BEST FILIPINO FILMS OF 2018: A LIST
The year 2018 is many things: the Metro Manila Film Festival went back to its archaic ways, Cinemalaya had the highest number of finalist backouts in its 14-year run, and for the first time, Cinema One Originals was held earlier than QCinema. I missed some of the films from the festivals due to various reasons (scheduling conflict, venue accessibility, financial incapacity), with the exception of Cinemalaya and QCinema, which I was able to complete the respective full-length film lineups. I only saw two MMFF entries, and will no longer watch a third.
On to the list then:
20. BILLIE & EMMA
Billie & Emma showcases Sam Lee's maturity as a filmmaker, a far departure from her debut feature Baka Bukas. While at the start a coming-of-age story about a teenage lesbian, the film is also about a girl dealing with unplanned pregnancy. Billie & Emma has a big heart, and the way it brings back power in the hands of its female characters is most welcome.
19. MADILIM ANG GABI
Adolfo Alix, Jr.
Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino
Filmmakers have had it this year: Mike de Leon is angry, Erik Matti is angry, Lav Diaz is angry, and Adolf Alix is angry. With all of them focusing on Duterte's brutal war on drugs, Alix takes the most overt narrative route. Taking place in the course of one day, we follow couple Sara (Gina Alajar) and Lando (Philip Salvador) as they scour the metro for their missing son Alan (Felix Roco), believed to be in the hands of drug lords. Furious and unrelenting, Madilim ang Gabi benefits from its seasoned cast of who's who, from Alessandra de Rossi who is unflinchingly believable as a drug pusher, to Anita Linda, who is heartbreaking as a distraught grandmother.
18. PAN DE SALAWAL
In the sea of serious dramas, Che Espiritu arrives with a breath of fresh air, dishing out that cute feel-good vibe story of a strange kid who cures people of their illnesses. While a charming portrait of a small urban community, Pan de Salawal is also a melancholic ode to the ordinary citizen- the baker, the butcher, the barber, and the drugstore owner. Also, Bodjie Pascua (extra nostalgia points for the Batibot generation) is a master class in acting all by himself.
17. EXES BAGGAGE
The long-awaited Carlo Aquino-Angelica Panganiban movie is thankfully, a blast. While heavily benefiting from nostalgia, Exes Baggage also maximizes the acting caliber of its two leads to propel its story forward. Balancing cute and confrontational, the film navigates what it means to have a relationship anchored on the ghosts of former flames. Eventually, the two leads become those two former flames, leading to a gripping present-day reunion.
16. MGA MISTER NI ROSARIO
This is a crazy, crazy film, period. Who knew Kate Alejandrino can do such physical comedy? The ridiculousness of the premise, as a woman who has to deal with his character actor husband and his many personalities, reaches its highest point when at one scene, Joross Gamboa plays a priest, and pretends that his wife is an ordinary parishioner.
Anne Curtis picks up a gun and gets thrown into unfamiliar territory. As PDEA Agent Nina Manigan, the broken heroine of BuyBust, Curtis shoots and fights her way out of a labyrinthine nightmare, which could be the microcosm of our current political system. While clearly borrowing from a lot of Asian and Hollywood films, the story of BuyBust hits very close to home. Also, Matti is one of the few directors reinventing genre filmmaking, so any outing is really a must-see.
14. CITIZEN JAKE
Mike de Leon
Mike de Leon comes out of retirement after almost two decades with Citizen Jake, a love-it-or-hate-it film about an investigative journalist (Atom Araullo) who bites more than he can chew. While Araullo shows signs of conscious acting (but let's give him a pass being this is his first attempt), the film is a gripping political thriller that quickly becomes absurd, and for the better. De Leon has grown tired of metaphors, so he presents his ideas in the clearest and most direct manner he can. The film works best when it addresses its own campiness- at one point the characters even mention The Godfather to make the references more obvious. Citizen Jake's undoing is perhaps the numerous seasoned cast of characters surrounding Araullo, all of them in top form, so bad acting from the lead actor really sticks out like a sore thumb. But hey, it's camp, whodunit, and politics in one, so even if the film sometimes misfires, I'm not complaining for its entirety.
13. KUNG PAANO HINIHINTAY ANG DAPITHAPON
Carlo Enciso Catu
The premise alone demands attention: an old woman has to take care of her estranged ex-husband, who is about to die. The woman's current husband gets in the mix, but refreshingly, he is neither apathetic nor vengeful, but emphatic. Gorgeously shot by Neil Daza, the film tackles mortality with light humor and rare kindness in a world filled with hatred and betrayal.
12. SID AND AYA: NOT A LOVE STORY
Although arguably still a love story, Sid and Aya portrays modern relationships as a series of transactions, driven by capitalism, which is why the trip to Tokyo in the latter part of the film is well-earned, mirroring the fast-paced lifestyle of people who often sacrifice human connections. The plot design is what makes this story very interesting, especially the puzzling epilogue which is really the cherry on top, the thesis statement to the whole shebang.
11. DELIA AND SAMMY
The question as to how two wicked people who have been wicked all their life could be relatable, and even lovable, has now been answered. In the capable hands of debuting feature-length filmmaker Therese Cayaba, Delia and Sammy moves with a steady direction, never veering from its narrative path, and knows how to push the audience's buttons.
10. NEVER NOT LOVE YOU
I only saw one JaDine film, and I'm glad it is this. The maturity of the material is highly striking for the popular loveteam, but perhaps it is projects like this one that they need to make more of. The characters' problems are real modern-day relationship problems, and as they transition from mere boyfriend and girlfriend to adulthood, the stakes grow higher, and they become wiser in the process. Also, Makati in this film lives and breathes like the real Makati I know, so there's that.
9. GOYO: ANG BATANG HENERAL
In all respects a superior piece of filmmaking than Heneral Luna, the heavily-researched and more in-depth Goyo is the story of how the hero became a man, as opposed to how Heneral Luna charted the rise of a man to a hero. Gripping and thought-provoking, and features a stunning Tirad Pass sequence, Goyo again proves that history is exciting, and holds all the answers to society's most pressing ills like poverty and insurgency.
Glaiza de Castro, who in my opinion was robbed of the Cinemalaya Best Actress award, plays real-life revolutionary leader Kumander Liway, in a film that not only shows the ferocity of a woman battling tyranny, but also the journey of a child who is raised among wolves. Perhaps one of the deeply-affecting films of 2018, Liway is palpably a son's love letter to his mother.
The minimal dialogue and the amount of uncomfortable silences contained in Perci Intalan's Distance is enough to make a whole new continent. While primarily a family drama about things said and unsaid, Distance is also a study of spaces, whether physical or metaphorical. Nonie Buencamino shines in all quiet glory as Anton, the resilient husband, while Iza Calzado navigates the line between repentant and shameful as Liza.
6. GUSTO KITA WITH ALL MY HYPOTHALAMUS
A high concept film that audiences were unprepared to see (I personally took two to three months to digest its concept), Gusto Kita with all my Hypothalamus is the stuff of melancholic beauty; for Dwein Baltazar to have found romance in Recto, of all places, is surrealistic bliss. Four men, all enamored with a mysterious girl named Aileen (Iana Bernardez) take on different journeys, all converging eventually in the end. Baltazar, in her subversion of the male gaze, takes viewers on a journey of the familiar and unfamiliar, of hope and depression, of infatuation and disillusionment, all of which are never uninteresting or worthless.
5. SIGNAL ROCK
Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino
A masterclass both in storytelling and directing, Signal Rock solidifies Chito Roño's place as an important voice in Philippine cinema. Tackling the Filipino diaspora, Signal Rock, at one point evokes Lino Brocka, in the poignant discussion of the working class and the small town. Christian Bables is thrilling as a small town simpleton, surrounded by a very talented cast that includes Sue Prado, Menggie Cobarrubias, and a highly notable Daria Ramirez.
Cinema One Originals
This is something I never thought I'd like, but you cannot ignore a film with a bastardized Shanti Dope song about a popular Bicolano dish that begins with "malagkit na gata, ating babasain." While clearly inspired by Thor and What We Do in the Shadows, Asuang quickly brushes aside the similarities by making its story very Filipino, i.e. our obsession with internet fame. The modern and the ancient collide in this rollicking comedy, headlined by a very game and endlessly hilarious Alywn Uytingco.
The no holds barred ML is something audiences won't likely rewatch just for kicks, given its highly graphic nature, but in opting for such gore, filmmaker Benedict Mique gives audiences a dose of their own medicine, in pure shocking form. Eddie Garcia, who plays a Martial Law soldier with dementia, is dread in its human form. Who says genre films can't be intelligent and entertaining at the same time?
2. KUNG PAANO SIYA NAWALA
Starting out as a common meet-cute, Kung Paano Siya Nawala gets pretty interesting when it evolves as an examination of human frailties, of how fragile people shun themselves from others, or mask their anxieties with fake happiness in order to survive. JM De Guzman and Rhian Ramos, apart from having an irresistible chemistry the size of Jupiter, play their characters like real people, organic and grounded. The dialogue is never on-the-nose, and every single character is necessary.
Cinema One Originals
The story of Paglisan is poignant enough: a man battles Alzheimer's, while his wife battles depression, from the many years that she has taken care of him. The fact that Ian Veneracion and Eula Valdes play the couple is a blessing straight from heaven. Doing the whole film in animation makes this one a really wonderful feat, where the limitations of the animation become strengths rather than weaknesses. And yes, this is a musical by the way. No film grabbed my attention this 2018 like Paglisan did, where there is a longing for all characters to be happy and overcome their hurdles. Also, one of the best film endings of 2018.