By Sanriel Chris Ajero

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – when we spend days in film marathons to keep up with the back logs, when we leaf through the pages of our film journals to single out those with high marks, when we meticulously rank and re-rank the films in the list, when we get really tired and lazy doing banners and annotations, and when we finally get to close yet another eventful film year.

Well, this year, no further intro will be provided, as you all are very much aware of the drill (Here’s last year’s). I’ll try to release as much and varied lists as I could and as my time would permit, but as of now, two lists on the Best Films of the Year (local separated from foreign) will be the baseline limit.

So the list below includes 15 of the best Filipino films of the year, of course subject to my opinion. The list, I would like to think, is a good mix of mainstream and indie. Having said that, let’s get on with this quick.

 

Winner of the Cinemanila 2010 Digital Lokal top prize, ‘Di Natatapos ang Gabi would not probably stand as one of Bautista’s best works. It is, fortunately, a good enough piece that retains and remains consistent with his film styles. Ato Bautista, who seems to have niched the Pinoy noir sub-genre, comes back with this confusing and profound look into a mystery – both of murder and of the mind. It may not be as cohesive as we want it to be, but it is most appealing when it pushes its bounds in imagery and visual metaphors. Coupled with the passionate dedication of its lead actor, Neil Ryan Sese, this still remains a worthwhile addition to the already impressive filmography of a fine auteur.

 

The country’s major film production company, Star Cinema, has quite a good 2010. Surprisingly, they have loads of not-bad-to-good releases this year (including the 3 in this list, plus I Do and Sa’Yo Lamang). Some of these, sadly, did not translate quite well to the box office – the price one has to pay for letting go of the marketability formula (which they didn’t really let go that much). Rarely, there comes a perfect combination of positive reception from the audience, the critics and the box office alike. This happened just before we close the year. Now the highest grossing film of 2010 (counting until December 31 only), My Amnesia Girl, hits all the right notes, and then some. With a perfectly enjoyable and endlessly re-watchable first half, I have no doubts that this will turn out to be one of the most beloved Star Cinema films of all time. And yeah, expect to catch endless reruns in Cinema One.

 

To be perfectly honest, I doubted this film the first time I heard about it. Come on, they totally left me off during the planning of their target market, being completely clueless (noob) regarding this online gaming world. And how uninteresting could the premise be, players entering the game world? Clearly, I was proven wrong. Without a doubt the best film from the recently-concluded Metro Manila Film Festival, RPG Metanoia, though far from having animation perfection, has decent enough visuals to truly be proud of. However unoriginal, the plot is well-developed with plot holes meticulously covered – ending in a very satisfying scene that comments on the surviving without all the online fuss.

 

Quite offensive, as one would expect from the sick mind of Khavn, and by this virtue alone, should warrant a divisive reaction from its audience. And that, in itself, is a good reason why it is up here in this list. Personally, I’m with the half that enjoyed the hell of it. I may not have loved it as much as Paalam Aking Bulalakaw, but it is definitely one of his better realized films. This is the fruition of a vision – that we see blurs and hints of with his previous works. Surely one of the few brave local directors we have now, that continually pushes the boundaries of violence and gore, even of lyricism and poetry.

 

We all know Yanggaw is one tough act to follow, and we saw in Ishmael how hard Somes tried to outdo himself. He might not have completely succeeded, but heck, it’s nothing but a half step back. What went wrong here is the uninteresting unfolding of the plot, that seemed to have been exhausted dry even before reaching the third act. Thankfully this piece remained afloat and was made interesting by the outstanding performances of both Ronnie Lazaro and Mark Gil. With relentless bloodbath, this is one satisfying thrill ride that you’ll never regret seeing, if only for its mere ambition and balls. Pinoy fight sequences are never as fun as when done by Somes.

 

Marasigan’s Vox Populi studies the reality of electioneering by focusing on an interesting bunch of dynamic characters. Central to this is the mayoral candidate Connie de Gracia, played with calculated restraint and awkwardness by Irma Adlawan, campaigning for one last time before the actual elections. What it says about the candidates and the voters as the election draws near is quite embarrassingly true – something so in-our-faces that we tend to overlook it. That, I believe, is the main purpose of this film – to let us see us, and brim over with pride or utter disgust.

 

Nothing beats a good guilt-free film laugh. This, ironically, is of rarity in this country who loves to laugh everything off. We are aware of the endless pool of comedians we have, but that proves nothing without a good material (insert Apat Dapat). With Here Comes the Bride, we see how some of the country’s funniest people come together to give justice to a good material. Nothing new and revolutionary with its plot and concept, but it is so well-acted that it’s impossible to dismiss this as just another one of those comedies (insert anything with Vic Sotto and Joey De Leon). This soul-switching, life-changing comedy, is nothing short to a riot, in the most pleasant and pleasurable sense of the word.

 

from my Cinemalaya entry a few months ago:

Simplistic yet eloquent, Limbunan lovingly paces the wedding preparations of a family grounded by the Maguindanaoan tradition. As it flows with every wedding ritual and every forced emotion, it also plays around with elements of the supernatural and the languished soldiers of the war. The way Mangansakan makes the film move show strong hints of maturity from a New Breed director, and every hostile reality implied in every beautifully-shot image is nothing short of a confirmation of this promise. At the end of it all, however, a sudden turn of events prove a rather difficult final act. This is a sad certainty we all have to accept – that in the end, however good the intentions, however vigorous our hearts cry, however relentless our arms fight, we should learn to accept that some traditions are never really meant to be broken, some powers are never really destined to be taken away, and some people are meant to suffer all the consequences of these harsh destinies.

 

from my Cinemalaya entry a few months ago:

Sheika plays with the same toys as did Engkwentro last year, but made it so hardcore and loud that it turned the latter into nothing but a soft whisper. It carefully weaves, in beautiful edits, the disastrous fall from sanity of a mother whose only concern was to keep her family together – amidst the poverty, the discrimination and the violence. However overplayed at times, the sincerity and the audacity of this piece reverberate in every single bitter image that makes this piece so hard to look at. At the heart of the film is the exceptionally heartbreaking portrayal of Fe Hyde that could easily trail blaze into upcoming local awards, if only there’s justice and sense in this industry.

 

There are probably two things I got out from my screening of Balangay. One is that Sherad Sanchez is truly one authentic visionary, and the other one is that I have a really good set of true friends. First, I believe no one has completely gotten the complete idea behind this picture. It’s truly personal and uncompromising. I admit I’ve only understood bits and pieces of it – but what I got are insightful, and quite unforgettable, probably more than enough for me to like it this much. This is one of those that needs to be felt than deciphered. Balangay, for the most parts, talks about the juxtaposition between young and old (sometimes quite literally with film strips on top of each other) – how they move, interact and live – all these amidst the seemingly endless repetition of life. Having said that, this film, as other Sanchez’s films, is not for everyone. And that I have to thank my friends for – true friends who quietly stayed, and slept comfortably in the theater as they wait for me as I marvel through Sanchez’s vision.

 

More than to document how an entire town was changed with the arrival of an American army retiree, the film worked in greater lengths as a character study of Kano, Victor Pearson. As we get to uncover, little by little, his opposing traits – truly a filthy ladies man, but with a caring and honest demeanor, we also get to meet the many women of his life. These equally interesting bouquet of local ladies not only help us shape the image of Pearson in our minds, but also guide us in molding the face of the society we all live in.

 

from my Cinemalaya entry a few months back:

Literally staging the so-called staged trial of Bonifacio in a moro-moro, Mario O’Hara infuses some very controversial theories and beliefs about the history we all come to accept as fact. Mocking the entire trial with the use of seemingly young actors portraying all roles, the conniving set of judges (and even lawyers), the literal play set, the overly performed lines, the rehearsed statements and the obvious dismissal of anything pro-Bonifacio – it made the trial easily one-sided as intended. The intention may be to recall the truth in all this, or to express the other side of the story, or just to experiment and toy around on how the audiences can easily be swayed with what they see. Whatever it may be, the effect of the result is staggeringly vital – as a cinema lover, as a person, as a Filipino.

 

The first part of Mes de Guzman’s Earth Trilogy, Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato, is a social commentary on many of the pressing issues concerning labor. Its strong messages on child labor, authority, pedophilia, prostitution, greed, family and of love are equally exposed and cached by series of lasting disturbing stills. All these sequences build up and lead to one conclusive image, one that will leave you haunted for days to come, and in my case, for six months now. That lasting impression is of tremendous rarity in local cinema of the late.

 

The ambition is one. Not all directors have the balls and luxury to shoot an entire film in one continuous shot. The vision is another. Not all directors have the eye to elevate an overtly rehashed plot line to such great heights. The script is another. Not all writers can bring such colors and life even to the littlest of roles. The setting is another. Not all directors can manage such a riotous town, even turning the said town into quite a strong character. The acting is another. Not all directors have the guts to cast non-actors and believe that they can carry an almost full-on talky film. I could go on and on and on, as not all directors are like Remton Zuasola, and no such film is like Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria. I don’t remember giving a Filipino film as much applause after its screening.

 

 

I

The most personal film of the year, Ang Ninanais, defines and defies the limits of words – how it will never stretch to fill the hurt in pain, the joy in beauty, the satisfaction in reality, and the imagination in make-believe. John Torres tries to fill these gaps – asking us to listen to our faces, and not take our words. This called for the intricate and confusing collision of the historic, be it factual or mythical, to the reality, whether joyful or painful. Ang Ninanais, as a vehicle, works as the bridge that uncompromisingly stretches to offer the words in our faces, the emotions in our eyes and the disgust in our guts. It is not often that we come across something so profound and thought-provoking, and when it hits us, we never forget. This alone, warrants it the spot for the Best Filipino film of the year.