(Some of the) Best movies of 2012

Bert B. Sulat Jr.

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There could have been close to a hundred excellent or favorite films this past year that have graced local theaters via regular screenings or extraordinary filmfests. Here are just 10 of them.

MANILA, Philippines—In a perfect world, movie fans would get to do nothing but eat, sleep, drink and be busy watching motion pictures. Then again, even full-time film critics anywhere are unlikely to check out every single movie ever made across the planet in any year.

That said, the cinematic inventory below is more of an acknowledgement rundown, a kudos and thanks to the people who made these particular movies for the entertainment as well as enrichment and insight they provided to viewers who managed to catch their celluloid creations.

Speaking of acknowledgement, this list would not have been completed without the input of a few other avid moviegoers—many of whom are members of the Freelance Writers Guild of the Philippines—who are mentioned where applicable.

And given that there are many more great films from the past 12 months than this list corrals (hello, Amour and Moneyball), this alphabetical listing is but a brief primer—like a teaser than a full movie:

LET’S TOAST TO THAT. John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck in Argo. Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures
1. Argo. Given its Hollywood-to-the-rescue tale, Ben Affleck’s third directorial gig might have seemed a tad self-congratulatory for an American movie.

That said, Argo is a gem thanks to “good direction, a solid story and good performances,” per writer Rochelle Leonor Del Callar. Penman Alvin Dacanay applauds the movie for “feeling very authentic” and adds that Affleck’s “deft direction…keeps moviegoers on the edge of their seats even though the viewer is presumed to know the outcome.” Viewers at a local premiere even screamed, “Dali, dali” (“Hurry, hurry”) during the climax.

And with Argo, folks like Warner Brothers Philippines’ Sionee Lagman aver that Affleck is indeed the better half of the Affleck-Matt Damon tandem post-Good Will Hunting.

MAN AND BEST FRIEND. Eddie Garcia and pal in Bwakaw. Photo from Bwakaw’s Facebook page.

2. Bwakaw. Writer-director Jun Robles Lana’s multi-awarded entry in this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival and in the international men-in-their-twilight-years film canon was also the country’s bet for next year’s Academy Awards.

While it missed the Oscars’ shortlist, this man-and-dog tale is undeniably one of the best Pinoy flicks in quite a while.

Freelance writer Teina Hakuto notes that, “It’s not often for a Filipino film to have an animal as a major character,” and hails lead actor Eddie Garcia, who may well be our country’s Jack Nicholson.

Writer Katrina Vallejo Lagman notes that the movie’s excellence is in being “simple, quiet, subtle, witty and emotionally affecting. Everything looked and felt sincere and real. Even the dog acted perfectly.”

3. Give Up Tomorrow. No other movie this year has generated much local debate, such as here on Rappler, than this Filipino-American project, which debuted at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Director Michael Collins and producer Marty Syjuco’s compelling essay, about the continued incarceration of Paco Larrañaga and others for the 1997 abduction-disappearance of sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong, doubles as a hefty glimpse into the confounding ills of the Philippine justice system.

Fresh out on DVD locally, Give Up Tomorrow is not just a riveting, gut-wrenching couple of hours; it is also gifted with a brilliant title, a not-what-you-think line authored by Larrañaga himself that echoes the movie’s own more-than-meets-the-eye thesis.

4. The Hobbit. Given the sheer superfluousness behind this latest behemoth from director Peter Jackson—the nearly three-hour running time, the worse-than-taffy stretching of a short-enough book into a trio of epic movies, plus the incessant marketing—it’s easy to dismiss The Hobbit as a tiresome recreation of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What makes the flick stick to this list like Bilbo Baggins hanging on for dear life against rock giants is its decadent HFR or high frame rate cinematography—which, as publicist (and fellow non-LOTR fan) Mae Romero Vecina attests, made for “a whole new ‘transportative’ experience.”

For better or for worse, The Hobbit places the film industry on the cusp of a brave new technological world.

SUCH COOLNESS. Even Ang Nawawala’s poster is a keeper. Photo from the movie’s Facebook page.  

5. Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There). TV director and filmmaker RA Rivera is just one of a considerable cult who got to be entranced by this cool,  Audience Award-winning opus from director Marie Jamora and writer Ramon De Veyra, be it during its Cinemalaya debut or its utterly brief theatrical run months later.

Rivera cites Ang Nawawala’s pervading, compelling sadness in mood and narrative, and asserts that it is the “best sounding local film, in terms of music and ambient audio, in recent memory.”

Writer Gina Verdolaga sums up Nawawala as having given something that is missing from our moviegoing experience: “The great feeling of having spent my money wisely.”

6. REquieme! Another full-length entry at this year’s Cinemalaya, this  black comedy by director Loy Arcenas and scriptwriter Rody Vera was, as Alvin Dacanay again puts it, “populated by interesting characters brought to life by a solid cast,” which included Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Rez Cortez and Anthony Falcon, and “boasts of a very smart script by Vera,” who got rewarded with a Best Screenplay award at the said film fest.

WONDROUS WANDERER. Himura Kenshin in Rurouni Kenshin. Photo from the movie’s Facebook page

7. Rurouni Kenshin. Almost out of the blue came this live-action  Japanese import directed and co-scripted by Keishi Otomo, prompting Samurai X fanboys and girls to troop to SM theaters for a different kind of yearend rush this December.

Writers Reggie Reginaldo and Teina Hakuto equally dug the action-adventure romp—Reginaldo liking “how it mashed up the story arcs of the source anime and manga, and had excellent fight choreography” and Hakuto stressing that “it’s not often that you see a manga-to-anime-to-film adaptation done well.”

8. Skyfall. The 23rd James Bond movie is reputed to be not just a great movie but pretty much the best Bond film ever, as Columbia Pictures’ Doris Torres and many others would put it.

Daniel Craig’s third turn as agent 007, due largely to the directorial deftness of Sam Mendes, is not just a thrill ride; it also ushers the “golden” spy character, as teacher-author-Rappler contributor Carljoe Javier says, into a future of potentially, equally superb iterations.

9. This is Not a Film. Thanks to the Active Vista Film Festival 2012 of the Philippine collective named Dakila, this 2011 flick did get screened locally at least once.

On the surface it may be a plaintive, unassuming curiosity.

Yet Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi and camcording collaborator Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s 75-minute documentary, about Panahi’s attempt to make a movie despite a government ban on him to do so, is a brilliant epitome of how art and creativity can prevail despite oppression, and of how technology can be both necessary (in this case a handheld video cam, a camera phone and the flash disk used to smuggle This is Not a Film out of Iran) and unnecessary (digital effects, et al.) in crafting compelling cinema.

(The trailer for This is Not a Film, which is not to be confused with Pinoy filmmaker Khavn De La Cruz’s This is Not a Film collection of works, can be seen here.)

10. Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles. This thoroughly digital movie sure is the best-looking Pinoy flick of 2012 in terms of picture quality.

Palanca-awardee and horror author Yvette Tan hails it specifically this way: “Tiktik utilized Filipino folklore and action cinema without taking itself seriously.

“The film’s comic book-like ambiance made it possible for director Erik Matti to tackle the subject without making it look dated.

“It may not be a perfect film (very few are), but it is an enjoyable one, and sometimes, that’s all that matters.

“After all, don’t we go to the movies to be entertained?” ―Rappler.com

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