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Ranking Baz Luhrmann's Movies

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 12th 2020
All are great; here they are in order
These ranking lists seem to be quite popular. Music and movies, it seems people like to hear someone's take. And with the holiday season upon us, films seem to be a much more where people are aiming. And so, with that in mind, I am going to rank the movies by renowned Australian director Baz Luhrmann.
baz, luhrmann, film, movie

This was one I was sort of reluctant to do because there is a new film due out maybe next year (2021) called, at the moment, Elvis. But I think waiting could be a little perilous; what if it isn't good? (Somehow I doubt that – it's Luhrmann and the first King of Rock; how could it go wrong… touch wood.)

A quick recap of my personal rules: I need to like (or at least not hate) everything by an artist, every film in a series, every book. I do not want to be negative, so if I say something is my least favourite, it still means I like it, or at the worst think it is meh. And there has to be at least five items for me to rank, to make it worthwhile. Fortunately, in this case, Baz has directed 5 films so far in his career.

Yes, I know – only 5? It feels like he's done so much more, but 5 it is. And they are an interesting collection.

So, ranked, here are Baz Luhrmann's 5 films! Oh, and SPOILERS for films more than five years old.

Australia (2008)

Starring: Nicole Kidman & Hugh Jackman

This film got a lot of grief when it came out. There were a lot of strange criticisms from Australian critics in particular who, I think, just want everything Australian to be something that in the writing world would be capital-L Literature. If it is not, then the critics hate it. Well, I liked the film. My biggest issue was that it was so long and it tried to do the scenery love so renowned in New Zealand films. The story was a nicely written historical drama, and the acting was actually quite good. A lady from England inherits a cattle station, a drover helps her, others want her to fail so they can take it over, and it ends up with everything sort of okay, despite World War 2 going on. And I thought the Indigenous sub-plot worked well. Like I said, just too long (over 2 and a half hours) and the landscape shots grew tedious. It was a standard historical romance tale, that was all.

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio & Tobey Maguire

I've read the book and seen the Robert Redford film. I did not really like either. So why did I go and watch this one? Because I was convinced to by someone when she felt I needed some time out. I was not working, my kids were at school, my wife was at work, so I went along to see this film with a friend. It was a stunning spectacle. I still did not like Gatsby as a character; if I'd known him, I think I would have been rude and just left him be. But DiCaprio did a good job and I really thought Maguire was great in the Carraway role. They stuck pretty close to the book, of this man who had conned his way into high society to get a woman who had gone and married some-one else, and which would be his downfall in the end. But the thing about the film is that it looks so good. There is a great attention to detail and the actors all really took their roles seriously. It runs at a little over two hours but it did not feel like it. It is, in fact, my favourite version of the story. Sorry, F.Scott Fitzgerald, but Luhrmann made your book interesting to me. (Yes, I am studying arts in the English department at university at the moment; why do you ask?)

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Starring: Paul Mercurio & Tara Morice

Yes. I saw this at the cinema. Yes, I was with a girl I was seeing at the time. And, yes, I enjoyed it. I have a group of friends who, whenever we wanted to do something different, would chant, "There are no new steps!" It is a tale of the under-dogs, using ballroom dancing as the sport of choice (yes, it is a sport – they train like demons!), with the jealousies, petty bureaucracy and desire to win at all costs you see in every sporting organisation everywhere. But the dancing is incredible, and the use of music, especially the modern music, was done so well and that is what makes the film. That and the fact the two leads are so damn likeable. You want them to succeed. The best scene is right at the end when the music is cut, and the audience claps the beat for the leads to dance to. That still sends shivers down my spine. And, at the end, the competition doesn't even matter. For a first film, this is amazing. Small budget, but that was okay for the story told. And yet Baz still managed to make it look stunning. Oh, and he wrote the original story it was based on. (I have not seen the stage musical.)

Romeo Juliet (1996)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Danes

I was ready to hate this. I was dragged along by a mate's girlfriend when he point blank refused to go; I went to basically teach him a lesson. His girlfriend and I went back a week later to see it again. It is stunning. This is a quite visually amazing modernised version of Shakespeare's play Romeo And Juliet. The use of modern music, a twentieth-century setting and lots of colour was stunning; the fact he kept Shakespeare's actual words amazed me. Yes, there were changes to bits of the story, but the essence of it remained the same, even the downbeat ending. Now, I have had an essay published where I decry this play as not a play about love but about the stupidity of youth, and this film version does nothing to change my mind. But it looks incredible, and it shows that there is a reason why Shakespeare is still performed today, some 400 years after his death. The way he tells his stories is timeless. This film proves that.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Starring: Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman

It is no secret I like a good musical. And this is one of those musicals called a "jukebox musical" where the songs are popular songs from across many eras, sometimes mashed up, used to tell the story, probably even more so than the actual dialogue. But this film, it is amazing. I was told it was based on La Boheme, which I enjoyed. Maybe, but not really. However, the story of a writer who falls for an actress while trying to save a theatre, only for the money-man to want her as well, and then she (SPOILER!!) dies is a simple one and one that ticks all the boxes of a musical tragedy. So, what gets me about this film? Three things. First, the actors looked like they were having fun and enjoying working on the film. It shows in their performances and the way they relate to one another. Second, the way it looks. The colour palette is incredible. It is so bright and there, except when it we are in the future of the main action, which deliberately shows how run-down everything has become. It is essentially a fantasy and does not care that it is. And the camera doesn't do anything stupid – it just films what we are seeing. And third, the music is amazing. I don't care that some of the actors are not singers; the choice of songs and the way they were used was close to perfect. This is a gorgeous film and even if it does not have the happy ending, it does not matter. Simply stunning.
baz, luhrmann, film, movie

There we are, the five films (so far) directed by Baz Luhrmann. He obviously likes working with Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio, and he does not mind having deaths of main characters end his movies. He has a vision and a way of doing things that is glorious to watch. Film is a visual medium and very few directors get that like Luhrmann. He does not feel the need to have shaky cam, cuts every two seconds, or the over-use of the tilted 'Dutch' angles. He understands that if you make what is on the screen visually appealing, then you don't need anything else. He understands visuals. I would actually like to see his take on the action film or superhero film genre. It would certainly not be like anything else we've seen in those genres so far!

Long story short, there are very few directors I will go out of my way to catch their films; Baz Luhrmann is one of them. I am looking forward to Elvis. If it is anything like his work thus far, it will be amazing.

Hope this has given you some ideas for holiday film watching!
baz, luhrmann, film, movie

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Why? Baz Luhrmann is wonderful
Where: Everywhere
Your Comment
Great list Steven. I have one degree of separation from Baz - my Goddaughter is his great niece.
by May Cross (score: 3|7804) 75 days ago
Yes, Baz is wonderful. Also, he works with editor Jill Bilcock alot. You can hear more about the clapping scene in her documentary Dancing With The Invisible.
by Belinda Nolan-Price (score: 2|437) 74 days ago
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