For the year 2017, I was able to watch 54 Filipino films (up from 28 in 2015).
Unlike in previous years, I was able to catch various indie film fests this 2017 I saw 2/5 entries of the Sinag Maynila in March; 3/6 of the ToFarm in July; 7/10 in the Cinemalaya in August; 10/12 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino also in August; 5/8 in the QCinema in October; 7/9 in the CinemaOne Originals in November; and 5/8 entries in the MMFF in December.
There are a number of films in this year-end list which had their premieres in past film festivals, but I only caught their commercial runs in 2017, and these are noted accordingly.
20. "12" directed by Dondon Santos
19. "Nay" directed by Kip Oebanda
18. "Deadma Walking" directed by Julius Alfonso
17. "Love You to the Stars and Back" directed by Antoinette Jadaone
16. "Salvage" directed by Sherad Anthony Sanchez (premiered at CinemaOne 2015, but had its commercial run in 2017 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino)
15. "Siargao" directed by Paul Soriano
14. "Kiko Boksingero" directed by Thop Nazareno
13. "Sakaling Hindi Makarating" directed by Ice Idanan (premiered at Cinefilipino 2016, but had its commercial run in 2017)
12. "Paglipay" directed by Zig Dulay (premiered at ToFarm 2016, but had its commercial run in 2017 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino)
11. "Birdshot" directed by Mikhail Red (this year's Philippine entry to the Oscar race for Foreign Language Film)
When actress Jane Ciego was offered what promises to be the "role of a lifetime" by writer-director Lexter Palao, she grabbed the chance and even produced it. While shooting, though, a freak accident sends Jane into a nightmarish world she could not seem to escape from.
Jerrold Tarog takes a very simple core story and weaves this mind-boggling maze of creepy visuals and psychotic ideations. Casting Iza Calzado in the lead role as Jane is another stroke of genius, as the parallelisms between reality and film were simply so uncanny. She's gone beyond anything I had seen her do as an actress prior to this.
9. "Kita Kita"
The setting is picturesque Saporro, Japan. A pretty Filipina named Lea, who worked there as a tourist guide, suddenly lost her vision. Her homely but funny next-door neighbor, a Filipino guy named Tonyo, wins Lea's confidence over with his friendliness and sense of humor, eventually encouraging her out of her shell.
This film written and directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo is definitely not the typical rom-com. Having Empoy Marquez as a leading man alone already sets it apart from others. It was this unlikely pairing of Alessandra De Rossi and Marquez that made this movie work so well to engage its viewers to laugh and cry. His plain looks and her blindness made a strong statement about discovering another person from what's inside him foremost. It tells how the physical appearance is not really important when it comes to finding genuine love.
8. "Seven Sundays"
Sixty-nine-year-old Manuel Bonifacio learned bad news from his doctor that he had only barely two months to live because of terminal cancer. His last wish was for his four busy children to spend these last seven Sundays of his life together with him in their family home.
The various stories may all sound familiar and the ending may have been predictable. However, director Cathy Garcia-Molina and her talented all-star cast (Rolando Valdez, Aga Muhlach, Dingdong Dantes, Cristine Reyes, and Enrique Gil) told the Bonifacio family's journey in a warm and relatable way that all Filipinos can identify with.
7. "Star na si Van Damme" (premiered at Cinefilipino 2016, but had its commercial run in 2017 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino)
It is New Year's Eve and Nadia Zamora just gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. She thought it was the end of her world. Upon her acceptance of her blessing, Nadia named him after her two favorite action stars.
With delightful actors led by Candy Pangilinan, director Randolph Longjas (with a script by Alpha Habon) was able to show how a child with Down's Syndrome could be a source of joy and comfort for his family. Every scene with Vanvan inexplicably filled me up with both heartbreaking and heartwarming emotion.
6. "Patay na si Hesus" (premiered at the QCinema Filmfest 2016, but had its commercial run in 2017)
This Cebuano dark comedy is about a mother Maria Fatima (Iyay for short) who got her three adult kids together on a long drive from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of their long-estranged father Hesus. I had always seen Jaclyn Jose in serious dramas, so her astutely sharp comic timing displayed in this film was a delightful discovery.
Written by Patrick Tabada and directed by Victor Villanueva, this film is a roller coaster ride full of the irreverent and idiotic yet tempered with depth and heart. It highlights close family ties that all Filipinos can identify with and consider precious.
5. "Changing Partners"
I already know "Changing Partners" and its uniquely ingenious storytelling style very well. I know for a fact that Vincent de Jesus' words in both spoken dialogue and in the song lyrics were all impeccably chosen to convey their intended messages in the most heartbreaking ways possible.
There was no doubt that these same words, all drawn from the deepest well of emotions possible, will resonate similarly well in movie form. I simply needed to see how director Dan Villegas will translate this intricate web of human relationships into the film medium, and he did not disappoint.
4. "The Chanters"
I commend director James Robin M. Mayo and writers Andrian Legaspi and John Bedia for effectively telling such a poignant story. Mayo used an unusually smaller screen projection (1:1 aspect ratio) that gave the film additional character. It was not only a personal one between two family members, but on a bigger scale, it was about cultural pride, appreciation and preservation.
The film proudly proclaimed their Sugidanon heritage in their colorful tribal attire and accessories, and especially those glorious chants. Jally Nae Gilbaliga was so natural in her portrayal of Sarah Mae, so young and carefree and resilient. Romulo Caballero was even more remarkable as Lolo Ramon, with his mesmerizing chanting and evocative portrayal of dementia.
3. "Smaller and Smaller Circles"
Under the direction of Raya Martin (his first "mainstream" film after a series of acclaimed art films), the film version of this pageturner by FH Batacan was similarly riveting from beginning to end. The script (by Ria Limjap and Moira Lang) used Filipino for more realism but wisely retained the sharply-worded English lines where they mattered most.
The gritty cinematography (by J.A. Tadena) and the moody musical score (by Lutgardo Labad and Odoni Pestelos) set the atmosphere of gloom and tragedy perfectly. The carefully detailed production design (by Ericson Navarro) brought us back twenty years ago to 1997. The nuanced acting performances of Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero as partners Fr. Gus and Fr. Jerome really brought the novel's fascinating characters to life.
Hendrix is a young man from the tough slums of Pandacan. One day, he went to join a rap battle league match, choked and lost money big time. In order to pay back the money he lost, Hendrix decided to break into and rob a bookshop owned by an old man they called Doc.
The technical aspects of this indie film were outstanding as led by director Treb Monteras II from a script by Njel de Mesa and Monteras himself. Its intensity was driven by its powerful musical soundtrack (by Jay Oliver Durias) of pulsating beats and hardcore, graphic, curse-ridden rapping by lead stars Abra and Loonie. Veteran theater actor Dido de la Paz provides perfect contrast as Doc, an old man with poems of his own to write, and nightmares of his own to battle.
1. "Ang Larawan"
This is the musical Filipino film version of the classic Nick Joaquin play "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" as translated by Rolando Tinio, and put into music by Ryan Cayabyab. As directed by Loy Arcenas, it was exciting to see Joanna Ampil and Rachel Alejandro attack the roles of Candida and Paula. These two are proven talents on the stage both as singers and actresses, and their screen performances were no less magnetic and soaring.
Cayabyab's high diva notes were no problem for them to deliver, while keeping fully in character. Ampil was stern and pragmatic as Candida. Alejandro was the younger, more vulnerable Paula. The technical aspects of this film -- lush cinematography (with those tight closeups) by Boy Yniguez and meticulous period production design by Gino Gonzales -- definitely stand out and deserve award recognition.
This article was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."