Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST FILIPINO FILMS of 2016 That I Have Seen

January 9, 2017

For the year 2016, I was able to watch 28 Filipino films (up from 17 in 2015).  However, it had not been easy for me to catch the difficult screening schedules of the various indie film fests this year. I totally missed the CineFilipino in March, the Sinag Maynila in April and the ToFarm in July. I saw only 1 out of the 6 entries in the World Premieres in June; 4 out of 9 in the Cinemalaya in August; only 3 out of 8 entries from the QCinema in October; only 2 out of 7 entries in the CinemaOne Originals in November; and 4 out of the 8 entries from the December MMFF. (There are a couple of films in this year-end list which had their premieres in 2015 film festivals, but I only caught their commercial runs in 2016, and these are noted accordingly.)

Honorable Mentions:

15. Malinak Ya Labi (My Full Review) - directed by Jose Abdel Langit

14. Echorsis (My Full Review) - directed by Lemuel Lorca

13. Saving Sally (My Full Review) - directed by Avid Liongoren

12. Women of the Weeping River (My Full Review) - directed by Sheron R. Dayoc

11. Tandem (My Full Review) - directed by King Palisoc 
(** premiered at the MMFF New Wave 2015, but I caught its commercial run in 2016)

Counting down my Top 10 Filipino Films of 2016 that I have seen:

10. Hinulid (My Full Review)

What we saw on that big screen was a complex masterpiece of abstract film art. Nothing was simple about this film, everything seemed on an otherworldly plane, only occasionally resting on solid ground for us to get our bearings straight. The whole film felt like a vivid dream floating in the subconscious of a mother struggling to deal with the death of her only beloved son. Spoken in Ms. Nora Aunor's native Bikol language, the whole script by director Kristian Sendon Cordero was written like poetry. It sounded like poetry the way the lines were delivered in very deliberate and measured manner. There was never a shallow line, as everything seemed to have a deeper meaning.

9. Die Beautiful (My Full Review)

Writer-director Jun Robles Lana tried to stuff all the issues faced by transgenders from as children, teenagers and adults. These include father conflicts, sibling apathy, sexual assault, shallow relationships, child adoption, and plastic surgery. In addition, there loads and loads of hilarious inside stories behind gay beauty pageants. To top it all off, there were those scenes featuring the fantastic makeup sessions of Paolo Ballesteros as his famous viral photos of celebrity transformations come alive. His Angelina, Julia, Britney, Mariah, and Regine are all so vividly recognizable and gorgeous. 

8. Ma' Rosa (My Full Review)

The story about corrupt policemen and drug addicts may be old-hat, but the performances were not.  Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress at Cannes with such a controlled performance. There was no big, typically award-bait hysterical scene. In fact, her best scenes were wordless. Ms. Jose imbued these seemingly ordinary scenes with uncommonly deep and passionate underlying emotion so well-communicated by her eyes. She raised the commonplace and prosaic to a higher level, and with her, up went the rest of the film. The well-chosen images of Brillante Mendoza realistically establish the squalor, the apathy, the greed and the desperation in which his film was set and where his characters wallow.

7. Seklusyon (My Full Review)

Eric Matti deserved his Best Director award, his second in a row after last year's "Honor Thy Father". He created the perfect atmosphere of dread and demonic presence with the impressive and award-winning cinematography and production design. Anton Santamaria's award-winning script did waver a bit at certain points when it comes to story telling. Even without its supernatural elements though, this film's cautionary message about false prophets and how they work insidiously within our midst is always pertinent among the common masses easily swayed by superstition and fanaticism.

6. Tuos (My Full Review)

The complex script about the challenge of preservation of traditional beliefs and practices in the modern times by Denise O'Hara was written in proud Kinaray-A tongue of Antique. There were segments in the film when reality dissolved into animated fantasy in order to bring the epic poetry being sung to life. It was too bad that Ms. Nora Aunor could not sing these verses herself. Anyhow, the vocal performance of Ms. Bayang Barrios in the soundtrack was truly haunting. Director Roderick Cabrido has succeeded to create a film of vibrant visual beauty and rare cultural depth. 

5. Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (My Full Review)

This film is 8-hours long. As with the previous Lav Diaz films I have seen, I thought the main story of this film could have been told in maybe a couple of hours, even with all those separate threads. Apparently, merely telling the story is not what Diaz had in mind. We spent interminable minutes were spent simply staring at an injured Simoun trying to get up, or Isagani meditating on a cliffside, or Oryang searching through debris in a pond, or Karyo's non-stop coughing fits, or Hule crawling in the mud (a most beautiful scene for which Ms. Africa should be cited for an award), or Basilio's fruitless digging (even Diaz forgot about him when the film ended). What I am sure of though is that I have witnessed a film masterpiece unfolding brimming with symbolism I am unable to grasp all at once. 

4. Pamilia Ordinario (My Full Review)

Director Eduardo Roy Jr. creates a masterpiece of cinema verite with this feature. All the while as we watch these two foolishly callow kids trying to survive on the tough streets, we feel we are right there with them, inhaling the same grime and stench and rugby with them. The starkly realistic performances of Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip in their breakthrough roles as Aries and Jane actually look like the street urchins we see on the grimy sidewalks everyday. It was as if they were not acting at all. The film is a sobering look at the plight of teenage parents on the streets. We know there are quite a number of youth out there on the real streets in the same exact boat as Aries and Jane. In this movie though, we won't be able to look away.

3. Ignacio de Loyola (My Full Review)

Writer-director Paolo Dy had written an excellent distillation of life highlights based on the autobiography of the saint himself. The first half may feel slow on the build up, but it escalated its pace steadily and surely. By the second half that detailed his spiritual transformation, the words were so beautifully written and so inspirational to listen to. You may worry a religious film like this may be boring, but this was not. It was engaging, and got better as the film went on. Dy did very well for his ambitious directorial debut for a film of such epic scope. His telling of this sprawling story managed to be generally clear in its focus. The second half is very wordy and philosophical, but Dy was able to execute and present this part in a fascinating manner, which was a very pleasant surprise. 

2. Ang Babaeng Humayo (My Full Review)

This was a more accessible Lav Diaz work being just under four hours. It had a clear-cut and concrete story line about social injustice, the initial premise of which was inspired by Leo Tolstoi's short story entitled "God Sees the Truth But Waits". I think this film could probably have gone on for a few more hours if Diaz wanted to since there could still be some issues to explore, but he chose not to anymore. This story could have been done as an outright revenge thriller, but in Lav Diaz's hands it became film art.  Ms. Charo Santos as the tomboyish Renata clearly channeled the iconic action star Fernando Poe Jr., which was quite delightful to watch. John Lloyd Cruz's performance as the damaged transgender Hollanda was truly riveting. 

And my #1 Filipino movie of 2016 is... (** premiered in QCinema Filmfest 2015, but I only caught its commercial run in 2016)

1. Anino sa Likod ng Buwan (My Full Review)

The year is 1993, in a place called Marag Valley, where there was a civil war between soldiers and militant rebels. Nardo and wife Emma are among those forcefully uprooted from their homes and brought to live in another place by the military. However, they eventually met and made friends with a genial soldier named Joel. One night marked by a lunar eclipse, Joel visited Nardo and Emma. They start by playing card games. As the night progressed, the visit eventually progresses to comparing notes and surprise revelations, leading to philosophical discussions about the armed conflict, charismatic leaders, their friendship and sex. 

Writer-director Jun Robles Lana reaches an artistic peak with "Anino." The three play poker in the first act, foreshadowing the element of cunning and strategy which will be expertly unfolded in the course of the film. The notorious 15-minute sex scene may seem gratuitous, yet it was also symbolically necessary on hindsight. Despite the uncommercial look and language, the audience will definitely be riveted into this tale of charades and conspiracy within this triumvirate of flawed and duplicitous characters. 

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