years, over haft those grosses came from “Australia’ which totaled $34 million.

The AFI Awards will be handed out in two separate ceremonies on Dec. 11 and 12.