LIST: The 12 best Filipino films of 2019
Filipino films are dying... or so some claim.
But on the contrary, 2019 saw a rise in the production of films. Clearly, Filipino films aren’t dying. They just had to evolve to survive.
It is the Filipino film-going audience that's disappearing.
There are plenty of films, but most of those films play in near-empty theaters. Films that have forced Filipinos to flock the theaters are the exceptions to the rule. For every Hello, Love, Goodbye that earned a ridiculous amount of money, there is Elise and Isa Pa, With Feelings, great love stories that failed commercially. For every Jowable, there is Tol and Kings of Reality Shows.
For every Just a Stranger, there is Mananita and Cara X Jagger. Only a handful of films will be remembered being seen in a theater full of people. The rest will be seen on laptops, televisions, tablets and smartphones.
This however isn’t really a unique phenomenon.
In fact, film festivals like Cinemalaya, CinemaOne and Cinefilipino have treated films as content for their yearly events. The original goal has always been to foster new visions and talents, but the festivals’ questionable insistence on maintaining the formula of impossible deadlines, restrictive budgets, and oppressive ownership structures has turned a previously noble cause into just another factory that churns out content.
The result is a crop of festival films that no longer excite as most opt to have lives after festivals – which is only possible if they aspire to be content that is safe and readily consumable.
2019 is the year where films succumbed to becoming mere content, stripped of all the fanfare, the celebration, and the glitz.
There are signs of hope.
Black Sheep, the more adventurous arm of ABS-CBN’s film conglomerate, seems to still be in the business of movie-making, entrusting likeminded creatives with substantial budgets to come up with visions that are meant to be enjoyed in theaters.
Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza are as active as ever, supported not by a local constituency but by the demand of foreigners for their unique perspectives. There are also many other filmmakers who are producing films on their own, risking fortunes and careers not to create content for media corporations but films to be screened in a movie theater.
Now, on to the list:
Pedring Lopez’s Maria, Miko Livelo’s Tol, Joel Ferrer’s Elise, Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Hello, Love, Goodbye, Arden Rod Cortez’s John Denver Trending, Zig Dulay’s Akin Ang Korona, Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s F#*@bois and Lola Igna, Tyrone Acierto’s Watch Me Kill, Ariel Villasanta’s Kings of Reality Shows, Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids, JE Tiglao’s Metamorphosis, Victor Villanueva’s Lucid, Eve Baswel’s Tia Madre.
Jino to Mari
Directed by Joselito Altarejos
What starts out as a humanizing and somewhat romanticized portrait of two sex workers who meet and collaborate for the pleasures of their client evolves into a scathing allegory of a nation with its history of being prostituted, abused, exploited and stripped of its consent.
Directed by Lav Diaz
Diaz’s politics is valiantly unwavering amidst jumps in form and genre. This foray into a (very possible) dystopian future is far from new for the auteur, but there should always be room for anger, frustration, and impassioned indignation over the inhumanity espoused by a dangerously vile and brutal administration.
Directed by Irene Villamor
The film, which has a woman explore the vast possibilities of love through a landscape drawn from an imaginative melding of the mundane and the supernatural, is both a gorgeous ode to fairy tales and a necessary and heartfelt revision to their antiquated patriarchal slants.
Isa Pa, With Feelings
Directed by Prime Cruz
As more and more romances become needlessly complicated, focusing on the pains and aches that come with the act of loving, the film’s insistence on dwelling on kindness feels like a novelty – which it shouldn’t be. The film’s irresistible grooves and emotional pulls are resounding reminders that kindness should always be the core of love, that it is the glue that binds even the most different of people.
Directed by Antoinette Jadaone
Like Never Not Love You, the film builds on the charms of a popular romantic tandem to tackle the fears and apprehensions of a generation rushing for success while being prone to failure.
Directed by Jason Paul Laxamana
What could have been just another love story set in an exotic land is transformed by Jason Paul Laxamana into an affecting portrait of escape, with the possibility of romance between a beleaguered movie star and a troubled expatriate.
Directed by Thop Nazareno
Set in a crowded and underfunded government hospital, the film finds humanity in the dankest corners and the harshest of situations. It skirts nitpicking on issues and is consistently told from the perspective of a young boy who is so used to the poverty, the strife, and the bleakness of living in the margins of both society and his family that his only bid to remain human is a valiant act of restoring humanity to a fallen friend and possible lover.
For My Alien Friend
Directed by Jet Leyco
The film is a feast for the senses, carved from a barrage of images horded for years. In an age of an impossible abundance of content, director Jet Leyco goes back to his roots as an intrepid documentary filmmaker to make sense of the mess, coming up with a makeshift narrative from disparate visual data that is emotionally stirring and poignant.
Directed by Jun Lana
Stripped of unnecessary color and judgment, Jun Lana’s take on the spread of AIDS among the youth has him exploring the heartless and savage society that has bred the indifference and apathy that are part and parcel of the dreaded affliction.
Babae at Baril
Directed by Rae Red
Admirable for how it elegantly and innovatively frames its frustrations, the film makes use of the magnetic performance of Janine Gutierrez who believably evolves from victim to a woman on a mission to bring to the fore a discussion on the weaponization of noxious masculinity in a society that is prone to abuse and exploitation.
Directed by Giancarlo Abrahan
Opening with an unmitigated depiction of gay intimacy that is followed by an intense spat and separation, the film forces its audience to succumb to lives that may not be the same as theirs, knowing fully well that its delights are not apt to those blinded by prejudice. The rewards are plenty as Giancarlo Abrahan’s drama, which centers on an aimless gay man as he tries to reconnect with former friends and old flames, is tender and sincere, speaking volumes not about, but for the outsiders and those who are often misunderstood.
Directed by Glenn Barit
Nostalgia nowadays is a cliché. It has been turned into a crutch by filmmakers who mine the past for novelties for their stories.
Glenn Barit, however, works hard for his take on nostalgia by painstakingly turning each and every single frame of his film into an artifact from high school days, like highlighted photocopies of happy and painful memories. While the film longs for the pure and simple yearnings of our younger selves, it also manages to speak volumes on the ills of the present.
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.