The cringe dwellers

This would have to be the quote of the year in Australian film: ''I just threw up on my poo.'' That line will take its place in history alongside such revelations of the national character as ''Tell 'em they're dreamin'''; ''You're terrible, Muriel''; ''That'll do, pig''; ''There's a smell in there that'll outlast religion'' and ''That's just what this country needs - a cock, in a frock, on a rock''.

The line comes from a film called Save Your Legs!, in which a member of an amateur cricket team (played by the appropriately named Stephen Curry) gets a dose of Delhi belly on a train while touring India. It's now being trailered at the multiplexes, and will open just before Australia Day.

OK, if you're going to be pernickety, I really should hold my nomination of that quote until next year. Confining our selection to films that screened this year, we're left with the following candidates.

From A Few Best Men: Luke: ''I fall in love with women who then shit on me from a great height.'' Daphne: ''You shouldn't put them on a pedestal.''

From Kath & Kimderella: ''I'm really happy with my norkmentation.''

From Bait: ''Sharks are only curious about one thing. It's trying to decide if we're food or not.''

From Housos Vs Authority: ''F--- off, ya Ugg boot.''

From Mental: Shaz: ''I love ya, ya c---.'' Trevor: ''Ya f---ing mad bitch.''

Looking at those quotes, you might discern a pattern. You might theorise that it's a less-than-sophisticated period in the history of Australian screenwriting, and that the current generation of producers believes Australian movie-goers are cretins or bogans, or love to see cretins and bogans played on screen.

In 1950, a Melbourne critic named Arthur Angel Phillips coined the term ''cultural cringe'' for the tendency of Australians to be embarrassed by their own artistic endeavours, and to feel that any work by Americans and Britons is automatically superior to anything we can do. Then, in the 1990s, Paul Keating suggested we were entitled to replace the cultural cringe with the cultural strut, because our actors, musicians, models, chefs and so on were the best in the world.

Since then, Australians have veered between the two extremes in our attitude to our own films. When we reflect on the local movies released this year, do we call 2012 a year of cringe or a year of strut?

You may feel differently, but I think my list of the top 12 Australian moneymakers for 2012 (see sidebar) contains seven cringeworthies and five strutworthies.

There is a possible explanation for this being such a cringeworthy year in film. Maybe most of the great screenwriters have moved to television, which had a particularly good year with Rake, Puberty Blues, A Moody Christmas, House Husbands, Devil's Dust and Offspring all containing episodes that could have been expanded into stimulating movies. Maybe there's not enough writing talent to service both a film and a television industry. Here are our column's Australian movie awards for 2012:

Disappointment of the year There were many strong candidates. If Kath & Kimderella had been edited down to half an hour, it would still have been among their dumbest episodes. Jane Turner and Gina Riley need to move on. A Few Best Men was supposed to be the renaissance of Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). But the shock value of Olivia Newton-John sniffing cocaine could not compensate for sloppy slapstick.

Most disappointing of all was Any Questions for Ben?, from the Working Dog team (The Castle and The Dish). It made Melbourne and Rachael Taylor look magnificent, but the central character was annoying, the plot predictable and the dialogue lame.

The bad rap for Any Questions for Ben? may have poisoned the well for a much smarter rom-com that came out not long afterwards - Not Suitable For Children (starring Ryan Kwanten of True Blood). Or possibly audiences were put off by the premise - a man with testicular cancer has a month to find a woman who will bear his child. It sounds like a parody of a typical Australian art movie, but it deserves a catch-up on DVD.

Oz flick of the year You thought I was going to say The Sapphires, which was amusing and inspiring, even in its corniest moments. But it's big enough to look after itself. I'm giving the prize to Bait, a ''schlock-horror'' genre piece about young people trying to avoid a four-metre shark trapped with them in a supermarket after a tsunami. The film made just $1 million in Australia, but brought in $45 million in China, changing it from cringeworthy to strutworthy and opening up a market that its producers will rush to fill with a sequel. Clearly the Chinese have a finer appreciation of irony than Australians.

Oz star of the year You thought I was going to say Deborah Mailman, who dominated The Sapphires, but we already knew her talent from Offspring. Instead, I'll reward Rebel Wilson, who did her best to save A Few Best Men (and scored roles in US comedies Bachelorette and What to Expect When You're Expecting) before going on to display Aussie charisma in Pitch Perfect. Perhaps she'll return to us in 2013 and find some strutworthy material to work with.

To discuss what's right and wrong with Australian filmmaking, go to smh.com.au/opinion/blog/the-tribal-mind.

TOP AUSTRALIAN MONEYMAKERS OF ALL TIME

1. Crocodile Dundee (1986) $47.7 million

2. Australia (2008) $37.5m

3. Babe (1995) $36.8m

4. Happy Feet (2006) $31.8m

5. Moulin Rouge! (2001) $27.7m

6. Crocodile Dundee II (1988) $24.9m

7. Strictly Ballroom (1992) $21.8m

8. Red Dog (2011) $21.3m

9. The Dish (2000) $18m

10. The Man from Snowy River (1982) $17.2m

11. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) $16.5m

12. Muriel's Wedding (1994) $15.8m

BOX OFFICE FOR AUSTRALIAN FILMS IN 2012

1. The Sapphires $14.2 million

2. Kath & Kimderella $6m

3. A Few Best Men $5.1m

4. Mental $4m

5. Any Questions for Ben? $1.5m

6. Wish You Were Here $1.5m

7. Housos Vs Authority, $1.4m

8. Bait $1m

9. Not Suitable for Children $0.5m

10. Paul Kelly: Stories of Me $0.4m

11. Iron Sky $0.3m

12. Dead Europe $0.2m

(Source: MPDAA)

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