Decade roundup: 30 best Filipino films of the 2010s

Fred Hawson

Posted at Dec 31 2019 11:59 AM

In order of the year released, these are the 30 best Filipino films that I had seen and written about in the last 10 years:

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1. RPG METANOIA by Luis C. Suarez (2010)

 

This first full-length Filipino 3D computer animated film is about Nico (Zaijian Jaranilla) and his friends who are addicted to an online game called "Metanoia." When an evil force that was destroying the world of Metanoia is also threatening the real world, Nico and his friends banded together to beat the common foe. I liked the Filipino imagery like Vigan houses, the Moriones mask (as the villain's avatar), the Filipino street games, and the warning to kids about addiction to computer games.

2. ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK by Marlon Rivera (2011)

 

This is a unique look inside the processes of movie-making which we as laymen are not usually privy to. We were walked through a script in progress from the brainstorming, to the problems and eventual compromising involved in the areas of casting, production design, and location by young director Rainier (Kean Cipriano) and producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman). As their "star," Eugene Domingo goes to town playing herself with over-the-top comic flair and perfect timing.

3. I DO BIDOO BIDOO by Chris Martinez (2012)

 

Told via the Filipino pop songs of the APO Hiking Society, this is a story about two families. The Polotan family is lower middle class, while the Fuentebella family is super rich. Rock Polotan (Sam Concepcion) falls in love with Tracy Fuentebella (Tippy dos Santos), leading to an unexpected teenage pregnancy. The obviously radical class difference of course led to a very disastrous "pamamanhikan." Will love prevail in the end?

4. THY WOMB by Brillante Mendoza (2012)

 

A middle-aged childless Moslem Badjao woman in Tawi-Tawi named Shaleha (Nora Aunor) finds a suitable second wife for her husband Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) to have a child of his own, unmindful of the consequences this decision might impose on her. Director Mendoza intertwines very colorful scenes of daily Badjao life and culture to beef up the sparse story line, creating a brilliant visual spectacle that would educate us about how our Badjao countrymen live.

5. BADIL by Chito S. Rono (2013)

 

In a small island barangay in Samar on the day before local elections, Mang Ponso (Dick Israel) is working hard to ensure his candidate, the incumbent Mayor Del Mundo, wins by making sure their sworn supporters vote as they promise. Because of Ponso's physical disabilities brought about by a recent stroke, his eldest son Lando (Jhong Hilario) has to fill in his father's duties, exposing him to the seedy underbelly of local grassroots politics, where money does all the talking.

6. ON THE JOB by Erik Matti (2013)

 

Mario (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson) are convicts who are being sneaked out of prison and hired as hitmen by a powerful, highly connected syndicate. After they bungle a job to execute a policeman, the secure web of protection around them begins to unravel as an idealistic NBI lawyer Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) and a maverick but sincere policeman PO1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) threaten to throw this assassination ring wide open up to its highest levels.

7. 10,000 HOURS by Joyce Bernal (2013)

 

As his warrant of arrest was being served, Sen. Gabriel Alcaraz (Robin Padilla) was able to elude authorities led by Gen. Dante Cristobal (Michael de Mesa) with the help of an aggressive news reporter Maya Limchauco (Bela Padilla). He manages to make his way to Amsterdam to hide out, but back home, his wife Anna (Mylene Dizon) and children bear the consequential backlash of his controversial escape. The title "10,000 Hours" refers to the number of hours Alcaraz was on the lam.

8. EKSTRA by Jeffrey Jeturian (2013)

 

Through Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos), we see every indignity bit players had to endure in order to earn their seemingly measly living. They have no privacy, not enough food nor rest while on the set. They were at the constant beck, call, and mercy of the director, the assistant director, the casting director. They had to wait for long periods of time under harsh conditions inflicted by weather, technical difficulties, and the inconsiderate diva behavior of the lead stars.

9. NORTE, HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN by Lav Diaz (2013)

 

Set in Ilocos Norte, the movie is about Fabian (Sid Lucero), a topnotch law student who quit law school because of his highfalutin philosophical ideas of a society beyond existentialism and anarchy. Joaquin (Archie Alemania) and Eliza (Angeli Bayani) were a poor couple who fell deep into debt after an accident. 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.

10. BARBER'S TALES by Jun Lana (2013)

 

The year is 1975. Marilou (Eugene Domingo) 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 parish priest Fr. Arturo and the town mayor Alfredo Bartolome become her avowed customers, her new career gets going.

11. THAT THING CALLED TADHANA by Antoniette Jadaone (2014)

 

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?

12. HENERAL LUNA by Jerrold Tarog (2015)

 

Even from his intense penetrating gaze and formidable mustache in the poster alone, you already know John Arcilla will be excellent in this film. His comic timing was impeccable. It was a most vibrant performance of a most vivid man, making him really loom larger than life. He was over-the-top in his explosiveness, just the way Tarog wanted him to be. The way he was built up, we were ready for that climactic assassination scene, however outrageous the savagery.

13. MANANG BIRING by Carl Joseph Papa (2015)

 

Rendered in rotoscopic animation, Manang Biring has been diagnosed to have breast cancer, stage IV, and had been given only six months to live. One day, she receives a letter from her estranged daughter Nita, stating her plan to visit her mother on Christmas Day that year. Funds drained by chemotherapy, Biring, together with her wacky friends Eva and Terrence, concoct the wildest plans to be able to prepare the best Christmas reunion party. Biring did these things even when knew she may not even live to see that day.

14. APOCALYPSE CHILD by Mario Cornejo (2015)

 

Set in the late 1970s, some scenes of the US movie "Apocalypse Now" were shot in Baler. Rumors say 14-year old Chona (Ana Abad Santos) allegedly got pregnant by the director himself. Her son Ford (Sid Lucero) is now a surfing instructor in the beaches of Baler. Ford's old childhood friend Rich, now congressman, encouraged his fiancee Serena to take surfing lessons from Ford. These lessons trigger a cascade of events that lead to explosive revelations and bitter betrayals.

15. ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN by Jun Lana (2015)

 

The year is 1993, in Marag Valley, where there was a civil war. Nardo (Anthony Falcon) and wife Emma (LJ Reyes) 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 (Luis Alandy). One night marked by a lunar eclipse, Joel visited Nardo and Emma. As the night progressed, the visit eventually progresses to comparing notes and surprise revelations.

16. ANG BABAENG HUMAYO by Lav Diaz (2016)

 

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 Tolstoy's short story titled "God Sees the Truth But Waits." 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.

17. IGNACIO DE LOYOLA by Paolo Dy (2016)

 

This was 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.

18. PAMILYA ORDINARYO by Eduardo Roy Jr. (2016)

 

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 every day.

19. PATAY NA SI HESUS by Victor Villanueva (2016)

 

This Cebuano dark comedy is about a mother named Iyay 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. Jaclyn Jose's astutely sharp comic timing displayed in this film as Iyay was a delightful discovery. 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.

20. ANG LARAWAN by Loy Arcenas (2017)

 

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. Joanna Ampil was stern and pragmatic as Candida, while Rachel 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 deserve award recognition.

21. RESPETO by Treb Monteras II (2017)

 

Hendrix (Abra) is a young man from the tough slums of Pandacan. One day, he went to join a rap battle league match, and 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 (Dido dela Paz). Its intensity was driven by its powerful musical soundtrack (by Jay Oliver Durias) of pulsating beats and hardcore, graphic, curse-ridden rapping by rival rap stars Abra and Loonie.

22. SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES by Raya Martin (2017)

 

The film version of this crime novel by FH Batacan was 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 carefully detailed production design (by Ericson Navarro) brought us back twenty years ago to 1997. The nuanced acting of Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero as partners Fr. Gus and Fr. Jerome really brought the novel's fascinating characters to life.

23. THE CHANTERS by James Mayo (2017)

 

James Mayo used an unusually smaller screen projection (1:1 aspect ratio) that gave the film additional character. 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.

24. CHANGING PARTNERS by Dan Villegas (2017)

 

Since I had already seen "Changing Partners" as a staged reading and as a full-length stage musical, I knew 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. Dan Villegas did not disappoint when he translated this intricate web of human relationships into the film medium.

25. SIGNAL ROCK by Chito S. Rono (2018)

 

Intoy Abakan (Christian Bables) regularly climbed the rocks so he can use his trusty Nokia 6110 to keep in touch with his sister Vicky, who now lived in Finland. One day, Intoy received an alarming call from Vicky that she was now battling for custody of their daughter Sarah, and needed his help to get documents to help her prove that she can support her child on her own. The scene where Daria Ramirez (as Intoy's mother) appeals to the consul was simply so moving, poignant, and funny.

26. GOYO: ANG BATANG HENERAL by Jerrold Tarog (2018)

 

The "boy general" Gregorio del Pilar (Paolo Avelino) was fiercely loyal to President Emilio Aguinaldo. Together with his trusted men, Goyo sought to eliminate Aguinaldo's enemies, making him known as a gallant hero. His good looks also earned him a reputation as a ladies' man wherever he went. However, when the Americans suddenly launched simultaneous attacks in several towns in Central Luzon, Goyo had to plan and execute a mighty defensive stand on the mountain pass on Mt. Tirad.

27. BUYBUST by Erik Matti (2018)

 

Agent Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) has been taken in by drug enforcement officer Bernie Lacson under his team. They were assigned to join a buy-bust operation to apprehend big-time drug lord Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). When the venue of the bust was suddenly moved to the slum area of Gracia ni Maria, Manigan immediately knew something fishy was up. But getting her team out alive from that convoluted maze-like enclosure was not going to be easy.

28. TANABATA'S WIFE by Lito Casaje, Choy Pangilinan, Charlson L. Ong (2018)

 

Tanabata was a lonely Japanese farmer who immigrated from Okinawa to run his own farm in Trinidad Valley in the Mountain Province back in the 1920s. One day, he hired a young and pretty Bontoc tribeswoman Fas-ang to help him in his house and farm. Eventually, Tanabata and Fas-ang fell in love and lived together as husband and wife. Even if they soon have an infant son Kato, differences in their culture eventually crept its way into their relationship and threatened it.

29. QUEZON'S GAME by Matthew E. Rosen (2019)

 

"Quezon's Game" was set during the days of Manuel L. Quezon as the president of our country when it was a Commonwealth under the jurisdiction of the United States. In 1938, Quezon worked out how he could save as many of these Jews as he could by granting them asylum in Manila. Raymond Bagatsing played President Manuel L. Quezon as a very charismatic man and leader. This is an incredible tale of humanity which should not be forgotten, and this movie now made sure we don't.

30. CLEANERS by Glenn Barit (2019)

 

Director Glenn Barit chose to present his stories via 30,000 photocopied black and white images painstakingly edited together at a rate of 8 frames per second to animate them. The clothes of the main characters were colored with highlighters to make them stand out. This gave the whole project a sense of nostalgia as we have never seen before. The awkward attempts of these kids (and teachers) at acting created a most authentic vibe of high school life -- all its silliness and its frustrations.

This article was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."