BEST FILIPINO FILMS OF 2016

2016 has been a great year for Philippine cinema, with a large variety of stories and genres, and a number of film festivals. It is also notable for the revamp of the Metro Manila Film Festival, which reverted to its roots of handpicking entries based on finished film rather than scripts. As such, the usual escapist fares were out, in favor of thought-provoking yet accessible films.

Despite this phenomena, this reviewer still had a hard time watching all films. For transparency's sake, the following films were not seen for consideration due to time and scheduling constraints:

* Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis by Lav Diaz
* Ang Taba Ko Kasi by Jason Paul Laxamana
* Expressway by Ato Bautista
* Lila by Gino Santos
* A Lotto Like Love by Carla Baful
* Straight to the Heart by Dave Fabros
* 1st Sem by Dexter Hemedez and Allan Ibanez
* Pitong Kabang Palay by Maricel Cariaga
* Kakampi by Vic Acedillo Jr.
* Pilapil by Johnny Nadela
* EDSA by Alvin Yapan
* Iadya Mo Kami by Mel Chionglo
* Kute by Roni Bertubin
* Curiosity Adventure and Love by Sunshine De Leon Lichauco & Suzanne Richiardone
* Memory Channel by Raynier Brizuela
* Purgatoryo by Derick Cabrido
* Best.Partee.Ever by HF Yambao
* Lily by Keith Deligero
* Si Magdalola at mga Gago by Jules Katanyag
* Malinak Ya Labi by Jose Abdel Langit
* 1-2-3 by Carlo Obispo
* Echorsis by Lem Lorca
* The Sister by Joseph Laban

And so, the list begins:

25. FORBIDDEN MEMORY by Teng Mangansakan (CinemaOne Originals)




Though still rough around the edges, the rawness of "Forbidden Memory" evokes rage and pathos, as Mangansakan interviews survivors of the 1974 Malisbong Massacre in Sultan Kudarat. The effort alone to bring to light this unknown tale of real-life horror during the Martial Law era is admirable. Highly recommended viewing, especially for Marcos apologists.

RATING: 3/5

24. NED'S PROJECT by Lem Lorca (CineFilipino)


Angeli Bayani's commitment to the role of a lesbian tattoo artist wanting to have a child is a must-see. Bayani channels Ned's vulnerabilities with grace and insight, allowing us to understand and empathize with her struggles. In one scene, Bayani and Maxene Eigenmann, who play Ned's almost lover, lock eyes during a talent show, and sparks fly like a power transformer that just exploded.

Link to full review: NED'S PROJECT

RATING: 4/5

23. LANDO AT BUGOY by Vic Acedillo, Jr. (Cinemalaya)


"Lando at Bugoy" is a bittersweet examination of a complicated father-and-son relationship, set against the beautiful shores of Camiguin. The onscreen chemistry between Allen Dizon and newbie Gold Azeron makes this simple film with noble intentions work. Dizon is charming to behold, as a father who goes back to school in order to persuade his son to avoid skipping classes.

RATING: 4/5

22. VINCE & KATH & JAMES by Theodore Boborol (MMFF)


For a romantic comedy geared towards the teen crowd, "Vince & Kath & James" is surprisingly well-made. Julia Barretto is channeling teenage Claudine Barretto, while Joshua Garcia is clearly John Lloyd Cruz. Despite the usual mainstream excesses, the film manages to land on its feet by banking on the charm of its premise and emphasizing the emotional struggles of its characters, not only as plot devices but as part of their character development.

RATING: 4/5

21. FREE RANGE by Dennis Marasigan (ToFarm)




It's always exciting to watch a Dennis Marasigan movie because he usually makes one after a couple of years, and this advocacy film on free range farming, despite being a far cry from his political dramas, is nothing short of compelling. Paolo O'Hara is magnificently restrained as Chito, a man trapped by the large shadow cast by his father.

RATING: 4/5

Link to review: FREE RANGE

20. ANG BABAENG HUMAYO by Lav Diaz


Never did I imagine that the day would come when I would find a Lav Diaz film quite short. Nevertheless, this tale of a wrongly imprisoned woman out for revenge is pure exercise in slow-burn suspense-drama. All players rendered terrific performances, but it is John Lloyd Cruz as the drifter Hollanda and Nonie Buencamino as the hunchback balut vendor who really stole the limelight with their unforgettable turns.

RATING: 4/5

19. MORO2MRW BOOK 1: DAUGHTERS OF THE THREE-TAILED BANNER by Teng Mangansakan (WPFF)




Offering us a peek into the Moro culture through the eyes of women still trapped by dated tradition, "Daughters of the Three-Tailed Banner" showcases stellar performances from Urian winners Fe Ging Ging Hyde and Sue Prado, along with several rising talents from Mindanao like Haidee Singkad and Mayka Lintongan. The film dwells on the many ironies of present society, where the insane turns out to be the most rational. Book Two cannot come soon enough.

Link to review: DAUGHTERS OF THE THREE-TAILED BANNER

RATING: 4/5

18. KUSINA by Cenon Obispo Palomares and David Corpuz (Cinemalaya)




A celebration of life, love, family and food, "Kusina" is a welcome onscreen comeback for Judy Ann Santos. The staging alone of the narrative is inventive; as Juanita transforms from a young girl to a teenager and eventually, a mother, the kitchen transforms with her. Expertly shot by cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily, "Kusina" offers one sumptuous shot after another, and makes one crave for the nearest Filipino restaurant for a helping of Pinakbet and Adobo right after the movie.

RATING: 4/5

17. HIBLANG ABO by Ralston Jover (Cinemalaya)


Based on the play by Rene Villanueva, Jover's onscreen adaptation hugely benefits from its talented leads (Lou Veloso, Leo Rialp, Jun Urbano and Nanding Josef), and while the movie doesn't let you forget that it's based on a play, the sheer realism of Jover's direction makes for a compelling watch.

Link to review: HIBLANG ABO

RATING: 4/5

16. 4 DAYS by Adolfo Alix, Jr.


Time is a killer. This is what Adolfo Alix, Jr.'s "4 Days" means to tell in a nutshell. While not necessarily a new concept, the film is unique with its focus on the evolving relationship between two friends over the course of four years. Told in long takes over gripping confrontational dialogue, the film puts forth raw emotions and traps us with inescapable honesty.

Link to review: 4 DAYS

RATING: 4/5

15. PEOPLE POWER BOMBSHELL: THE DIARY OF VIETNAM ROSE by John Torres (CinemaOne Originals)


Maddening but always interesting, John Torres fills in the blanks on what transpired during the set of Celso Ad Castillo's "The Diary of Vietnam Rose" which led to its non-completion. Mixing actual footage with newly-recreated ones, and spliced with staged dialogue of actors complaining about the hardships on set, "People Power Bombshell" is cinema reimagined, a testament to the ever-evolving function and definition of the medium.

RATING: 4/5

14.  BAKA BUKAS by Samantha Lee (CinemaOne Originals)


Charming and honest, Samantha Lee's "Baka Bukas" doesn't pretend to reinvent or shake up the genre. Instead, it invests its energy into exploring the complex and often thin line between friends and lovers. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a revelation, churning the mother of all underacting for 2016.

RATING: 4/5

13. DYAMPER by Mes De Guzman (Sinag Maynila)



Gritty and unrelenting, and oftentimes humorous, too, "Dyamper" highlights honor among thieves, where even a life of crime can be something to root for. Shot in black-and-white, "Dyamper" is part heist film and existential drama, a film that despite the gravity of the situations, still finds the lightness among the mundane.

RATING: 4/5

12. SAVING SALLY by Avid Liongoren (MMFF)



The long-gestating "Saving Sally" should push Pinoy animators to push on further. There is a promising market for Pinoy animation, and "Saving Sally" proves that. What could have just been your typical love story becomes somewhat extraordinary because of the vivid imagination of the filmmakers behind "Saving Sally." And let's face it, who hasn't wrestled with the joys and pains of young love?

RATING: 5/5

11. SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN by Babyruth Villarama-Gutierrez (MMFF)



Documentaries about the OFW experience are aplenty, but what makes "Sunday Beauty Queen" extraordinary is its use of stark ironies, the main of which is the beauty pageant as a reflection of the Pinay domestic helpers' often sad plight in Hong Kong, away from their families and overworked to death. The stories of the Sunday Beauty Queens are all deeply-affecting. Rarely will there be dry eyes inside the cinema.

RATING: 5/5

10. STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLONE by Randolph Longjas (CineFilipino)



Randolph Longjas is a rising young filmmaker that you should watch out for. From his riotous debut "Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Rin," to his mainstream effort "Buy Now, Die Later," Longjas showcases his knack for intelligent  humor. In this film, however, which is about a young boy with Down Syndrome who aspires to be a movie star, Longjas proves that he can also capture audiences' hearts with dramatic scenes. Candy Pangilinan is pitch perfect, as the mother who stood by her son at all costs.

RATING: 5/5

9. SEKLUSYON by Erik Matti (MMFF)



Faith is relative, but blind faith can sometimes be fatal. "Seklusyon" is an excellent exercise in atmospheric horror, a highly cerebral film that dwells on the unseen. Rhed Bustamante is a gem as the "Messiah" Anghela, while Lou Veloso, who plays a former priest who now takes care of the retreat house, proves why he is one of the most seasoned actors working today.

RATING: 5/5

8. MERCURY IS MINE by Jason Paul Laxamana (Cinemalaya)



A film that overflows with quotable dialogue ("I fucken love et!"), "Mercury is Mine" is a brilliantly-written and directed satire about colonial mentality, all the while showcasing the Kapampangans' rich culinary heritage. Pokwang is in top form as Carmen, a diner owner who shelters a mysterious drifter named Mercury (Bret Jackson). This could most probably be Laxamana's finest film to date.

RATING: 5/5

7. MA' ROSA by Brillante Mendoza



What separates "Ma'Rosa" from Mendoza's previous works is the sustained tension from start to finish. The audience is fully aware of the ticking time bomb at the heart of "Ma' Rosa," thanks to Mendoza's penchant for foreshadowing and metaphor. Coupled with Jaclyn Jose's unforgettable turn as Rosa, the film is one for the books, a stirring tale of cyclical social decay.

RATING: 5/5

6. PAMILYA ORDINARYO by Eduardo Roy, Jr. (Cinemalaya)



Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip play street dwellers who are also young parents, with both actors fully committed to their roles that they become almost unrecognizable. "Pamilya Ordinaryo" is worth the watch because it paints a new perspective on petty criminals like Aries and Jane, where for the first time, they are the victims.

RATING: 5/5

5. PAGLIPAY by Zig Dulay (ToFarm)



This tale of cultural divide is both refreshing and heartbreaking. Gerry Cabalic, the real-life Aeta who plays the protagonist Atan is a compelling actor. Anna Luna, who plays Atan's object of affection is nothing short of wonderful. Breathtakingly shot by Albert Banzon, the dry, barren landscape of Zambales provides a painful irony to the futility of Atan's efforts against modernity. In a larger context, the film is really about tradition's clash with modernity, and how inevitable change destroys illusions.

Link to review: PAGLIPAY

RATING: 5/5

4. PATAY NA SI HESUS by Victor Villanueva (QCinema)



From a side-splittingly hilarious script by Fatrick Tabada, "Patay na si Hesus" magnifies common Filipino quirks about themes such as death, family, sex and infidelity. The journey to attend her ex-husband's burial proves a life-changing trip for Iyay (an excellent Jaclyn Jose) and her three children. Combined with an outrageous nun (Mailes Kanapi) who is also Iyay's sister, "Patay na si Hesus" is one unmissable ride from start to finish.

RATING: 5/5

3. ORO by Alvin Yapan (MMFF)



Based on a real-life incident that transpired in Caramoan in the Bicol region, Alvin Yapan foregoes the supernatural in favor of a gripping political suspense-drama, reuniting him with his "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" actress Irma Adlawan. Adlawan masterfully portrays her barangay chairwoman role with force and vulnerability, surrounded by a roster of talented players like Mercedes Cabral, Sue Prado and Joem Bascon. Where there is gold, the guns always follow, as the film posits. Yapan hints at looming violence every step of the way, making for one tension-filled film from the first frame to the last.

RATING: 5/5

2. AREA by Louie Ignacio



A talented ensemble cast and an expertly-written script from Robby Tantingco turns Louie Ignacio's "Area" into one of 2016's surprising finds, a film that finds humor in the seriousness of its subject, and yet, never forgets to honor the struggles of each of its characters. Poignant and irresistible, "Area" rightfully deserves to be seen by every Filipino, if only for another powerful turn from Ai-Ai de las Alas as Hillary, a veteran prostitute who longs for her son.

Link to review: AREA

RATING: 5/5

1. DIE BEAUTIFUL by Jun Robles Lana (MMFF)



A most important film because of its timely emphasis on LGBTQ struggles, "Die Beautiful" celebrates life through the context of death. The film, while endlessly funny, is also heart-wrenching, because Trisha's story may be the story of someone you know- a friend, a sibling, or a classmate you haven't seen for years. Intricately told in a nonlinear fashion, the vignettes all build up to a momentous close, and afterwards we feel that we have really known Trisha, in all facets of her struggles as a mother, a lover, a sibling and a friend.

Link to review: DIE BEAUTIFUL

RATING: 5/5
      
Disclaimer: The ranking is based solely on the author's preferences. 

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