Philippine Cinema 2012: Favorite lead performances

Yesterday I posted my list of favorite supporting performances of 2012. Here’s my list of favorite lead turns:

10. Bea Alonzo, The Mistress

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Alonzo has matured emotionally since the 2007 hit One More Chance and it shows in this her umpteenth pairing with John Lloyd Cruz. As Sari, she is fragile yet assured, flighty yet sensible. It takes great skill to make viewers empathize with a kept woman and Alonzo manages to do just that.

9. Angel Locsin, Unofficially Yours and One More Try

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Locsin showed her versatility this year by headlining a buoyant romcom and a weepy melodrama and aced both roles, proving her bankability as a top movie star.

8. Shamaine Buencamino, Requieme

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In Requieme, Buencamino plays a barangay captain who capitalizes on the sudden fame/infamy of a distant relative abroad to get more votes in the coming elections. She’s also a grieving mother to a transgender son who left the family for good. Buencamino takes advantage of the multidimensionality of her role to come up with a performance that’s both hilarious and heartrending.

7. Gina Alajar, Mater Dolorosa

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Alajar surprised me with her performance as the feared matriarch of a family running underground enterprises. Her roles in TV soaps in the past decade or so have blunted the thespic talent she has shown in the 1980s. In Mater, after the death of her husband, she went deep into the heart of Lourdes, covered it in metal casing, and goes through life without fearing anyone. Even so, she hasn’t lost her ferocious maternal instinct and when provoked, hell hath no fury indeed.

6. Jericho Rosales, Alagwa

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Rosales finds his best role yet in Robert Lim, a widowed father of a young boy who goes missing. He’s in almost every scene yet he never once hits a false note. It helps that he has great chemistry with Bugoy Cariño who plays his son.

5. Anthony Falcon, Requieme

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Falcon plays Buencamino’s transgender son with just the right mix of restraint and flair that left viewers asking “Who is this guy?” Well, Falcon has done theater work and Requieme is, amazingly, his first film. Mainstream actors playing swishy gay guys should study what he did here because there’s not an ounce of caricature in his performance.

4. Eddie Garcia, Bwakaw

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It’s a testament to Garcia’s talent that Rene, the testy curmudgeon that he is, never loses the empathy of viewers. We cheer him on when he gets the courage to act on his feelings for a younger man and grieve with him when he loses a loved one. And in the end, when he decides to turn a new leaf in his twilight, we, too, wish to have the desire to face life head on even in old age.

3. Nora Aunor, Thy Womb

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Much has been said about Aunor’s eyes that speak volumes, and director Brillante Mendoza utilizes them to the hilt with numerous close-ups. But more than the eyes, it’s Aunor’s body language here that makes her performance captivating. She has fully inhabited the role of a barren midwife and completely understood the verité style favored by Mendoza that you don’t see her act. It’s as if every line she says is something she herself, not the scriptwriter, has thought of. For a movie legend to completely disappear in a role is such a daunting task, but Aunor makes it look so damn easy.

2. Maria Veronica Santiago, Pascalina

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Director Pam Miras hit the jackpot in casting Santiago as the titular character. Because nobody knows her, it’s very easy for her to be Pascalina. There’s no baggage of previous roles to identify her with. But more than that, it’s Santiago’s courage to appear unlikable that makes her ironically likable. Her Pascalina is insouciant, antisocial, and operates to the beat of her own drum, yet Santiago makes sure that Pascalina doesn’t lose audience empathy by imbuing the character with just the right doses of quirky charm and cool level-headedness so that even when she does terrible things towards the end, viewers will still be rooting for her.

1. Kristoffer King, Oros and Ad Ignorantiam

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In an ideal world, King would have as many fans as former indie darling and now crush ng bayan Coco Martin. But even if King is equal to Martin in looks and talent, his mannerism is more gruff, more primal, which makes him a favorite of indie directors looking to cast lower-middle class young men. In Oros, he plays Makoy, a sakla operator in the slums who has a family to feed and a younger brother to look out for. In Ad Ignorantiam, he is an office messenger wrongly accused of robbery. In both, King defines naturalistic acting so much that you will second-guess yourself whether you’re watching fictional films or documentaries. Acting coaches would benefit from using these two films as instruction materials.

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