By: Sanriel Chris Ajero 

More than Christmas tradition to the Filipinos, the annual Metro Manila Film Festival is host to launching a good selection of local mainstream cinema. Its reputation propelled when it started producing some of the most unforgettable local films of all time. Within its 36 years of existence, the festival spawned the creation of such all-time gems as Burlesk Queen (1977), Kisapmata (1981), Himala (1982) and Bulaklak ng City Jail (1984) . Unfortunately, the festival also accommodated the production of lacklustre mainstream efforts that now defines the Philippine cinema for the majority of the Filipinos. The decline furthered during the past decade, as the festival yielded series after series of film franchises (Shake, Rattle and Roll; Enteng Kabisote; Mano Po) with only profitmaking as its main rationale and a slew of just crappy WTF productions (Hula Mo, Huli Ko; ‘Di Kita Ma-Reach; Hesusmaryosep!) that question its very existence.

It has been, therefore, quite a daunting and difficult task to skim over all the MMFF entries of the last decade and choose my favourite film for each year (Case in point: the last 4 years when not even one film was good.) Personally, I believe the last glimmer of MMFF hope stroke during the 2003 festival and it went nowhere but downhill since. And quite a fall it has been.

Without further blabber, here are my picks for the best MMFF films for each year of the last decade. PS: I cheated on some years.

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2000 was still a pretty good year for MMFF. Following the successes of previous winners during the late 90s (Jose Rizal; Muro-Ami), the producers were still under the belief that the MMFF quality standards will spill over the new decade – and so the year still managed to produce a very decent lineup (as compared to today) with Tanging Yaman, Deathrow, Markova and Sugatang Puso. Without a doubt, the best of the bunch was the family drama Tanging Yaman. Yes, it is over dramatic and sentimental. But who cares? This is what authentic mainstream Filipino film is about – a very well acted drama. Confirming its status as the standard for ensemble casting, the film is still heavily quoted as peg for recent family films (Sa’yo Lamang) and telenovelas.

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Winners of 2000 MMFF:

Best Picture: Tanging Yaman
Best Director: Laurice Guillen, Tanging Yaman
Best Actor: Johnny Delgado, Tanging Yaman
Best Actress: Gloria Romero, Tanging Yaman

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2001 had its own highlights, one of them the directorial debut of premiere lead actor Cesar Montano. In his debut, Bagong Buwan, he immediately showed promise with a passionate eye for imagery and a relentless gut for politics. The year also witnessed a much debated awards result as the festival frontrunner, Bagong Buwan, lost to a box office bait. This, sadly, was an overlooked foresight of the future of the festival.

As I’m not really overtly into Bagong Buwan, I managed to include another entry from 2001 that should be given equal recognition – the 3rd Best Picture winner that year, Hubog.

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Hubog is the typical slum political-drama that one would expect to come out of Joel Lamangan’s ‘serious’ cannon. I’ve seen this as a kid and remember really liking it. I don’t know if it’ll hold up after a rewatch, but this extra spot was for that special memory. Well-acted by the De Rossi sisters, the film is so raw and dirty it could give you blisters; so gritty and ballsy that you’ll be able to taste its cynicisms.

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Winners of the 2001 MMFF:

Best Picture: Yamashita: The Tiger’s Treasure
Best Director: Chito Rono, Yamashita: The Tiger’s Treasure
Best Actor: Cesar Montano, Bagong Buwan
Best Actress: Assunta De Rossi, Hubog

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Forgive me for not having an image for Dekada ’70 as I could not find my copy of the film. We all know what happened in 2002. It was a head-on collision between Dekada ’70 and Mano Po. We heard Lualhati Bautista spoke of her distaste in the jurors’ selection (well, we have this yearly up until today). Had they known Mother Lily would milk the Mano Po franchise dry, I doubt the jurors would’ve still voted for it over the much more deserving Dekada ’70. While cringe-worthy at times, the film was easily the best of the lineup as it put so much respect into adopting one of the country’s most-beloved novels, and being an altogether well-acted piece. This also held a very special cinematic experience for me. This was the first time I’ve seen my mom cry over a film and as a kid, that really kinda stuck with me ever since.

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Best Picture: Mano Po
Best Director: Joel Lamangan, Mano Po
Best Actor: Eddie Garcia, Mano Po
Best Actress: Ara Mina, Mano Po

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2003 came as a pleasant surprise. Not only did it produce some of the best films of the past decade, MMFF suddenly decided to give awards to rightful winners. This worked easily for the benefit of Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies. The film has an undeniable comical wit that easily unified both critics and the public, without undermining the mastery of the its beautiful producation values. A good example of a film not trying too hard but achieving too much. Memorable as it is, I would like to think the year also spawned 2 other memorable comedies – Bridal Shower and Gagamboy.

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Jeffrey Jeturian hit gold with this sex-comedy about three friends and their daily struggles with their relationships. Quite frankly, there was nothing new to this – not the plot nor the execution. What made this extra special were the buoyant performances of the three leads. Witty and never slaptick, we saw how they deal and cope up with their men – from their modest flirtations to their desperate obsessions.

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Again, pardon for the lack of stills. Boasting with spot-on comic instincts and impressive production design, Gagamboy could just be the decade’s most underrated cult film (well, not strictly). It was an ordinary superhero tale but brimming with third-world practicality and some political undertones never seen in any of the Spiderman flicks it intended to mock. It was a good take on the slew of superhero films popping from everywhere that even the Filipino film industry can’t seem to resist (Captain Barbell, Darna, Fantastic Man, Lastikman).

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Best Picture: Crying Ladies
Best Director: Mark Meily, Crying Ladies
Best Actor: Eric Quizon, Crying Ladies
Best Actress: Maricel Soriano, Filipinas

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2004 is pretty forgettable an MMFF year. Clearly, Panaghoy sa Suba is the best of the bunch and was robbed by another histrionic Mano Po installment. As much as I could not remember anything from the film (which is never a good thing), I remember liking it for the beauty of Bohol, and that’s probably enough for me to declare it my favorite from this tedious film year.

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Best Picture: Mano Po 3: My Love
Best Director: Cesar Montano, Panaghoy sa Suba
Best Actor: Christopher De Leon, Mano Po 3: My Love
Best Actress: Vilma Santos, Mano Po 3: My Love

 

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Continuing its dismal selection process, 2005 suffered from extreme lack of good films. As expected, the awards were dominated by the ‘epic’ period film Blue Moon, which, in my opinion, had good production values but was just plain crapfest considering all other aspects. Skimming over the entries, I decided to recognize the yearly staple dosage of Shake, Rattle and Roll as my festival favorite. Don’t get me wrong, the 2K5 installment was far from horror perfection. But it had at least 2 good shorts, one of which really at par to the country’s best horror films. The Poso segment was just bad and should be not even be labeled as a horror film. As a country with undying penchant for horror, Aquarium was good enough. But nothing compared to the last short, Richard Somes’ Lihim ng San Antonio. It’s production was lavish as it was errie, screaming fear in every corner. It’s mood was set so perfectly that it reeks danger in every shot. Definitely one of the most unforgettable episodes the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise has ever produced.

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Best Picture: Blue Moon
Best Director: Jose Javier Reyes, Kutob
Best Actor: Marvin Agustin, Kutob
Best Actress: Zsa Zsa Padilla, Mano Po 4: Ako Legal Wife

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The 2006 awards were beyond any logical comprehension. How Enteng Kabisote 3 won over the box office and critical darling Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo was still a mystery. The Kasal script had been on the Star Cinema shelf for quite some time until this perfect casting came about. Real-life couple Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo compliment each other as they played a couple on their way to settling down. More hilarious was the set of hysterical supporting casts – Gina Pareno, Ariel Ureta, Gloria Diaz – who made this riotous comedy one of the most satisfying and effective mainstream comedies of recent mamory. No other entry from this year came remotely close to the quality of Kasal. Ligalig may have been technically more able, but it was nothing short of a direct ripoff of the famous internation slasher High Tension.

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Best Picture: Enteng Kabisote 3
Best Director: Jose Javier Reyes, Kasal Kasali Kasalo
Best Actor: Cesar Montano, Ligalig
Best Actress: Judy Ann Santos, Kasal Kasali Kasalo

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If only possible, 2007 should be erased from everyone’s memory. Horrid is not even a word suffice enough to resonate the average quality of these films. That’s not even reflective of the awards they handed out this year. If I were to choose, I’ll blindly take Reyes’ Katas ng Saudi. Not very good, I know, but it was probably the only tolerable one for me. The film, at the very least, showed well-intentioned acting and a decent script that honestly echoed the crazy family antics in the midst of a balikbayan.

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Best Picture: Resiklo
Best Director: Cesar Apolinario, Banal
Best Actor: Jinggoy Estrada, Katas ng Saudi
Best Actress: Maricel Soriano, Bahay Kubo, The Pinoy Mano Po

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We all know that regardless of quality, Baler would brush off awards competition. And it did. The story and execution may not be as sweeping as we all want it, but one can’t deny it’s immaculate visual imagery. That was my soft spot that they knocked out dead. So for this year, I still choose Baler as my favorite of the 2008 festival.I

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Best Picture: Baler
Best Director: Mark Meily, Baler
Best Actor: Christopher De Leon, Magkaibigan
Best Actress: Anne Curtis, Baler

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I still believe that without the third act, I Love You, Goodbye would’ve been a much better film. Most notably, I loved how the Concepcion-Panganiban love angle was always initiated by a soft lingering shoulder touch. It delivered a whole new perspective and a much needed depth in the relationship of the couple. Nuances like that are rarely seen in mainstream films today, much less in MMFF entries. But the best thing this film has offered is the revelation of Angelica Panganiban, one of the most versatile actresses of today.

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Best Picture: Ang Panday
Best Director: Joel Lamangan, Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love
Best Actor: Bong Revilla, Ang Panday
Best Actress: Sharon Cuneta, Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love

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ISo there. As of writing, MMFF 2010 is still on a roll. I’ve seen half of the entries, and has enjoyed the animated film, RPG: Metanoia, the most. Let us continue supporting Filipino films, and see you all at the movies🙂

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This blog entry is part of Cinematon! Cinematon! for December 2010.

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Next blog entries will deal with the year 2010 round up – the best films, performances and moments that shaped cinema this year. Have a great new year!😀