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26 December 2014

The 15 Outstanding Performances in Filipino Films in 2014

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While mainstream movies and television dramas offer actors big money, independent films often showcase the talents of actors. In 2014, this is no exception. Fourteen out of 15 outstanding performances came from independent productions.  Here are the 15 outstanding performances according to our resident critics.  We forego the division between lead and supporting roles because “there’s no such thing as small parts, only small actors,” as the saying goes. We also combined male and female actors because we espouse gender equality. Do you agree with our critics? (For the 10 BEST FILMS OF 2014, click this)


Not Ranked (in alphabetical order)

NORA AUNOR (“Hustisya”)

Put a mediocre actor in a great film, and somehow, this actor will eventually end up with a good performance. Certainly, precise editing and great direction will aid such a performance. On the other hand, put a gifted thespian in flawed films, and he or she will deliver a compelling performance despite being handicapped by a lackluster script and poor direction. This is the case of Nora Aunor in 2014. “Hustisya” and “Dementia” were both ambitious in scope but many critics agreed that the two films could have been better. In the end, Aunor’s performance in both films gave the two films credence.  Truly, this is a mark of a great actor.


ANGELI BAYANI (“Bwaya”)

No one can play dignity in the face of grief than Angeli Bayani. Her outstanding performance in Lav Diaz’s “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” in 2013 is solid proof. This year, Bayani once again displayed her versatility by playing an anguished Manobo mother in Francis Xavier Pasion’s “Bwaya,” and then playing an exploitative mother willing to prostitute her prepubescent daughter in Jacco Groen’s “Lilet Never Happened.”  With just minimal dialogues in “Bwaya,” audience members bear witness to the unimaginable anguish of a mother suddenly losing her daughter, and as an added challenge, Bayani did it all speaking in Manobo.


SHARMAINE CENTENERA-BUENCAMINO (“Lorna”)

Part of what makes Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s “Lorna” great is Sharmaine Centenera-Buencamino’s performance. Playing the title role, Buencamino has to juggle the silliness, the absurdity, the humor and the pain of her character. In the hands of a “minimalist talented” thespian (to use Hollywood producer Scott Rudin’s phrase), Lorna would have definitely become a caricature rather than a real complex individual. Buencamino’s performance is both cerebral and emotional and that is where the humor emanates from (1). To think that Buencamino is not really in her sixties, she is younger. If some people claim that her character does not look like a sixty-year old woman, they should see my mom. As an added bonus, her dramatic turn in “Barber’s Tales” is also worth mentioning.


MIGGS CUADERNO (“Children’s Show”)

Miggs Cuaderno is amazing and fearless for a very young actor. In 2013, Cuaderno played a loveable innocent country boy in “Purok 7.” In the same year, in “Quick Change,” he played a foster child of a transgender individual, and even comfortably blurting gay lingos. In 2014, he is a fast-talking, foul-mouthed child street fighter in Roderick Cabrido’s “Children’s Show,” and a child with mental disability in Luisito Ignacio’s "Asintado."  His acting resume should be the envy of any young teen actors. Is Miggs Cuaderno our youngest method actor? Or is he is an instinctive actor?


RICKY DAVAO (“Mariquina”)

In 2014, Ricky Davao gave noteworthy performances in films such as “The Janitor,” “Separados” and “Mana.” However, his performances in those aforementioned films were typical Ricky Davao. They were good but nothing as compelling as his turn as the patriarch of a shoe dynasty in Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina.”  Rather than delving into overacting, Davao underplays his performance, letting the audience slowly witness his character moral and emotional downfall.  His breakdown scene in the restaurant is a slow burn, letting the audience witness a man slowly losing not only his family but also himself.  


ALLEN DIZON (“Magkakabaung”)

For his portrayal as Randy, a single father who accidentally kills her young daughter by administering the wrong medication, Allen Dizon was chosen best actor in both the Harlem and the Hanoi International Film Festivals.  If you won over the likes of British actor Ralph Fiennes (“Two Women”) and Korean actor Ko Soo (“Way Back Home”), you are bound to raise eyebrows. On the other hand, Dizon has been active in the independent film scene and he is often underrated or misdirected.  In Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Magkakabaung,” Dizon is finally at his peak performance.  Mixing vulnerability and confidence, Dizon’s portrait of Randy is very human.


MYLENE DIZON (“Mariquina”)

Mylene Dizon’s character, Imelda, is the moral compass of “Mariquina,” and often in this case, other flawed characters, both major and minor, revolve around her. Dizon’s character often has to take a back seat in the film.  Her character serves more as the pivot of the story. Imelda is like the thread onto which all others hang. She weaves the characters together, and that is a challenging task because if the actor stumbles, all the other pieces fall apart.  Fortunately, Dizon is quite adept. She played Imelda’s confusion, guilt and pain with brilliant subtlety – (which is the opposite of her namesake, Imelda Marcos. I am sorry. I can’t help it.)


EUGENE DOMINGO (“Barber’s Tales”)

Eugene Domingo proved that she is more than just a comedian in Jun Robles Lana’s “Barber’s Tales.” Domingo plays Marilou, a widow forced to take over her husband’s barbershop. Her intense but subdued portrayal of Marilou should not be a surprise. In 2013, she adeptly mixed drama and comedy in “Instant Mommy.” Domingo belongs to a select group of actors who can mix drama and comedy in any genre.  Still, “Barber’s Tales” is Domingo’s purely dramatic aria. She is the first Filipino thespian to win an acting award in the Tokyo International Film Festival. I assume that Kimmy and Dora are popping the champagne as we speak.


BARBIE FORTALEZA (“Mariquina”)

Playing the young Mylene Dizon in “Mariquina,” Barbie Fortaleza proves that she is not just your typical teenybopper. She is a great actor in the making. Perhaps, she may not achieve super celebrity stardom as Marian Rivera or Angel Locsin, but then again, perhaps she should not aspire to be such.  If she plays her cards right, she can be a respected actor like Lorna Tolentino or Gina Alajar. Her breakthrough performance in “Mariquina” gives her a head start among her contemporaries.


KARENINA HANIEL (“Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon”)

For those who have not seen Lav Diaz’s “Mula sa Kung Ano and Noon,” Karenina Haniel is a nobody. However, for those who have seen her performance, she is unforgettable.  Many critics have applauded her co-star Hazel Orencio’s performance in the same film, but even more critics praise Haniel’s portrayal of Joselina. To quote Nadin of “The Art(s) of Slow Cinema,”

“One actress, in particular, stands out in her contribution to this feeling of imminent misery: Joselina, a handicapped person like no other, portrayed in such a realistic fashion that Diaz had difficulties arguing that the role has been played by an actress, who is not handicapped at all. Joselina is the character who makes you wants to close your eyes and shut your ears.” (From the “The Art(s) of Slow Cinema”


ANGELICA PANGANIBAN (“Beauty in a Bottle”)

When in comes to listing great performances, comedy often takes the short end of the stick.  In reality, outstanding comedic performances are some of the hardest feats to achieve. Perhaps, the lowbrow comedies of Vice Ganda, Tito, Vic, Joey and other members of the flock give comedy a bad name. Thankfully, the Goddess of Comedy gave us Angelica Panganiban.  During the Tenth Cinema One Originals Film Festival, Panganiban won the Best Actress award in Antoinette Jadaone’s “This Thing Called Tadhana.” However, her performance as the portly starlet Estelle in “Beauty in a Bottle” got viewers and critics laughing.  Panganiban does not only play it funny, her performance deconstructs her image, the audience’s collective prejudice and the industry all at the same time.


BING PIMENTEL (“Mariquina”)

When I watched “Mariquina” during the Cinemalaya Film Festival, many viewers enjoyed Bing Pimentel’s turn as Tess, the ambitious would-be other woman, and understandably so. Tess is the stuff that fuels any Filipino soap opera but director Sogueco and screenwriter Jerrold Tarog practiced restraint and turn Tess into a complex human being than a stereotype. However, Bing Pimentel gets most of the credit. We hate and love Tess. We are against her but eventually, we understand her side and root for her, and that is all because Bing Pimentel is such a superb thespian. Pimentel’s Tess is the yardstick that all “other woman” should measure up to. (1) On that note, Bing deserves a movie of her own. Pronto!


CHE RAMOS (“Mariquina”)

Che Ramos’ performance defines subtlety and nuance. She underplays Leonor quite appropriately to match her character's personality. Just one look at Leonor, her entire history is revealed: her upbringing, her background, and clues about her marriage. Ramos’s character design is complete, from the surface and deep within, from the clothes, the stance, the voice inflection, the hair, the way she moves. All of these may be under the guidance of director Milo Soguecio, even still, Ramos apparently did her homework. Most importantly, Ramos provided us a glimpse of Leonor’s internal life during her most somber and mundane scenes. Those silences only magnifies Leonor’s final slow breakdown towards the middle of the film. Long before her character has left the movie, we still feel her presence, and that is what defines a great supporting performance.


GLADYS REYES (“Barber’s Tales”)

Gladys Reyes has been a regular in many telenovelas, and has always played supporting roles in many movies. Oftentimes, Reyes’ performance is dismissed and the lead character overshadows her performance merely because the latter has more screen time. This is not the case in “Barber’s Tales.” Like all other supporting characters in “Barber’s Tales,” Reyes stood her ground. She owns all her scenes, complimenting Eugene Domingo’s performance. Her performance as Susan, a young mother burdened by many consecutive pregnancies, is a true supporting performance. She does not steal scenes; she helps make a scene a true ensemble piece. Her role in “Magkakabaung” is also worthy noting.


EULA VALDEZ (“Dagitab”)

Eula Valdez’ character Issey is the anchor of Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab,” and the most layered. In many instances, important details about the story are revealed through Issey, while the rest of the characters, specifically Noni Buencamino’s, maneuvered the lofty political and philosophical meanderings of the narrative. Valdez owns this film from start to finish. She underplays her character in such a way that her subtle gestures and other nuances are magnified. With every scene, viewers will become more fascinated with her character’s complexities. Valdez is endearingly funny when drunk, relatable when melancholic, engaging when she implodes and cathartic when she finally had her last laugh.
(1) To all grammarians out there, it is now acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. Just ask Merriam-Webster Editors or British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, oh yeah, he’s dead. 

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