The film scooped six trophies at the prizegiving, including awards for Best Film and Best Lead Actor for Bridesmaids star O'Dowd.
Wayne Blair took the Best Director title, Deborah Mailman was named Best Lead Actress and Jessica Mauboy won Best Supporting Actress. The film also landed the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The haul adds to the five technical AACTA honours which were given to the film at a pre-awards luncheon on Monday (28Jan13), taking The Sapphires' total to 11.
Joel Edgerton's thriller Wish You Were Here was also among the winners, securing the Best Original Screenplay honour and the Best Supporting Actor prize for Antony Starr.
In the TV categories, the Best Television Drama Series prize went to Puberty Blues, while Best Lead Actor went to Richard Roxburgh (Rake) and Best Lead Actress went to Leah Purcell (Redfern Now).
The ceremony at Sydney's Star Casino was hosted by Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and featured appearances from Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.
The main Australian ceremony follows the handing out of the AACTA International Awards in Los Angeles on Saturday (26Jan13) - the majority of the foreign film prizes all went to acclaimed drama Silver Linings Playbook with wins for Jennifer Lawrence (Best Actress - International) and David O. Russell (Best Direction - International).
Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver picked up the international supporting actor titles and the movie was also named best international film.
The Irish funnyman has landed a Best Actor nod for playing the manager of an Australian girl group in the comedy, while his co-stars Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy were respectively nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Bridesmaids star O'Dowd faces stiff competition for the Best Actor prize, going up against Guy Pearce (33 Postcards), Joel Edgerton (Wish You Were Here) and Matthew Goode (Burning Man).
Best Actress hopeful Mailman will do battle with Hollywood's Toni Collette for her role in Mental, as well as Felicity Price (Wish You Were Here) and Sarah Snook (Not Suitable For Children).
The Sapphires is also nominated in the Best Direction and Best Film categories, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography, among others. Other Best Film contenders include German drama Lore, Wish You Were Here and Burning Man.
The prizegiving will be held in Sydney next January (13).
Back in May, commanding executive Harvey Weinstein declared that his latest acquisition, The Sapphires, was "the next Artist." Last year, Weinstein picked up the French language film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and successfully paraded it all the way to the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. When The Sapphires premiered at Cannes 2012, the mega-producer knew he had another hit on hits hands and the bold comparison forcefully pushed the film into awards contention. Harvey Weinstein: war strategist.
Does The Sapphires actually live up to the hype of its bellowing campaign manager? The Australian drama kicked off its award season journey at the Toronto Film Festival to little fanfare, overshadowed by fresher films being unveiled for the first time. But the film — starring Bridesmaids costar Chris O'Dowd and Aboriginal actresses from down under — really is the perfect feel good movie that voters have often gravitated towards. The Sapphires has all the components for Oscar potential: Set in the 1960s (period drama, check!), the movie follows four rambunctious gals struggling with Australia's racial divide (easily recognizable conflict, check!) who hit it big when they're hired to perform pop song covers (musical numbers, check!) for soldiers serving in Vietnam (war movie, check!). Along the way, a few of the ladies fall in love (romance, check!) and O'Dowd serves up a memorable, hilarious performance as the group's manager (breakout actor, check!). If only one of them had a terminal illness....
The Weinstein Company still has a challenge on its hands. Missing from the near-perfect checklist is a recognizable actor to slap on a poster and sell the darn thing. The Sapphires' Australian stars, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, and Miranda Tapsell, are wonderful as the main quartet, but they're unknown. The movie's background adds to the uphill battle; not to say that Americans are ignorant, but the past proves world films have never done the business or award-collecting that homegrown blockbusters routinely do. The Sapphires is very Australian — a treat for anyone unfamiliar with the Aboriginal culture, but not as easily digestible for U.S. audiences as, say, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.
But as proven by The Artist, sometimes straight-up great buzz can turn the unlikeliest movies into hits. The Sapphires is reminiscent of the picture perfect dramas of the '80s and '90s. Think Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man or Forrest Gump. Last year, The Help recreated that magic with a mix of serious drama and light laughs. The Sapphires does the same thing. O'Dowd as Dave, a burnout Irish musician desperate for a new gig, is the embodiment of that balance. When Dave's tough on the girls, pushing them to leave behind their families to audition for the Vietnam tour, he's inspirational and heartfelt. When he's flirting with Gail (Mailman), he's a total goof. And as anyone who knows his comedic work on shows like The IT Crowd, he can sell even dopiest one-liner.
The Sapphires is fluff, but it's well done fluff. That's the biggest link between The Artist and director Wayne Blair's debut feature: they're sweet. If a black & white silent picture could take the top spot at year's end, why not one about four Aussie ladies with voices like Beyoncé?
[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company]
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Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) doesn’t know how lucky she has it. She’s smart beautiful and married to Gerry (Gerald Butler) a passionate funny and impetuous Irishman who loves her with every breath in his body. But when that breath runs out--Gerry dies unexpectedly from an illness--Holly’s luck runs out. Barely coping her salvation arrives in the form of letters from Gerry that come to Holly in unexpected ways--letters he wrote to her before he died to help her get through the pain and move on with her life and letters that always end with “P.S. I Love You.” A saint huh? Holly’s mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) begin to worry Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past but in fact each letter pushes Holly on a journey of rediscovery and to show her how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life. Tissues please! Swank will be damned if she pigeonholes herself into always playing serious women who don’t wear makeup. P.S. I Love You is her stab at romantic dramedy and while the genre may not suit her best the Oscar-winning actress still has fun playing a spirited woman who wears designer clothes cute hats and gets to make out with a strapping Irish hunk. Actually Swank gets to bed TWO strapping Irish hunks in P.S. I Love You: The first is the yummy Butler of course and the other is Gerry’s old bandmate William played by American Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who’ll be seen in the upcoming romantic comedy The Accidental Husband with Uma Thurman). Lucky girl. Butler however is the one the ladies will sigh over the most. Having already given a powerhouse performance this year as the Spartan king in 300 the Scottish actor turns the tables to show his soft underbelly as the adorably romantic and fun-lovin’ Gerry. The abs still rock though. One can easily see why Holly is such a mess after he dies. Gershon and Kudrow add some genuineness as Holly’s friends (someone please find a Kudrow a TV show) as does Bates as Holly’s hardened mother. Harry Connick Jr. however seems out of place as Holly’s would-be suitor. She just needs to stick with the Irish guys. Hilary Swank teams up with her Freedom Writers director Richard LaGravenese once again for P.S. I Love You and it’s clear they have a symbiotic relationship. Swank probably likes the way LaGravenese accentuates her best features turning her into a glam leading lady while LaGravenese obviously enjoys gazing at her through his camera lens. Unfortunately the two really haven’t found the best material. Freedom Writers is the mother of all teacher-gets-students-motivated retreads while P.S. I Love You--based on a novel by Cecelia Ahern and adapted by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers--is just pure fluff with very little substance behind it. Not that the film won't inspire some romantic feelings or work up tears but its only real strengths are: 1) the players who somehow rise about the triteness of it all especially Butler and 2) the gorgeous landscapes of Ireland which should send any woman in her right mind straight to the Emerald Isles to find her perfect man. Seriously ladies book your trips NOW.
Rabbit-Proof Fence is not fiction. It is the true story of three Aborigine children--Molly and Daisy Craig and their cousin Gracie Fields--who in 1931 were taken forcibly from their mothers and their home in Jigalong in the north of Australia and moved to the Moore River Native Settlement over a thousand miles away. This travesty is carried out in the film on the orders of A.O. Neville Chief Protector of the Aborigines (played by Kenneth Branagh) who believes the best way to solve Australia's "coloured problem" is to breed the aboriginal blood out of mixed-race children. According to his pseudo-scientific rationale for racism the way to do that is to make sure so-called "half castes" don't marry full-blooded Aborigines (that would dilute the white blood you see). Neville is not alone in his sentiments. This popular racial philosophy meant that from 1905 to 1971 (no that's not a typo) it was government policy to remove children from their homes against their will. Molly Daisy and Gracie were three such children and Rabbit-Proof Fence is the story of their remarkable escape from the settlement and their adventures on the journey home to Jigalong--as told by Molly's daughter Doris Pilkington Garimara in a book released on Nov. 27 two days before the film opened in New York and Los Angeles.
As one might imagine the success of this film hinges on the abilities of its very young stars Molly (Everlyn Sampi) Daisy (Tianna Sansbury) and Gracie (Laura Monaghan). The three girls come off very well; they're believable in the roles and they truly make you feel the hardship of their journey. They're very mature especially Sampi who carries most of the scenes as the girls' leader helping them to get food find shelter and above all avoid being captured by the Aborigine tracker who follows in their wake Moodoo (David Gulpilil). They don't play the parts too sweetly or innocently which is quite an achievement especially since they still manage to create some pretty intense emotional impact. That being said however something is missing from Rabbit-Proof Fence. Despite the narrative's focus on children of mixed races nearly everything in this film is well black and white. Strong main characters are sacrificed in favor of the social issues the film wants to address so the girls serve as allegorical figures for the hopes of every mixed-race child and Branagh stands for every nasty white racist who ever walked on Australian soil. While there's nothing wrong with allegory per se and while there's no question who was right and who was wrong in the historical situation it doesn't necessarily make for a compelling or thought-provoking film.
Thanks to director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American The Bone Collector) and director of photography Christopher Doyle (The Quiet American In the Mood for Love) you hardly notice while you're watching the movie that you're being pounded 'bout the head with moral pronouncements. This is one gorgeous-looking film. The fence that guides the girls home (ironically enough built by their white fathers who've moved on to build elsewhere) runs on for miles; heat shimmers over a vast empty desert that somehow still seems beautiful. Moments like these enhanced by a fascinating soundtrack from world music maestro Peter Gabriel make it easier to overlook the weaknesses of the story. But there's no question that the film's symbols serve as little more than that: The fence which could have been used to great effect as a metaphor instead serves merely as a symbol of the racial separation already depicted in the story. A soaring "spirit bird" that Molly watches wide-eyed with wonder is such an obvious symbol of freedom it's almost painful; there are no layers of meaning here. Everything is cut and dried which seems to be becoming a habit for Noyce whose The Quiet American was similarly lacking in subtlety.