Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — We’ll always look back at this decade as a transformative era for Philippine cinema.
Though one may argue that this current “Third Golden Age” (the first two being the ‘50s and the mid-’70s to ‘80s) was ushered in the 2000s — the frequent signpost being Auraeus Solito’s 2005 “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” — it was in the 2010’s that we saw, arguably, the current peak of Philippine cinema.
In this decade, we witnessed how these small budget movies moved from being shot with consumer digital cameras to some of the most high-end cameras in the industry, providing some of the most arresting visuals on screen. In this decade, we saw how a niche, arthouse interest became “eventized,” a tradition larger audiences would dabble in and flock towards to — to an extent — in the context of Cinemalaya.
Lastly, and also closely related to what I just previously mentioned, in the 2010s, we witnessed the dissolution of the “mainstream-indie” dichotomy.
Are the “mainstream” and “indie” labels even applicable nowadays, when budgets and industry don’t significantly differ? If it’s a matter of sensibility, how can we distinguish when “independent” filmmakers are directing studio-backed movies, while established actors and filmmakers from the big networks are also increasingly going “indie”? And let’s not even delve into the question of whether it’s based on notions of quality.
This decade in cinema will be identified as a summation of multiple moving parts — from the landscape and technological shifts, movements born of movies, and new ideologies shaped by cinema. To commemorate the decade coming to a close, we look at 25 films that best defined this era of Philippine cinema.
Some ground rules: Though we credit that rankings can be reductive and because we are aware of the fallibility of our own shifting biases when it comes to favoring one film over another, in creating this list, we agreed that there must be a consensus when it comes to giving a slot to each entry.
To counter our own notions of what is “great,” the factors we considered in our selections are: critical acclaim (meaning it’s not only us personally who found these films praise-worthy), mass following (appreciation isn’t insular only to academics and critics), cultural impact (did the film affect the zeitgeist? Is it still talked about to this day?), and access and distribution (a list wouldn’t be that much appreciated if majority of the films cannot be watched by curious readers)
Without further ado, here are our picks for 25 greatest films of the decade. — Gil Perez
25. “Four Sisters and a Wedding” (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2013)
“Four Sisters and a Wedding” was hardly the icon it is now when it first came out in 2013. It raked in ₱145 million during its run but it didn’t achieve the immediate meme-lord status like it has now. Blame the gays and hugot culture for turning an innocuous family movie into internet wildfire. That pivotal scene, a 12-minute confrontation where the family just lets it all out, bottles the anxieties of the late 2010s: with a weeping Toni Gonzaga telling the stern-faced Bea Alonzo “Ikaw ‘yung matalino! Ikaw ‘yung maganda! Lahat ikaw na!”, acting as a substitute for our generation’s frustrations and feelings of failure and smallness. Maybe God has his favorites, and we’re all just rats jumping around the corner looking for food. It also depicts the woes of the diaspora, a running theme on many Star Cinema movies yet this time it’s no longer the moms and pops relating to the hardships of working away from family. It’s an affecting scene; a soft yet intense showdown between some of the best actresses of their generation. It’s a classic that will live on to be reenacted again and again and will leave a mark on the Bobbies and Teddies of the future. — Don Jaucian
Watch on: Netflix, iWant
24. “Ma’Rosa” (Brillante Mendoza, 2016)
How do we begin to parse “Ma’ Rosa”?
“Ma’ Rosa” tells the story of the titular Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) and her husband, Nestor (Julio Diaz). Their primary source of income is a small sari-sari store. To make ends meet, the two also deal “ice” from this store. After cops raid their house one night and haul them off, their children (Andi Eigenmann, Felix Roco, and Jomari Angeles) are left struggling to raise ₱200,000 in bribe money.
As a writer, I personally find it hard to put myself back in my headspace three years ago — in a pre-Duterte, pre-drug war world (and this is still discounting director Brillante Mendoza’s affiliation to the current administration). I ask myself, how can one imbibe what “Ma’ Rosa,” as film, features when today the likes of Nestor and Rosa wouldn’t be captured but instead slaughtered, as what’s been happening to thousands these past years.
However, I still try to view “Ma’ Rosa” like a time capsule. It captures the milieu of the recent past, one which showcases a transactional nature of life under abject poverty, from haggling over spare change, to drug dealing as a means to survive, to bribery in exchange for one’s freedom.
“Ma’ Rosa” effectively portrays this exhausting, living, breathing ecosystem primarily due to Jaclyn Jose’s sublime Aunor-esque performance — a breakthrough which secured her a Best Actress win at Cannes. — GP
23. “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo” (Jerrold Tarog, 2015 and 2018)
The historical biopics, both directed by Jerrold Tarog, “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo” are a diptych telling a multi-layered story about the Filpino condition in the 2010s.
Narratively, “Heneral Luna” is the weaker film of the two. It is a bombastic blockbuster that can easily be misconstrued as offering a simplistic viewpoint on nationalism and heroism (bayan o sarili?). “Goyo,” on the other hand, is a direct response to the criticisms surrounding “Luna.”
Deftly and deliberately handled, “Goyo” seeks to counter the brand of strongman nationalism seemingly empowered by its predecessor (argued by historian Leloy Claudio as contributory to the 2016 election of President Duterte). “Goyo” foregoes Luna’s histrionics and offers deconstruction-cum-reaffirmation of what it means to be a hero — as, in the film, the titular boy general starts to grapple with his “heroism” being a product of nepotism and blind loyalty to the current administration.
As hinted by their narrative themes, both films created ripples — both positive and negative — in the industrial, cultural, and political spheres. On the industry level, “Heneral Luna” was the first of its kind. It was a blockbuster that came from a small, unknown studio. As it was in its death rattles barely a week into its commercial run, the fans of one of the film’s actors turned to social media and encouraged people to demand that theaters keep the movie running after it was being dropped by theaters (a marketing model many films would, later on, try to replicate). By the end of the film’s run, it had become one of the biggest hits of 2015 and the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time.
“Goyo,” on the other hand, would fail to replicate this success even though it’s critically-considered the better-made film of the two. Ironically, it is the same merits that won the film praise that’s considered the cause of audience ambivalence (and the irk of one senator who we won’t waste our time naming). It seemed that local audiences just weren’t ready for a contemplative, less-fiery film that refused to box its arguments as merely black and white. — GP
Watch on: Netflix, iWant
22. “Respeto” (Treb Monteras, 2017)
It took Alberto “Treb” Monteras II more than a decade to finally make his first feature-length film. Monteras started out as a music video director whose credits include Urbandub’s “The Fight is Over,” Rico Blanco’s “Antukin,” Regine Velasquez’s “And I Love You So,” and Chicosci’s “Seven Black Roses.” For his first feature film, he used the intersection of music and poetry as a means to tackle the intensifying war on drugs by the Duterte administration (Curiously it was co-written by an outspoken supporter of the current president). In “Respeto,” Hendrix (Abra), an aspiring rapper, develops an unlikely relationship with Doc (Dido de La Paz), a martial law poet. “Respeto” is staunch in its indictment of the war on drugs and outing the horrors of Marcos’ martial law regime (the film was released commercially during the anniversary of the martial law announcement), drawing lines where other films are afraid to do so and will settle for ambiguity. “Bakit ba ganito ang aking mundo,” goes one of Hendrix’s bars, a fount of unceasing resentment to the world he was born in. Judging by the way our country is headed, it’s a cry of frustration that we’ll let out every day. — DJ
21. “Sunday Beauty Queen” (Baby Ruth Villarama, 2016)
In a decade where the term “post-truth” has assumed grave importance, documentaries have become an even more significant medium for depicting narratives that are urgent and unbound by the limits of fiction. The Best Picture win of “Sunday Beauty Queen” at the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival is significant in that it is the first documentary to be included in a festival that is now widely known for franchises and headliners that rely on name recognition alone. It is also significant for the film’s thoughtful treatment of an all-too-familiar subject. “Sunday Beauty Queen” chooses to celebrate OFWs instead of merely venerating them as the heroes of the new world who fight to save every cent of their measly wages so their families can live comfortably. Villarama’s film is still rife with this heartbreaking struggle of most OFWs, but it isn’t used to prop up as all melodrama and hysterics. What you remember from “Sunday Beauty Queen” is the pleasures of pageantry — an unlikely and unabashedly modern way of bayanihan — and the assurance that loneliness can stop being cyclic if you choose otherwise. — DJ
20. “Patay na si Hesus” (Victor Villanueva, 2016)
When Iyay (Jaclyn Jose) learns of her estranged husband’s death, she drags her children along from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend their father’s funeral. As a road trip movie, of course hijinks ensue as they come across the most absurd situations and the most eccentric of characters.
I must admit, the humor of “Patay na si Hesus” is not for everybody. Some of its may be too alienating, too crude for some viewers. Some would argue that it’s just Bisaya humor and that imperialist Manila shouldn’t force themselves to understand. (Newsflash: not everything is made for Manileños.) However, what’s universal with “Patay na si Hesus” is the amount of heart in its depiction of blood being thicker than dysfunction, how at the end of the day, family has got your back.
Through a cast with great chemistry with one another, the film’s heavier themes are made charming but still disarmingly moving. It’s honest in its portrayal of trans-identity thanks to Chai Fonacier’s Jude. It’s compassionate in its depiction of the sacrifices of single mothers. It shows the struggles of dealing with a child with Down's.
“Patay na si Hesus” is an expression of what makes all Filipino families frustrating but also very much so endearing. — GP
19. “Nervous Translation” (Shireen Seno, 2017)
In “Nervous Translation,” Shireen Seno makes use of the interiority of a child’s life to approximate the unease of post-EDSA Philippines. Yael (Jana Agoncillo) tries to make sense of the world around her as her mother Val (Angge Santos) raises her on her own while her father is working abroad to support them. He sends Val cassette tapes — his love letters. One tape labeled “Val kong mahal” is left in the component, where Yael plugging in to the secret communication between her parents; how the husband longs for the wife, and whatever “luto ng Diyos” is. Their home is filled with products that signal the both the advantage and burden of diaspora (Seno is herself a ‘child of diaspora,’ growing up in Tokyo before coming home to the Philippines). These are mostly consumerist products that aim to fill the void, to act as substitutes for happiness and remind the ones left behind that there is a purpose to the departure. Yael navigates this world, unsure and confused. She cooks miniature toy burgers, translates the humdrum sounds of their house, and hopes that a Japanese “human pen” can translate her thoughts and feelings. In Yael’s world, items are totems in a dream state but it is in the dream’s logic where she finds strangeness comfortable. — DJ
18. “Paki” (Gian Abrahan, 2017)
“Ang gwapo mo pa din kahit wala kang ngipin. Pero hindi na kita mahal,” Alejandra (Dexter Doria) says plainly to her husband (Noel Trinidad) of 50 years. Fed up of her husband’s womanizing, the 69-year-old decides to leave him and live with her children. The thing is, any of her children doesn’t want her living with them. Not that she’ll be a nuisance, they have househelp to take care of her, but letting her stay in their homes means that they’ll be siding with their mother in this war that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, as if a marriage of five decades means that you’ll eventually just have to put up with each other. Abrahan peels the layers of this family drama so languidly, each scene fervent with dialogue (the best of them from Shamaine Buencamino, the nagger in the family) that you’d expect from a family coming to terms with a marital fallout. The film is anchored by Doria, who at her age is mostly sidelined to villainous yet comedic roles in teleseryes and films. Doria is not Abrahan’s first choice for the role. The laundry list of names he’s asked for the role of Alejandra is quite stellar yet their presence and intensity will takeaway the unassuming fragility of the role. It becomes the core of Doria’s performance. She can be the terrible matriarch when she needs to be but there is a softness to her that gives the film a glow, something that diminishes as she realizes that her family is the ball and chain that she won’t be able to shake off no matter what she does. — DJ
Watch on: iWant
17. “Ma” and “Salvage” (Kenneth Dagatan, 2018/Sherad Anthony Sanchez, 2015)
“Ma” and “Salvage” are two great horror films that silently redefined Filipino horror right under people’s noses.
Sherad Anthony Sanchez’ “Salvage” is an avant-garde found-footage film about a T.V. crew getting lost in the woods inhabited by both aswangs and the military. (Which is worse? You decide!) From its opening shot of a Ryan Agoncillo detergent ad immediately followed by a scene involving a body being fished out of a lake, then being placed back in and re-fished for the cameras, “Salvage” establishes early on a satirical and political subtext to its horror. What follows with the film’s first two-thirds is an interesting exercise in found-footage thrillers. But then “Salvage” goes on to throw audiences into the deep end — and this is where the magic happens — by crossing into more surrealist imagery and experimental filmmaking. This is “Salvage’s” greatest strength; through arthouse techniques in its use of glitches, scratches, and psychedelic color grading, it creates a sense of snowballing dread and disorientation. By the end of it all, you find yourself exhausted and in the same experiential and emotional headspace as its characters.
“Ma,” directed by Kenneth Dagatan, on the other hand, is about young children trying to bring their dead mother back to life. The film foregoes jump scares and trusts its audience enough to take in a slow burn, which rewards with an impressive collision of finely-knit parts. “Ma” patiently builds its story by crafting individual arcs, each highlighting terror present in motherhood — the paranoia of leaving your kids orphans, the fear of abandonment by a partner, the body horror that comes with the loss of agency during pregnancy. “Ma” uses the supernatural to externalize its message, make its subtext overt: being a woman in this world is inherently terrifying. — GP
Watch on: iWant
16. “Manang Biring” (Carl Joseph Papa, 2015)
If we're honest, when I first viewed Carl Joseph Papa’s “Manang Biring,” I don’t remember thinking that its use of rotoscope animation (though a marvelous technical feat) was justified. I still don’t until this day. Instead, what stood out for me and what I still remember are the feelings the film conveyed. The film carries an atmosphere of fatalism and heart in equal parts. As a woman dying of Stage 4 breast cancer, the titular Manang Biring (Erlinda Villalobos) goes on misadventures just to live long enough to see her estranged daughter (Cherry Pie Picache) come home for the holidays.
I once read that the most affecting kind of on-screen love people resonate with the most is that of love from beyond the grave. I’d like to believe that, in a way, this is the same kind of love present in the tragic fairy tale that is “Manang Biring” — where a mother’s dying wish is not centered on her merely living longer, but her living just long enough to give her daughter a happy memory before she passes. — GP
15. “Edward” (Thop Nazareno, 2019)
“Edward” is a heartbreaking study on how an oppressive environment can make room for young love and enable it to break free, even just for a few moments. “Edward” is many things at once: a romance movie, an anthropological study, a coming-of-age story, and a family movie — even if the ‘family’ is only symbolic and materializes in recollections. Thop Nazareno was able to flesh out a rich world, full of fascinating characters that move around in precise motions. It’s amazing how Nazareno can accomplish so much in such a short running time. His debut film “Kiko Boksingero” was just 79 minutes long, yet it managed to unravel a tender tone poem of a young boy’s emotional state. At 90 minutes, “Edward” is a marvel. At the center of it is Louise Abuel, who like Noel Comia Jr. in “Kiko Boksingero,” is a breathtaking revelation. With such a powerful performance at its core, “Edward” is easily one of the best films in Cinemalaya ever. — DJ
14. “Ang Huling Cha-cha ni Anita”/“Billie and Emma” (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2013/Samantha Lee, 2017)
I wish there were films like “Ang Huling Cha-cha ni Anita” and “Billie and Emma” when I was growing up. Seeing two queer people share a kiss on a 50-foot screen will always be life changing. felt this spark when I first saw “Billie and Emma” when it premiered in a huge cinema full of queer boys and girls, giddy and heartened by the sight of queer love so pure in its precocity. But it’s not only a kiss. It’s an act that makes the presence of queer life felt. While we’ve suffered many queer characters dying in films due to disease or hate — and films depicting the struggle of gay life are as necessary to ground us in reality — coming-of-age films such as “Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita” and “Billie and Emma” make a case for a gay life that is lived; that these urges that we feel aren’t alien and transgressive as the world would want to make us believe; that to love is human just like any other impulse. — DJ
13. “That Thing Called Tadhana” (Antoinette Jadaone, 2014)
If there’s one film in the decade that has the most profound and lasting effect, it’s “That Thing Called Tadhana.” Its impact is undeniable. It made big studios realize that there was a market for mid-budget, romantic movies that didn’t rely on much but a damn good script and a pair of actors with electrically charged chemistry and are not from the conventional love teams we’ve come to know. Angelica Panganiban and JM De Guzman didn’t even share a kiss in “Tadhana” but they made us believe in, to quote Cher, “Life after love.” It’s ‘hugot’ by way of the “Before” trilogy. Five years after “Tadhana” first came out, Mace and Anthony’s story isn’t diluted by the string of films that followed suit in its ‘template’ (see, “Meet Me in St. Gallen,” “12,” “Sid & Aya,” etc.). — DJ
Watch on: YouTube, Netflix, iWant
12. “Quick Change” (Eduardo Roy Jr., 2013)
“Quick Change” explores the hypnosis of beauty, that facades are as rapturous as big beauty brands tell you. The transwomen in “Quick Change” look for cheaper alternatives to make themselves look like Angelina Jolie or Anne Curtis, so they get “doctors” like Dorina (Mimi Juareza, in a performance of a lifetime) who injects collagen mixed with “tire black” and other poisonous chemicals, hoping it’s just as good as the real thing. The dark side to this trade sways from mostly harmless to lethal, with women just wanting to look like celebrities to decrepit-looking old timers who just love the sensation of needles prickling their skin. The film’s documentary-style only heightens the reality that these characters find themselves in. The brilliance of “Quick Change” is never putting this struggle of ‘beauty’ in black or white, it allows us to observe Dorina’s life as it unravels, with images that linger on, reminding us that for some people, this is the life that they choose to live. — DJ
11. “Violator” (Dodo Dayao, 2014)
In Dodo Dayao’s “Violator,” the devil is in the halls, stalking, quietly testing your resolve even if you don’t realize it. It is a demon that takes on many forms: a supposedly possessed boy, a cancer, an incoming storm. Whatever it is, it creeps up on the film’s characters, sending them on various states of dread — always anticipating that the worst will dawn on them any minute now. “Violator” maximizes the effect of terror with gritty images, it’s never just a sound or the existential and psychological effect of the unknown. Dayao knows that horror is most effective when there’s an unsettling picture that comes along with it: a man camly throwing himself off a building; a demon in the cell, hunkering down, preparing for attack; a footage of a cult, smiling, minutes before they commit mass sucide — shot on VHS as if it’s just someone else’s birthday. It’s just another day in hell. — DJ
Watch on: iTunes
10. “Cleaners” (Glenn Barit, 2019)
As is the case with form-driven films, style can often trump substance — the narrative not being strong enough to justify the artifice (like “Loving Vincent”). Luckily, “Cleaners” is capable of reconciling both style and substance by using its treatment of photocopied images (colored by highlighter pens) to thematically elevate its tackling of nostalgia.
“Cleaners” is an anthology film composed of vignettes, each featuring a teenager navigating a significant event during high school (e.g., Nutrition Month, Buwan ng Wika, Prom, SK Elections). By no means are the subjects new, nor are they subversive takes on what’s canon. Instead, in tandem with the visuals, the film is effective in how it evokes the audience’s own memories of their youth. The segments feel raw and yet innocent. They are also in equal parts charming and moving. And most of all, they are hopeful.
This is not to say that film shies away from dark themes. It actually delves deeper into social issues in all of its segments, one more severe after the other. The standout being about a young scion of a political dynasty grappling with his family’s corruption. But, the film believes in altruism winning at the end of the day. And what is characteristic of our youth but our ability to dream? — GP
9. “Badil” (Chito S. Roño, 2013)
It’s hard to think of any other character in the decade as terrifying as Dick Israel’s Mang Ponso (one of the actor’s last few performances before he died in 2016). We first see him stretching, hands skewed, frail yet sinuous resulting from years of work — and what work is we’ll find out soon. The morning ritual, perceptively lensed by Neil Daza, is a depiction of power. Though half of Mang Ponso’s body is paralyzed due to a stroke, his presence in his community isn’t diminished. He makes his rounds a day after the elections, giving away money (with a sticker bearing the name of the candidate he is working for), exercising his influence by offering help to his neighbors, whether it’s about a scholarship or a simple cash handout. Connections matter in this small town, just like in any other place in the Philippines and with Mang Ponso's network, the web becomes more and more corrupt and rotten, just like the election “tradition” where the film gets its title from (Voters are inked before voting day so they can no longer cast their ballots). It captures a snapshot of politics that work so insidiously it renders a small town even smaller. The film is a long walk to madness and Roño makes a political thriller so maddening that its relevance is a reminder of how rotten the system still is and how it only works for the political elite. — DJ
Watch on: iWant
8. “Women of the Weeping River” (Sheron Dayoc, 2016)
“Women of the Weeping River,” directed by Sheron Dayoc, is a delicate examination of the cyclical and intergenerational conflict which has plagued the Sulu region. It does so by depicting the story of Satra (Laila Ulao), whose husband was the most recent victim of a blood feud. Throughout the film, you see a milieu where death and conflict have been normalized. Men speak of alliances, meet for weapons exchanges, and plan for executions as if conducting regular business. But most admirable about the movie is how it takes time framing the role of women amidst all this conflict. They are mothers, wives, daughters, who become widows and fatherless children because of the violence. Towards the end, there is a viscerally poignant scene that encapsulates the thesis of the film. In a clearing, Satra and the widow from the warring clan meet, they utter no words, but in this moment of temporal peace, their silence speaks volumes. — GP
7. “Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria” (Remton Siega Zuasola, 2010)
In Remton Siega Zuasola’s "Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria" (The Dream of Eleuteria), the titular character is, in a sense, shooed off by her parents, particularly her mother, to Germany to marry an aging, rich German, hoping she will rescue her family from the mounds of debts that they have incurred. The marriage is a possible gateway to a better life but Teria’s leaving, the way the film is a one-take shot of her going around the island before reaching the pier, more so embodies the ills and the heartaches that form the core of the Filipino diaspora.
Her leaving can be as simple as shedding off the worn, discarded clothes that reek of poverty and donning shinier, new ones that bear the stamp of a progressive and forward-looking fortune. Amid the backdrop of an unmistakably third-world coastal town, we witness the signals of Teria’s journey from her hometown to making her first steps out into the wild blue yonder. Teria isn’t exactly going to be working as a domestic helper in Germany, although the woman who arranges these marriages gives these women a chance to chase The Great Filipino Dream by working as helpers in the aforementioned country. It’s an opportunity laid out before their very eyes and it’s up to them whether to seize it or turn it down. — DJ
Watch on: iWant
6. “Motherland” (Ramona Diaz, 2017)
Ramona Diaz’s “Motherland” is frustrating, heartbreaking, and, at times, even funny. (It’s true how Filipinos always try to see the beauty in things.) The documentary features Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital – Manila’s infamous public hospital, which houses hundreds of pregnant mothers each day. As a public hospital, many of the families they admit come from extreme poverty. Some of the mothers featured in the film are in their early 20s but have already five or six children with husbands without jobs or without regular sources of income.
What the film does is it embeds you deeper, making you see the goings-on more intimately, from the ground level. And this is what makes the film harder to watch. Each day, through the course of filming, you witness starving families fear and reject family planning, the health of young mothers in peril, and, the coup de grace, a severely-underfunded and ill-equipped hospital that can barely do anything about it. — GP
5. “Never Not Love You” (Antoinette Jadaone, 2017)
Indulgence seems to be the key in any other love team outing. It indulges fans to revel in the state of kilig by seeing their favorite celebrities do a dance of will-they-or-won’t-they even though we all know the ending. It indulges the machinery behind the love team to flex its muscles, creatively and financially, proving the net worth of the pair by putting out a big-screen romance that’s so carefully calculated to a fault (just like a Disney movie). And lastly, it indulges the actors to prove their merit as legitimate actors, with tacked in confrontation scenes and weepy dialogues that profess the true nature of formulaic love. Big film studios have this down pat — although there are a few brilliant strays that they count as “experimental.” But since “That Thing Called Tadhana,” rom-coms have been given a refresh and “Never Not Love You” feels like a result of Jadaone threading with that needle, an astonishing exercise on how a romantic movie can be a structure to house generational anxieties — from the consumerist woes of neoliberalism to the paralyzing truths of the diaspora.
“Never Not Love You” plays with the hazards of love more than the joyous connection between its protagonists. Even its title — the use of double negatives, which is supposed to yield a positive — seems like a warning sign. The story of Gio and Joanne (James Reid and Nadine Lustre) rolls out like a conventional love story would. There’s the honeymoon phase, the reality bites phase, and the fallout phase. But along the way, cracks form, then repair — a cycle that repeats until the relationship is just an echo of what it once was. “Never Not Love You” delivers storytelling so honest it required a stripped-down version of a once joyous song (Sugarfree’s “Prom”) to create an atmosphere of dread and despair. Now, the line “Parang atin ang gabi para bang wala tayong katabi” is no longer a celebration of youthful excess, it’s a tired sigh from a relationship that’s just crawling to make it to the finish line, wherever that is. — DJ
Watch on: iWant, Hooq
4. “On The Job” and “Honor Thy Father” (Erik Matti, 2013 and 2015)
Erik Matti’s “On The Job” (stylized as OTJ) and “Honor Thy Father” signified an evolution for a filmmaker and also set a precedent for what local studio films could be (“On The Job” was co-produced by Star Cinema).
“On The Job” starts off with an assassination in broad daylight. Soon it is revealed that the tandem who committed the crime — veteran hitman Tatang (Joel Torre) and rookie Daniel (Gerald Anderson) — are prisoners who are intentionally let out from time to time to carry out these contract killings. In the first minutes of the film, we witness a fleshed out underbelly unfold — one which spreads from the overcrowded jungle that is prison to the upper echelons of society controlling the inmate-for-hire scheme Tatang and Daniel are part of.
“On the Job” is a tense, engrossing crime thriller which comments on the sprawling, dense, and systemic corruption that is representative of the Philippines. It tells a story about how seemingly unconnected lives and experiences are all, in some way or form, influenced by power struggles, politicking, and basically the discussions of privileged old men behind closed doors.
“Honor Thy Father,” Matti’s spiritual sequel to “OTJ,” carries on the institutional commentary, but this time targeting the hypocrisy of organized religion. After getting caught up in a Ponzi scheme, Edgar (a phenomenal John Lloyd Cruz) and his wife Kaye (Meryll Soriano) end up blackmailed by the people they scammed out of their money — some of who just happen to be Kaye’s church brothers and sisters (love the subtext of this nuance). Pushed to against the wall, Edgar resorts into planning a heist on their church, with the help of his family, whom he is estranged because of their criminal past. As one character gets driven away from hers, another rediscovers his.
John Lloyd Cruz’s performance as Edgar is career-defining. Edgar’s fight for survival is the pillar of the film’s drama. Cruz displays full-range, moving from a person who carries an air of weariness and discontent (to the point of meme-ability) to a feral creature willing to cross moral boundaries for the sake of his family.
Personally, I prefer “Honor Thy Father,” as it shifts the point of view from “OTJ’s” macro-lens to storytelling, which is more personal, more intimate. It forgoes complex conspiracies and fast-paced action for drama hinged on desperation and the contradictory nature of man. One also cannot discount the controversy which surrounded “Honor Thy Father” as it was subject to last-minute disqualification from the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Best Picture category. The congressional inquiry which followed would lead to a revamped MMFF in 2016 (then reverted the following year again).
From impeccable storytelling, to setting a precedent, to enacting changes after much controversy, the game-changing impact of Matti’s double feature of “OTJ” and “Honor Thy Father” on this decade of filmmaking is undeniable. — GP
Watch on: iWant, Hooq
3. “Oda sa Wala” (Dwein Baltazar, 2018)
“Oda sa Wala” is a synergy of many finely-tuned parts. It’s a black comedy by way of urban fairy tales and magical realism. It has impeccable use of cinematic language — from scoring, to cinematography, to editing. It is well-acted and is one of the best-crafted films in the decade.
Just like its title suggests, “Oda sa Wala” (translated as “Ode to Nothing”), is a lyrical portrayal of emptiness. Starring Marietta Subong (comedienne Pokwang’s real name), “Oda” takes us through the monotony that has become the life of Subong’s Sonya. The old spinster goes on day-by-day, running a small town funeral home. That is until a mysterious corpse – seemingly a bringer of good luck – arrives on her doorstep.
What makes “Oda” so remarkable is the poignancy of how it depicts loneliness. It highlights the extent of this melancholia by rendering death, an emotional extreme for many, mundane for Sonya. It tells us a story of how it is only through interactions with a corpse that this woman finds any semblance of a connection. Subong plays against type using her comedic background to play with the absurdity of the situation. However, she also surprises when it comes to unleashing the pain underneath it all. This narrative, coupled with brilliant camera work and precision scoring, “Oda” is an experience in seeing cinema in its purest form. — GP
2. “Apocalypse Child” (Mario Cornejo, 2015)
From its sun-kissed cinematography to its opening monologue on myths, “Apocalypse Child” takes no shame in driving its themes of longingness and escape. Directed by Mario Cornejo, “Apocalypse Child” is the story of the live-in-the-moment surfing instructor Ford (Sid Lucero). Ford's birth is subject of an urban legend as it was supposedly the result of his then 14-year-old mother’s fling with the famed “Apocalypse Now” director, Francis Ford Coppola, when they were shooting the film in the Philippines back in the ‘70s. Ford is seemingly content with his beach bum lifestyle, until the return of his childhood best friend and now local congressman, Rich (RK Bagatsing), forces him to face realities, both present and past.
“Apocalypse Child” shines in painting characters bound together by their shared need to self-destruct in lieu of confronting truths — personal truths such as child abuse, parental resentment, or just plain underachievement. This yearning to escape is carried by an impressive ensemble who all get to play their own versions of “escapists masking their pain” and bounce off one another. Each interaction between the cast, whether it may be those of perfectly-timed comedy or heavy-hearted tragedy, feels genuine. Conversations are rarely exposition-based, and the film script operates at a level of shared understanding amongst its characters.
Standouts are that of Fiona (Annicka Dolonius), who functions as a foil, early on, questioning everyone’s need for distractions but tragically also ends up crashing through the rabbit hole; and Chona (Ana Abad-Santos), Ford’s mother who is a picture of a ‘70s flower child caged far too long in the fantasies she’s put herself in. “Apocalypse Child” proves that simplicity is beauty. In its laid-back, stripped-down approach in storytelling, it is powerfully evocative. You don’t just feel the characters’ yearning to escape, you do so along with them. — GP
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1. “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” (Lav Diaz, 2013)
How do you end a world consumed by its own corruption? In Lav Diaz’s “Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History),” Fabian (Sid Lucero), a law school dropout, sees no point in continuing the morality imposed by societal conventions on a dying civilization. Fabian goes on to ramble about his philosophy to his professors, how the negation of truth and everything society perceives as “wrong” is also an act of liberation in itself. After minutes of discussion, he then proceeds to borrow rent money from his audience. Fabian postulates his ideations as somewhat that of a radical’s, someone who is drunk on the power of living, enough to put his own theories to their own destructive course.
It is here that Diaz freely plays with Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” — the Russian author being a recurring obsession in Diaz’s filmography — transposing the Russian psychological warfare into the dust of a third world setting. Fabian is Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky’s extremely handsome dilettante whose loathing towards normalcy and ethics is the spark that sets off an upheaval of another world. High on the sway of his own call to arms, Fabian goes on to murder his pawnbroker (Mae Paner, devilishly devoid of her Juana Change look) and her daughter, launching into ruin not only of his own but of another parallel universe. In “Norte,” the fall is taken by Joaquin (Archie Alemania, far from his comedic comfort zone), a pirated DVD peddler accused of the pawnbroker’s murder, his ties to her include a mountain of debt and a short burst of a tantrum after she refused to return his wife’s ring.
Fabian goes on about his life as if the act of killing is a necessary recourse of existence. He further isolates himself from the rest of the world, even from his closest friends. Joaquin’s family, on the other hand, suffers from the shattered life they are consigned to living. Joaquin’s wife, Eliza (the quietly powerful Angeli Bayani), tries to make ends meet, selling vegetables in a rickety cart around their town while Joaquin desperately lives his saintly disposition inside the prison, never crossing boundaries and keeping his mouth shut if needed. This is a set-up for a dreary exposition into squalor and defeat, but Diaz, never one to indulge in such games, opts instead to steer his four-hour film (which runs like a breeze even for a millennial attention span such as this writer’s) into an astonishing study of madness and its accompanying instruments. — DJ