NOTABLE LOCAL FILMS OF 2017: A LIST
Philippine cinema managed to whip up some surprises this year, both from the mainstream and indie sides of the pond. While there lays the argument that there should be no mainstream versus indie divide, in reality, there still is. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed films from both, and here they are, ranked according to how much I have appreciated them. I wanted to watch more local films this year (I missed "The Chanters" and the two Cinema One Originals documentaries) but time and money proved to be quite a bummer. Nevertheless, I promise to do better next year.
NOTE: I have since shied away from giving numerical value to films, but I included ratings here to represent how much I enjoyed the movie, among other reservations. Because even if it's a strong or serious subject matter, I believe a film still has to be entertaining.
20. LOVE YOU TO THE STARS AND BACK (Antoinette Jadaone) - 4/5
This is one film I did not expect to enjoy. Road trip movies are always interesting to watch, but the journey and the conversations have to be compelling. Luckily, Jadaone writes compellingly, and given the strong chemistry of Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia, "Love You to the Stars and Back" rises above its imperfections.
Favorite scene: Odette Khan slowly descending from the stairs. I dare you to name a creepier scene in 2017 (wink wink).
19. THROWBACK TODAY (Joseph Teoxon)- 4/5
The premise alone is kinda cool: through a computer glitch, disillusioned Primo (Carlo Aquino) is able to communicate with his younger self, giving him the chance to correct past mistakes. Director Joseph Teoxon, working from a script by Pertee Briñas, navigates through a series of what ifs, as Primo is torn between career choices and the two women in his life (Annicka Dolonius, Empress Schuck). Though some scenes could have been staged better, "Throwback Today" manages to thrill with its themes of regret and acceptance.
Favorite scene: Annicka Dolonius' revelation in the third act. (secret!)
18. UNEXPECTEDLY YOURS (Cathy Garcia-Molina) - 4/5
There is so much nostalgia going on in this movie, that not even Robin Padilla's weird-looking moustache and hairdo can ruin it. The plot, which is about a reunion of former classmates, mirrors the long-awaited reunion of Padilla and Sharon Cuneta, and this get-together, thankfully was done well.
Favorite scene: All scenes involving Padilla and Cuneta are my favorite, but yes the Facetime sequence is cute, and the one where Cuneta drank one booze after another at the hotel is hilarious.
17. NERVOUS TRANSLATION (Shireen Seno)- 4/5
It will take me some time to fully comprehend (or digest) Seno's second feature, her followup to "Big Boy," and a second viewing will likely help. However, there is undeniable charm in Seno's uncompromising vision, and her choice of material is always fascinating. As with "Big Boy," Seno tackles a coming-of-age story in "Nervous," as a young girl named Yael (Jana Agoncillo) tries to make sense of the grownup things happening around her (I am reminded of "The 400 Blows"). The use of the cassette tape as an artifact cleverly establishes and enhances the late 80s milieu. Among other things, Seno chillingly portrays alienation through isolation (Yael is mostly left alone, which has something to do with her mother's brand of parenting) and absence (the father that is always away).
Favorite scene: Yael playing with her miniature cooking set.
16. SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES (Raya Martin) - 4/5
Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero play priests who also help solve murders through forensics. It's like CSI, but with priests! In the Philippines! Arthouse filmmaker Raya Martin adapts F.H. Batacan's best-selling novel of the same name, about a serial killer who preys on innocent children, and creates a slow burn two hour whodunit, filled with tension, sharp wit and Carla Humphries speaking in French!
Favorite scene: Carla Humphries speaking French. Duh.
15. THE WRITE MOMENT (Dominic Lim) - 4/5
Of course, any film that exists in a time loop will most likely be associated with "Groundhog Day," and "The Write Moment" is no exception. However, "The Write Moment" rises above the limits of its structure mainly because of Jerald Napoles' unique brand of humor, which is subtle and deadly at the same time. Funny is the new sexy, it seems for 2017 in cinema.
"The Write Moment" concerns a guy (Napoles) who writes a script about his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend (Valeen Montenegro). In the script, they end up together, like how characters end up in movies, but he mysteriously gets to live his own script, stuck in a time loop unless he follows the script to the dot.
Favorite scene: End credits. I almost swallowed my Mentos.
14. PAKI (Giancarlo Abrahan) - 4/5
The family matriarch (Dexter Doria) finally decides to leave her womanizing husband (Noel Trinidad), and the whole family is against the idea. Meanwhile, old wounds and new ones turn up in Giancarlo's Abrahan sophomore feature, an observational drama filled with sharp, biting dialogue amidst all the chaos. Dexter Doria is a joy to watch, underacting the shit out of her character's existential crisis.
Favorite scene: The ending: quick, unexpected, and unforgettable.
13. MGA GABING KASINGHABA NG HAIR KO (Gerardo Calagui) - 4/5
"Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko" (Those Long-Haired Nights) is a gripping, albeit short three-hander, exploring the struggles of three transgender women plying their trade in Makati's Burgos red light district. Tuesday (Matt Daclan) is fearful of her new client, who may or may not be aware that she is a transgender woman; Amanda (Anthony Falcon) goes home to their province, and old feelings that she has since buried deep resurface; meanwhile, Barbie (Rocky Salumbides) cannot resist the lure of easy money, even when her pimp (Mon Confiado) repeteadly tells her to quit her bad habit.
All of the characters are in the face of danger: Tuesday facing likely death, Amanda being tortured with memory, and Barbie looking at imprisonment, or worse, also death. Yet despite their life choices, the film makes the characters lovable and emphatic. Filmmaker Gerardo Calagui examines the place of these characters against various social units (family, friends, society, foreign community) and asks a very important question: in a country where bigotry still exists, can we still call the Philippines a progressive country?
Favorite scene: Jollibee Chickenjoy! (you'll get it when you see the film)
12. THE ASHES AND GHOSTS OF TAYUG 1931 (Christopher Gozum) -5/5
The story of Pedro Calosa and the infamous Tayug Uprising of 1931 are told in three segments and filmmaking styles: first as a silent film, second as an interview turned mystical journey, and third, as a series of black-and-white photographs. At times haunting, "The Ashes and Ghosts of Tayug 1931" is a meditation on history and Filipinos' seemingly short memory.
Favorite scene: the ending, which reminded me of a Shuji Terayama film. Goosebumps.
Full review can be found here.
11. KITA KITA (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo) - 5/5
Many local movies feature locations outside the country just for the sake of, but not "Kita Kita." The film earns the merits of its setting and milieu, as two souls who lost the will to live find each other in a foreign country. Sigrid Andrea Bernardo and cinematographer Boy Yñiguez masterfully mount every scene with care. No shot is wasted. Every scene, compelling. Meanwhile, Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez trade barbs and affection, and yes, food. "Kita Kita" marks Bernardo's crossover to more mainstream sensibilities, but this does not make her work any lesser than her previous features ("Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita" and "Lorna," both of which were brilliant indie darlings) because her heart is in the right place.
Favorite scene: heart and banana!
10. BLISS (Jerrold Tarog) - 5/5
This is a crazy film. Jerrold Tarog is one crazy filmmaker. That being said, "Bliss" is solid, unflinching, genre-bending criticism of abuse in the entertainment industry, a love it or hate it film that has already divided critics and viewers alike. The weirdness may be new territory for Tarog, who just came from "Heneral Luna" and "Sana Dati," but the level of sarcasm in the script is very him. Iza Calzado is fully committed and quite breathtaking to watch as actress Jane Ciego, while Adrienne Valdez, as the unforgettable Lilibeth, is just, well, one-of-a-kind.
Favorite scene: "Six libo." (If you don't get the reference, ask TJ Trinidad).
Full review here.
9. ANG LARAWAN (Loy Arcenas) - 5/5
Joanna Ampil leads a stellar dream of a cast as Candida, the elder sister to Rachel Alejandro's Paula, in "Ang Larawan," a period musical that features timeless themes such as honor, penance, and ultimately, forgiveness. Films like this doesn't get made anymore. First, it is costly to produce, second, it is difficult to make, and lastly, it usually has a niche audience. Yet that did not stop the filmmakers from adapting Rolando Tinio's musical to the big screen, itself an adaptation of Nick Joaquin's play. And with its deserving big win at the Metro Manila Film Festival, "Ang Larawan" proves that heavily quoted line from "Field of Dreams" - "If you build it, they will come." And build they did, indeed.
Favorite scene: Dulce's entrance. Dulce was like "bow down, mortals!"
8. NEOMANILA (Mikhail Red) - 5/5
Eula Valdes picks up a gun and takes a young stray named Toto (Timothy Castillo) in Mikhail Red's "Neomanila," a gritty, unrelenting look at the current administration's war on drugs, as seen from the eyes of hired killers driven by money and survival. This is a film that pulls no punches, and Red's stand on extrajudicial killings is loud and clear: drugs are bad, but lawless violence is unacceptable.
Favorite scene: opening scene. One of the most badass openings in recent memory. Also, the hard-hitting opening provides a taste of what's to come afterwards.
7. BALANGIGA: HOWLING WILDERNESS (Khavn) - 5/5
Controversies aside, "Balangiga: Howling Wilderness" is a tour-de-force cinematic gem from Khavn, about the slaughter of Balangiga during the American occupation. Seen through the eyes of a child fleeing the atrocities, the film offers a window into present social conditions, where fear and hatred are in abundance.
Favorite scene: This scene above, where the child wanders off into a burning village. Also, the floating carabao, a scene of immense absurdity that only Khavn can conjure.
6. MOTHERLAND (Ramona Diaz) -5/5
Fabella Hospital, also infamously known as the "baby factory," has been featured countless times in films and documentaries, but never as intimate and as insightful as Ramona Diaz's "Motherland." Diaz, who made the highly-amusing and unbelievably outrageous "Imelda," once again showcases her skill in fleshing out the flaws of her subject matter without the documentary calling attention to itself. In this instance, Diaz takes a stab at the Philippines' growing population, and its relation to Catholicism, government policy and women's rights.
Favorite scene: "Motherland" is filled with loads of WTF moments, but a favorite of mine would have to be that mother who forgot what her child looked like.
5. ALIPATO: THE VERY BRIEF LIFE OF AN EMBER (Khavn) - 5/5
By now, I have lost track of just exactly how many films Khavn has made, and I think I've only seen 10% of his filmography. Nevertheless, any chance to see a Khavn film in the big screen is always a delight, and "Alipato" is a crazy (no, crazy is still a tame description) descent into a not-so-distant future, showing us what will happen if we neglect the welfare of our children.
Favorite scene: The jeepney robbery scene, which also served as an introduction to the film's assortment of misfits.
4. KIKO BOKSINGERO (Thop Nazareno) - 5/5
Out of all the heavy and mostly pessimistic films in the Cinemalaya lineup last August came this charming little story of a boy who wanted to become a boxer like his estranged father. Featuring a breakout performance from Noel Comia in the titular role, "Kiko Boksingero" proves that sometimes the simplest of stories can really sting your heart like hell.
Favorite scene: Breakdown scene between Comia and his nanny, played by a brilliant Yayo Aguila.
3. BIRDSHOT (Mikhail Red) - 5/5
"Birdshot" operates on so many layers of meanings. On the surface, it is about innocence lost, with the main character even patterned after Little Red Riding Hood. On a deeper perspective, the film examines power relations between masters and slaves, mentor and mentee, and humans and animals.
Favorite scene: Ending scene. One of the characters drives off from the field, crying.
2. CHANGING PARTNERS (Dan Villegas) - 5/5
How to describe "Changing Partners?" The film, adapted from the Vincent De Jesus musical play of the same name, deals hurt in various degrees: some are seemingly minimal, like a papercut, while others are quite painful, as if a toothache. Then there are those that really hurt, like a gunshot, and the unbearable ones, similar to a leg amputation. The dialogue is so sharp and quick you'd want to recite them to random people on the street. Oh, I forgot to mention that there's singing involved. "Changing Partners" examines a May-December affair from various spectrum of sexuality, highlighting unique struggles that eventually converge in the end.
Favorite scene: When Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo said "I want you to leave." God have mercy on my carotid artery.
1. RESPETO (Treb Monteras) - 5/5
"Respeto" could have just been a story about rap battles and that's okay, but Treb Monteras updated the material to comment on Martial Law and the current spate of extrajudicial killings in the country. Hendrix (Abra) represents all the youth killed in the name of Duterte, as well as the living ones daring to dream in an era of hopelessness. "Respeto" is a film that deserves to be seen by every Filipino, if only for the poetic lines that merit some slow clap.
Favorite scene: That moment you realize who Jograd Bayagbag is.