I’ve had a lot of fun watching Pinoy movies in 2013. Out of the 80 films I saw, I’d say only about 30 are annoying, and out of the 50 that are not, around 30 are actually good. As expected, the best films once again came from the various (and increasing!) independent film festivals. These filmfests are not perfect (there needs to be a serious discussion on the long-term repercussions of limited budgets and time frame on the well-being of production crews, for one) but right now, this is the best system we have.
Films that did not crack my top ten but are otherwise immense achievements include Arnel Mardoquio’s entrancing Riddles of My Homecoming, Carlo Obispo’s charming Purok 7, Hannah Espia’s affecting Transit, Erik Matti’s entertaining On the Job, and Babyruth Villarama’s delightful Jazz in Love.
1. Badil (Chito Roño)
Finally, a Filipino political thriller that refuses to abide by stock characterizations of evil politicians fucking over unblemished hoi polloi. A rejuvenated Chito Roño delivers a taut, pulse-pounding drama out of Rody Vera’s well-structured script, shining a light on the age-old issue of patronage politics by zooming in on the ground zero of corruption: the barangay, where it all happens, away from the glare of “national” (read: Manila-centric) media. The result: Roño’s best ever and undoubtedly the year’s finest.
2. Iskalawags (Keith Deligero)
The resurrection of Cebuano cinema that began with Remton Zuasola’s tragicomic Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria continues with this Bildungsroman film that captures Cebuano humor and sensibility only a native filmmaker can accomplish. Iskalawags is by turns scrappy, sly, frivolous, poetic, rambunctious, but above all deeply heartfelt; less a longing for the innocent days of childhood than a shattering of the myth and politics of a national language and a disenchantment with Pinoy machismo.
3. Quick Change (Eduardo Roy, Jr.)
Eduardo Roy Jr.’s script about the triumphs and travails of Manila’s transwomen is last year’s best: intriguing, realistic, and classically structured. But for Roy to translate the screenplay to such a wondrous, well-calibrated film speaks a lot about his talent as a filmmaker. Quick Change not only introduces viewers to the colorful world of barangay gay beauty pageants and undercover body enhancement procedures, it compels them to empathize with this marginalized group without going the moralistic route.
4. La Ultima Pelicula (Raya Martin and Mark Peranson)
Wunderkind Raya Martin’s experimental films have always had a sense of playfulness about them, but La Ultima Pelicula, above all, reveals him as someone who is keenly aware of his reputation as an uncompromising artist and is game enough to make fun of it. By poking fun at a caricature of a difficult filmmaker, Martin (working with Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson) effectively crushes the lazy image of art filmmakers as pretentious hacks, all the while beautifully reimagining Dennis Hopper’s 1971 cult film The Last Movie.
5. Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas (Timmy Harn)
Timmy Harn’s debut feature is hands down the year’s funniest film. Humor, of course, is subjective, and anyone can make a valid argument that the funniest film title belongs to any of Wenn Deramas’s 38 comedies shown last year. Pagbabalat’s humor, though, is not the laugh-out-loud type, the laughter mostly staying as chuckles in one’s throat, sometimes reaching up to one’s cheeks to make a goofy grin. But I’ll be damned if the film is not an absolutely original take on suburban life and 1990s kitsch. Yes, the film makes us laugh at the characters, but also makes us love them, eczema and all.
6. Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na (Jet Leyco)
The film’s seemingly disparate Marcos-era vignettes should not have worked out the way they did: trust the twisted minds of Jet Leyco and novelist Norman Wilwayco to make them coalesce into the beautiful nightmare that is Bukas Na Lang. You know you’re witnessing an outstanding work of art when subsequent viewings of the film make you appreciate the littlest details even more, yet you still feel that there is an effort from the filmmakers to reach out to its viewers by not deliberately fuzzing things up just to make the film difficult.
7. Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog)
“Love is so short, forgetting is so long”, wrote poet Pablo Neruda. No film understands this more in 2013 than Jerrold Tarog’s heartbreaking, life-affirming Sana Dati. Tarog masterfully orchestrates his film that no amount of quibbling can take away from our awe of his craft and the power of the emotions he elicits from us. If the big studios have any sense, they will get Tarog ASAP to help them come up with films for the heart that don’t insult the head.
8. Debosyon (Alvin Yapan)
The genius of Debosyon is its idea of devotion and love as all-encompassing, all-consuming acts. We don’t love in spite of things, we love because we can, no matter the age, the sex, the form, the belief system. If Oryol and Daragang Magayon and Our Lady of Peñafrancia are not inherently different from each other, we can all let go of our predilections to compartmentalize our emotions and actions based on society’s edicts: we love our lovers the way we love our myths, our literature, our gods.
9. Porno (Adolfo Alix, Jr.)
What first appeared to me to be a cold, hard dissection of the world of pornography and its practitioners has grown after subsequent viewings into a hard-to-shake-off film about identities and the price one has to pay for the misdeeds of the past. Adolfo Alix, Jr. and DP Alex Banzon continue to churn out visual pleasures, and Porno, if anything, is a marvellous feat of cinematography and production design. Yet Ralston Jover’s layered script and the actors’ committed work make this one a triumph.
10. Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz)
As an examination of tortured souls and intertwined destinies, Norte is long on ideas but curiously short on characterization, particularly of its supporting characters (the kids are virtually props here, not persons). What it has going for it, though, is its grand scope and uncompromising vision with a corresponding superb visual aesthetic. Norte, by patiently depicting the increasingly disturbing nihilism of an intellectual, shows the dangers of extremism but also the capacity of late capitalism to push people who question the status quo to the edge of sanity.