20 great PH movies of 2014
It has been an interesting year for Philippine cinema. While lists from previous years have been dominated by films of obvious social significance or brave innovation, 2014 is a year topped by genre pieces that are tweaked to suit a maturing audience.
It is a year of romances, horrors, action and satires. Seemingly gone are the days when quality has been rendered synonymous with poignant wallowing and profound suffering.
As with all lists, disclaimers are warranted. Absent from the list are the films that only one of the two of us has seen, ruling out several acclaimed films and documentaries.
That said, the year-ender is designed not to be a final and all-encompassing account of worthy films but rather as a discussion of whatever merits both of us saw in the films to single them out.
Here’s our list, which is unranked. Which movies are on yours?
Director: Jun Lana
Starring: Eugene Domingo, Eddie Garcia, Iza Calzado, Noni Buencamino
Zig: Eugene Domingo’s career may have long transcended her reputation as a comic sidekick and comedian, but Barber’s Tales will easily go down as one her most notable contributions to Philippine cinema. Expertly crafted and wonderfully realized, Barber’s Tales is an expansive tale of growth and identity that is anchored by restraint, subltety and silence. An easy and pick for one of this year’s cinematic gems.
Oggs: True, Barber’s Tales would not have worked without Eugene Domingo’s impressive performance. However, Iza Calzado, who plays the suffering wife of a domineering mayor and also the erstwhile muse of Domingo’s character, balances the silence and subtlety with such refined tension.
Interestingly, Barber’s Tales is Jun Lana’s tribute to his mentor, Marilou Diaz-Abaya. It can actually stand alongside Diaz-Abaya’s best films.
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Starring: Assunta de Rossi, Angelica Panganiban, Angeline Quinto, Tom Rodriguez
Oggs: Despite the abundance of jokes that seem to poke fun at the film’s characters, Antoinette Jadaone’s depiction of women and their issues is grounded with understanding and empathy. Beauty in a Bottle is never mean-spirited, the same way a lot of local comedies are.
Zig: Although Antoinette Jadaone will be earning the bulk of the praise for the accomplishments of Beauty in a Bottle, it’s difficult not to overlook the exemplary comedic performances of the film’s cast, particularly Angelica Panganiban. Panganiban once again proves that her versatility as an actress is as amazing as it is entertaining.
Director: Francis Pasion
Starring: Angeli Bayani, Karl Medina, RS Francisco, Jolina Salvado
Zig: The still marshes of Agusan Del Sur are transformed into a haunting but captivating expanse of loss and kinship. While Bwaya standsout as a sort of arthouse horror film, the story’s lurking crocodile acts as more than mere fuel to the film’s narrative engine. Grounded on the real world story of Manobo mother Divina, Bwaya is becomes more than a reenactment of reality but a depiction of grief and the trials of motherhood.
Oggs: Francis Pasion has always been obsessed with the process of filmmaking. His previous films, Jay and Sampaguita, National Flower, are all about people being filmed, and how the act of filming affects them. Bwaya is no different.
On the surface, it is the tale of a family struggling to come into terms with the loss of a beloved daughter by a crocodile attack. Beneath the surface, it is an exploration as to how the process of filming can both reveal corruption in the face of tragedy and be a tool for overcoming grief.
Director: Roderick Cabrido
Starring: Buboy Villar, Miggs Cuaderno, Divine Grace Aucina, Gloria Sevilla
Zig: Children’s Show proved that it was born with more fight than flight. Its stylishly shot fight scenes may have unnecessarily glamorized the act of child streetfighting, but its characters, inspired by real world individuals, has allowed the otherwise unknown issue of underaged bare knuckle fighting to come to light.
Oggs: That’s not really a problem – in fact, it reinforces how the fights are seen by their patrons. By unabashedly turning the fights into spectacles, Roderick Cabrido rightfully puts the film’s audience in a position of moral ambiguity. The film’s problems lie in how the narrative that frames the controversy is utterly contrived. There are glimmers of an excellent film scattered throughout what essentially is a largely uneven effort.
Director: Giancarlo Abraham
Starring: Eula Valdez, Noni Buencamino, Martin del Rosario, Sandino Martin
Zig: It is the smallest, most mundane moments that are often the most forgettable. But in Dagitab, first time director Giancarlo Abraham distills those moments into a resonant and moving reflection on love and regret. Shaped by Abraham’s superb screenplay and his exemplary cast, Dagitab’s ultimate triumph is that its largeness is not in its spectacle but in its sincerity.
Oggs: There is some humor in how Abrahan has crafted a tale about writers, or basically people who are in the profession of expressing themselves, who are unable to express themselves properly with each other. The characters in Dagitab are all these flawed and misfortuned loners struggling to connect amidst their mistakes in the past. It is undoubtedly a very mature work, which can only lead you to expect more from young Abrahan.
Director: Joven Tan
Starring: Shalala, Kiray Celis, Angelu de Leon
Oggs: The plot goes like this. Shalala, B-level television and radio host, wants to star in his own indie movie so he goes around town to raise the money required to produce his own feature. Echoserang Frog is utterly ridiculous. It is also quite ugly, haphazardly made, and profoundly irreverent. Surprisingly, everything coheres into a picture that paints the indie scene with a lot more accuracy than a lot of the other films that came before it.
Zig: Nothing delights as much as a pleasant surprise, and Echoserang Frog is about as delightfully ridiculous as its odd title lets on. While a seemingly odd pick amongst a list of more widely recognized films, this offbeat comedy makes some satisfying fun out of the very films this list celebrates.
Starring: Sandino Martin, J.C. Santos, Lharby Policarpio
Zig: The task of translating stage into cinema is always a tricky one, but writer-director Kanakan-Balintagos (known also as Auraeus Solito) uses the strengths of the latter without compromising the intentions of the former.
The majority of Esprit De Corps is set in a small, almost stifling interrogation room, but Kanakan-Balintagos uses this seemingly restricting space as a pressure cooker for his characters and as a platform to examine the concept of ambition, desire and principle.
Oggs: It should be noted that Kanakan Balintagos wrote Esprit de Corps when he was just 17 years old, which explains the very primal obsessions that are depicted in the material. The film mixes those obsessions with crafting and artistry that have been honed for years. The film has also been gifted with such brave performances from Sandino Martin and J.C. Santos, who infuse their characters with the right mix of innocence and ambition to suit Balintagos’ vision.
Director: Chris Martinez
Starring: Anne Curtis, Cristine Reyes, Sam Milby
Zig: With the growing popularity of teen-targeted novelettes, writer-director Chris Martinez uses his most recent comedy to turn the trend into a formidable punchline. While Martinez’s jokes are all in good fun, this humorous and playful tale of friends-turned-rivals eventually reveals itself as a commentary on authorship and self-image.
Fat suits make for cheap comedy, but Martinez manages to subvert expectations with a film that is refreshingly clever and but still broadly accesible.
Oggs: The Gifted is a film with geniuses amidst dunces. It is also a film with an obese girl and an ugly girl growing up to be sexy and beautiful. It is bound to be mean, and Chris Martinez thankfully does not hide his meanness. The film’s currency is comedy of condescension, and believe it or not, it works. It is decidedly campy with its political incorrectness and unabashed shaming.
Director: Carlos Siguion-Reyna
Starring: Robert Arevalo, Cris Villonco, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Liza Lorena, Lorenz Martinez, Rez Cortez
Zig: After an extended hiatus from feature filmmaking, it would be easy to expect Carlos Siguion-Reyna to return to the director’s chair with a magnum opus in the same vein as Ang Lalaki Sa Buhay ni Selya. But in Hari ng Tondo, Siguion-Reyna reteams with writer Bibeth Orteza in a family comedy that banks hard on slapstick humor and Pinoy popcorn punchlines. Hari ng Tondo is a hilarious, absurd, but ultimately crowd-pleasing comedy that is just far too crafty to be empty, making it one of the best comedies of the year.
Oggs: Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s Hari ng Tondo has all the elements for failure. It features a rather corny tale of a proud patriarch returning to the slums to teach his spoiled grandkids life lessons. It has villainous villains, chirpy sidekicks, unnecessary sideplots, and a moral lesson to wrap everything together. Surprisingly, everything works. Siguion-Reyna ties everything with admirable candor, never hiding the fact that his film is meant to be simple and meant to be enjoyed. This is one true crowdpleaser.
Director: Malay Javier
Starring: Kean Cipriano, Mara Lopez, Ketchup Eusebio, Dawn Jimenez
Oggs: Malay Javier’s Hindi Sila Tatanda is a film riddled with problems. It is also a sort of masterpiece. At first glance, its characters, all 20-something drifters, seem to be too caught up with their personal affairs to be of any importance. An experience straight out of a ‘90s cheapie sci-fi flick forces them to reconsider their own lives. The film transcends its own caprices and turns out to be one of the year’s most memorable experiences.
Zig: Hindi Sila Tatanda stumbles at expanding on its promising sci-fi premise, but it is the story of 4 seemingly close friends that becomes the real thread that ties the film together. Although the characters fall short of expressing real insight on the trials and tribulations of youth, Javier’s innovative take on friendship proves that the archetype of the indie road trip drama need not rely on tired convention.
Director: Mike Tuviera
Starring: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Derek Ramsay, Raymond Bagatsing, Nicco Manalo
Oggs: The Janitor may be too glossily shot for its grim subject matter. However, there is no denying that Mike Tuviera’s caper is an enjoyable romp from its first shot to the end. Dennis Trillo proves to be a formidable action star, and Derek Ramsay’s turn from hero to ruthless villain is also quite noteworthy.
Zig:The Filipino action film lives on in different form. While Mike Tuviera’s The Janitor stumbles with its checklist plot, it at least delivers on the action-oriented masculinity that the industry currently lacks.
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Starring: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino
Zig: The Philippines may be years, if not decades away from accepting gay marriage, but that isn’t what concerns writer-director Joselito Altarejos. Instead, it is the fundamental ideas of commitment and loyalty that are at the epicenter of Kasal. Its premise is admittedly familiar, and arguably commonplace, but it is driven by a sincerity that culminates in a silent, climactic confrontation that is about as subtle as it is stunning.
Oggs: The film could have ended with a little more subtlety. However, I completely understand why Joselito Altarejos chose to belabor the film’s thesis. It is personal to him, as it is political to those who do not understand the plight. It is essential to him, as it is trivial to those who cannot fathom the urgency of the issue. Despite its faults, Kasal is an important film. It puts to the fore a controversial topic with sensitivity only an involved artist can muster.
Director: Erik Matti
Starring: Dingdong Dantes, Joey Marquez, Lotlot de Leon, Isabelle Daza
Oggs: Erik Matti abandons the green screen that undid Tiktik: Aswang Chronicles and replaces it with manageable special effects and a whole lot of wit and humor. Kubot: Aswang Chronicles never stops with its servings of jokes and nonsense, turning the film into a hilarious trip like no other.
Zig: Never a filmmaker short of ambition, director Erik Matti expands on the lore of the original films and the aswang myth as a whole. But Kubot never takes itself too seriously to rob itself of being the entertaining action smorgasbord it was meant to be. But the real treat here is Matti’s approach to genre – Irreverent and fun. Matti proves that the mother of invention isn’t necessity but outright, brazen creativity.
Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
Starring: Shamaine Buencamino, Lav Diaz, Felix Roco, Ma. Isabel Lopez, Racquel Villavicencio
Zig: Comedy, they say, is tragedy plus time. But in the case of Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Lorna, time is the running joke. Played by a sympathetic and painfully vulnerable Shamaine Buencamino, Lorna struggles with the fear of growing old and alone.
Lorna brandishes the trappings of an old-maid comedy, but Bernardo’s script constantly reminds us that the only happy ending worth having is the one we give ourselves.
Oggs: Lorna seems to be running on gags, with Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s famous witticisms firing at full speed. A lot of its situations teeter on the absurd, and most of its characters seem to have been born for the sole purpose of being mouthpieces to Bernardo’s hilarious gab. Then something miraculous happens. Lorna starts to evolve, aging beautifully with every minute its characters reveal their faults and tragedies. It’s almost impossible not to be heartbroken, even amidst all the film’s well-earned chuckles.
Director: Milo Sogueco
Starring: Ricky Davao, Mylene Dizon, Barbie Forteza, Bing Pimentel
Oggs: At the center of Milo Sogueco’s Mariquina is Ricky Davao and his powerful portrayal of a famed Marikina shoemaker whose success in his chosen craft is only matched by his failure as father. Then there’s Barbie Forteza who depicts the confusion of a teenager caught in the middle of her parents’ marital dolor with astounding maturity. It is a film of immense emotional heft, and Sogueco manages it with unmatched elegance.
Zig: This is how Ricky Davao steals your heart. Not with an elaborate waterfall of tears, but with the silent, restrained breaking of the spirit. When Barbie Forteza tells her mother that she no longer wants to live with Ricky Davao, Mariquina honors us with arguably one of the most powerful scenes of the year. Although Mariquina has every reason to be melodramatic, director Milo Sogueco keeps sacred this authentic, moving story about a father and daughter.
Directors: Antoinette Jadaone & Irene Villamor
Starring: Inigo Pascual, Julian Estrada, Sofia Andres
Oggs: The rom-com genre has long been derided for being the symbol of Philippine cinema’s inability to innovate. Antoinette Jadaone & Irene Villamor’s Relaks, It’s Just Pag-ibig is remarkable for staying true to the genre’s formula but still managing to be fresh and moving. The film understands its characters and the romance that suits them. It does not overreach, resulting in work whose right mix of spectacle and simplicity is affecting.
Zig: It is the film’s unrelenting desire for authenticity that transforms familiarity into sincerity. Despite its largely unknown cast, Jadaone and Villamor carve something magical out of their surprising chemistry. And while Relaks, It’s Just Pagibig is an unmistakable template of the Filipino rom-com, itis easily one of the year’s most remarkable cinematic surprises.
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Starring: Daniel Padilla, Kathryn Bernardo, Richard Gomez, Dawn Zulueta
Oggs: The film truly shines when it stops being an adaptation of the famous novelette for teens. Cathy Garcia-Molina retains the spirit of the source material by having teen stars Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo do what they do best in loud period costumes. The film then matures, and focuses its attention on the once-juveniles, those members of the audience who years ago felt the same thing the kids felt while seeing Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta fall in love in Carlos Siguion Reyna’s Hihintayin Kita sa Langit.
Zig: Let it be known, that while I vehemently disagree with how the idea of a “great love” is portrayed in the film (if you love her, fight for her), there’s no getting over the fact that there is an undeniable chemistry between leads stars Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo. And under the sharp direction of Cathy Garcia-Molina, She’s Dating the Gangster hits all the right notes when it comes to delivering the age old Filipino art of kilig.
Director: Remton Siega Zuasola
Starring: Lovi Poe, Rocco Nacino, Matt Daclan, Natileigh Sitoy, Bugoy Carino, Chris Perris
Zig: The Filipino obsession with escapist entertainment acts as the framework of this meta-melodrama by director Remton Siega Zuasola. But behind the film’s big name stars, it is the lesser known roles of Matt Daclan and Natileigh Sitoy that surfaces as Soap Opera’s emotional anchor.
While the film’s last act spins wildly into teleserye territory, it is exactly this collision between television and reality that shows how exactly one influences the other.
Oggs: Remton Zuasola’s Soap Opera desperately needs breathing space. It is a film of boundless ambition ultimately betrayed by the requirements and limitations of the film festival that funded it.
Despite its many problems, the film still manages to communicate how absurd real life is, especially when backdropped against the telenovelas that are consumed for temporary escape.
That Thing Called Tadhana
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Starring: Angelica Panganiban, J.M. de Guzman
Oggs: Sure, the film’s success rightly belongs to writer and director Antoinette Jadaone, who fills the films with everything it needs from references to Cathy Garcia-Molina’s now-classic ode to breakups, One More Chance, to witty lines, to push the right buttons.
However, the weight of Jadaone’s vision is effortlessly carried by Angelica Panganiban, who plays Mace, the film’s heartbroken heroine, with so much charm, it is just impossible not to be swayed by her heartaches and insanity.
Zig: Let’s not forget JM de Guzman. Filipino romances often suffer from a lack of strong male perspective, and That Thing Called Tadhana is no different. But that’s what makes JM de Guzman’s performance so relentlessly powerful. While That Thing Called Tadhana is unmistakably female driven, de Guzman delivers a beautifully subdued and understated performance that keeps the film from being solely the woman’s affair.
Director: Dodo Dayao
Starring: Joel Lamangan, Andy Bais, R.K. Bagatsing, Victor Neri, Timothy Mabalot
Oggs: Critic and director Dodo Dayao molds Violator with utter disregard for conventions. The first half of the film is a mix of unconnected scenes that heighten the film’s vision of a world entering an apocalypse.
The second half is where the plot picks up. A group of tired cops find themselves trapped in their base with the devil. Violator’s a horror film, all right. It terrifies like no other. It’s also a mighty critique of all local horror films that came before it.
Zig: Violator throws a wrench into the machinery of formulaic horror films. While the meat is in indeed in the film’s second half, there’s no discounting that Violator’s visually arresting opening vignettes are what provide the icing on this thriller – dark, disturbing and unconventional. To appreciate Violator is not to see it for what is, but for what it isn’t.
Violator isn’t so much a horror film as it is an elaborate genre experiment – an experiment that proves that fear is a mechanism that can easily be manipulated.
These are only 20 of many wonderful films this year. Which ones are your picks? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com
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.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan