For the year 2014, I had only been able to watch 25 Filipino films. 9 of them were from the Cinemalaya filmfest in July. I got to watch 2 entries in the CinemaOne Originals festival in December. From the MMFF in December, I got to watch one New Wave and 5 from the Main category. I am most stoked about this year because I finally got to watch a Lav Diaz film -- 2 of them in fact!
14. Hari Ng Tondo (MY REVIEW) 7/10
13. English Only, Please (MY REVIEW) 7/10
12. Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (MY REVIEW) 7/10
11. The Janitor (MY REVIEW) 7/10
Counting down my Top 10 Filipino Films of 2014:
10. She's Dating the Gangster (MY REVIEW)
Kenji de los Reyes is one of the passengers of a plane that crashed en route to Bicol. His rebellious son Kenneth wants to go there to look for him. Kelay is a kooky girl who also wants to look for Mr. delos Reyes because she wants to reunite him with his first love, her aunt Athena, who is on her death bed. Kenneth and Kelay start out hating each others guts. As circumstances forced to them to take a long road trip to Bicol together, Kenneth gets to know his "gangster" dad more and the pivotal role Athena played in his father's life.
Director Cathy Garcia-Molina knows how to use the best assets of her actors to convey the most emotion, even without words. Ms. Molina's skill with what clicks in a Pinoy rom-com is unquestionable. The actors do not even have to speak to titillate their rapt audiences. The best scenes of the film did not have words: Daniel riding to school on his skateboard, Kathryn smiling with her new haircut, Richard carrying Dawn from the wheelchair to the bench, Dawn radiantly coming into view from the bedroom. 7/10
9. Mula Sa Kung Ano ang Noon (MY REVIEW)
The film starts in 1970 in a remote unnamed Filipino village. We follow the lives of its inhabitants. Sito Almazan was a ranch hand who gets sacked from his work when three cows were butchered during his watch. Hakob is an 11-year old boy whom Tata Sito adopted as a baby, who accompanies him at work and while hunting an elusive wild dove. Pacita is a woman who had dedicated her life to taking care of her physically and mentally disabled sister. Tony is the local wine-maker who intrudes on the sisters' lives in more ways than one. Heding is an out-of-towner who settled in the village as a busybody peddler, not only of house wares, but also malicious rumors.
I feel the main story could be compressed into a couple of hours, as the last two hours can practically tell the whole story. However, the success of the last two hours is there only because we have three hours before it slowly building up the proper mystic atmosphere and insidious suspense. Yes, this is Lav Diaz's style of storytelling. The revelations are deliberately slow and unexpected. That is what makes these reveals extra special. If they were told straight-forwardly, then these secrets would not have the impact they had on us who had the patience to sit and stick with it through to the end. 7/10
8. Dagitab (MY REVIEW)
The Tolentinos, Jimmy and Issey, are a middle-aged childless married couple. They are both writers and professors based in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. While Issey was unwittingly dragged into a scandal involving her godson Gab Atienza, Jimmy has found Lorena, his first love who became a rebel in the mountains. Will their marriage withstand these storms that threaten to break it apart?
The acting of veterans Nonie Buencamino and Eula Valdez were flawlessly raw and riveting. When the two of them are together, it felt like they were not acting at all. You can feel the bitterness, loneliness and longing of their characters in their delivery of their crazy-good lines. The cinematography was topnotch. That innovative camera angle used on that scene where Issey and Gab were seen lying down on the beach while the surf came in and out was mesmerizingly artistic and breathtaking. 7/10
7. Dementia (MY REVIEW)
Mara Fabre has been diagnosed with early stage dementia. She was brought back to her remote hometown in Batanes by her cousin Elaine to help her recover her memories. Mara keeps getting visions of a playful little girl or a masked bride, whom she called Olivia. As the Olivia's ghostly games become more sinister, will Mara and Elaine's family be able to escape with their sanity or their lives?
"Dementia" does not have the garish and noisy shock effects that we see in most mainstream Filipino horror films. Instead, its unnerving quietness which effectively communicates a sense of danger, on top of the compelling lead performance of Ms. Nora Aunor, gives this film high marks of cinematic excellence. 8/10
6. Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2 (MY REVIEW)
A Balikbayan aswang Dominic is going against aswang conventions by seeking to turn humans into aswang by feeding them very tasty hotdogs made from human meat. When a plot to spread this deadly hotdog in a huge political gathering was uncovered, Makoy had to accept unexpected assistance to prevent this potential aswang epidemic from happening.
Director Erik Matti successfully maintains the elements that made the first film the success it was. He incorporated more elaborately choreographed wire-work stunts and imaginative visual effects for this sequel. Standing out from among the supporting characters is Lotlot de Leon in a bold, loud and fun characterization of Nieves. 8/10
5. Magkakabaung (MY REVIEW)
The titular "Magkakabaung" is Randy who works minimum wage as a coffin-maker. This was barely enough for bringing up his eight-year old daughter Angeline as a single parent. Because of his neglect brought about by work demands, he inadvertently causes the death of his daughter. This tragedy plunges him into a mire of confusion, guilt and desperation on how to give her a decent burial.
Jason Paul Laxamana is the writer, editor and director of this film. His script in glorious Kapampangan, the local dialect of the province of Pampanga. He really has a knack for writing the most thought-provoking films with excellent complexly plotted stories. Both films had significant social commentary sprinkled all over them without making these messages too overbearing. 8/10
4. That Thing Called Tadhana (MY REVIEW)
Mace Castillo was desperately trying to deal with her excess luggage at the Rome airport when when a total stranger Anthony Lagdameo gallantly offered to help her out. Both of them are recovering from recent relationship break-ups. That chance meeting led to watching "One More Chance" on the plane, a drunken videoke session singing a Whitney song in Manila, a random trip to Baguio City, and a breathtaking sojourn in Sagada. Does destiny have something up its sleeve for them?
This film belonged to Angelica Panganiban. As Mace, we fall in love with her kooky personality and winning smile. We feel her pain and anger, everything was so real. She wore her heart out on her sleeve with a performance so raw and unpretentious, yet so charming and moving, our Audrey Hepburn. The Best Actress prize she won is not a surprise. 8/10
3. Mariquina (MY REVIEW)
1986, Romeo Guevarra was the top notch shoemaker in Marikina. No less than Ms. Imelda Marcos wore his shoes. He has what seemed to be the perfect life with his simple wife Leonor and spirited daughter Imelda. When Romeo got involved with a female business partner, the stylish Tess, tensions arise which would break his family apart.
Director Milo Sogueco has transformed the screenplay of Jerrold Tarog into an elegant vision. The cinematography was clear with crisp colors and beautiful camera angles. A paler palette was used to distinguish the flashback scenes, with impressively clean film editing work. 8/10
2. Barber's Tale (MY REVIEW)
The year is 1975. Marilou is the lonely wife of the village barber, Jose Aguallo, who treated her like a doormat. When her husband unexpectedly passes away one night, Marilou decides to continue the family trade. Customers though tend not to trust a female barber. However, when the parish priest Fr. Arturo and the town mayor Alfredo Bartolome become her avowed customers, her new career gets going.
Eugene Domingo tones down her usual hyperactive acting tics several notches in order to achieve the very serious Marilou we see on the big screen. She hardly even smiles in this one nor does she crack a single joke. Her character undergoes major awakenings in her life that makes her grow immensely within the film. Domingo shows us these developments so subtly, yet so effectively. She was really very good, a riveting presence in the entire film. 9/10
"Norte" is set in the northern province of Ilocos Norte. Fabian Viduya was a topnotch law student who quit law school because of his highfalutin philosophical ideas of a society beyond existentialism and anarchy. Joaquin and Eliza were a poor couple whose dreams of building their own eatery business are dashed when Joaquin suffers a leg injury and they fell deep into debt. After a heinous crime was committed in their small town of La Paz, these lives of these three people intersected and were thrown into a major maelstrom.
Sid Lucero got put through the proverbial wringer as an actor for his role as Fabian. You'll admire him. You'll pity him. You'll hate him. You'll fear him. This is such a complex role and Lucero was more than up to the task. Angeli Bayani has taken over roles that would probably been given to a young Ms. Nora Aunor. Even if her character barely spoke, it was her eyes and her face that talked to us.
This four-hour long film is not for everyone. Not everyone will have the patience for it. Not everyone will have the time for it. However, for those who do invest their time with this, you will experience the artistic vision upon which Lav Diaz has built his name. The innovative camera angles make mundane household items and rustic scenes look and feel different. 9/10