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26 December 2014

The Top 10 Outstanding Filipino Films of 2014

The critics of Brun Philippines Online Magazine have voted and here are their Top Ten Outstanding Filipino Films of 2014. Choosing the best films is a subjective exercise, and we are certain that some of you may not agree with our critics but the important thing is we celebrate excellence. Do you agree with our critics? What are your choices? (For the TOP 15 PERFORMANCES OF 2014, click this)

Not ranked (In alphabetical order)

Directed by Francis Xavier Pasion

Director Francis Xavier Pasion obviously had a clear understanding of and respect for his subject matter.  His style works because it helps capture the serenity but hidden unpredictable danger of the Agusan marshland. The Manobo integrity is never in peril and the natives are presented as dignified people living simple lives, and despite having meager means, they still dream and work for a brighter future. They are not so different from the rest of the country. Professional actors work alongside non-actors and the dialect and folk stories of the place are part of the fabric of the film. This commitment to authenticity elevated a culturally distinct story into something universal, which is the pain of losing a young child and having no control over powerful unfathomable forces. –

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Directed by Roderick Cabrido

“Children’s Show” is gritty, brilliant and bold aided with an excellent ensemble cast. The approach of the film may not be entirely original, but director Roderick Cabrido managed to infuse some originality in an unexpected way.  Beautifully photographed and skillfully edited, the film is engaging to follow. The script is realistic, but also quirky. The music pulsates and gives the film its heartbeat. Good production design also subtly highlights the intent of the film, and you really have to pay attention to those little clues. Some critics have argued that the treatment of fight scenes actually diluted the intent of the filmmaker to dramatize the inhumanity of forcing children to fight for money; however, “Children’s Show” is still one of the best miserablist films of the year.  

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DAGITAB (Sparks)
Directed by Giancarlo Abrahan V

Perhaps the most French of all the Filipino films of 2014, “Dagitab” is the follow-up film from the production company that gave us “Transit.” “Dagitab” revolves around two professors as their marriage slowly erodes. It also touches on history, activism and literature. “Dagitab” is a personal favorite of mine mostly for three reasons. First, its noble ambition; second, my nostalgia for the University of the Philippines; and lastly, a visually and textually poetic scene: two different characters at a crossroad in their lives, and lying still on a beach as the waves tries to engulf them. Beautifully photographed, and lyrically written, this somber moment alone is enough reason to see this film. Director Giancarlo Abrahan V, who also penned the screenplay, is indeed one of the most outstanding young directors of the day.

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Directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

After the amazing “Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita,” (which incidentally won the Brun Readers’ Choice for Best Film for 2013), director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo once again offered us another intelligent film about women.  With the positive critics and viewers’ response to the Nova Villa starrer, “1st ko is 3rd,” (another 2014 comedy about women in their 60s), “Lorna” also proves that romance is not exclusively for the young. However, “Lorna” is a cut above the rest because it refuses to offer a simple resolution.  The end of romantic comedies or dramas is not eventually finding true love in the arms of Mr. Right, but the goal should be making the audience see the entire process of discovering the true nature of love, and the kind of love that we ultimately deserve. The modern day romantic comedies should be about a woman loving herself first, and rejecting the notion that she is incomplete without a partner. For love’s sake, even Disney’s “Frozen” end up with both princesses unmarried but happy. “Lorna” is said to be Bernardo’s love letter to her own mother, and perhaps like Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” it is her love letter to love itself.

Sharmaine Buencamino shines as Lorna, and she is by far, one of the most fascinating and complex romantic leads in Filipino movies for a long time. (Review)  

MAGKAKABAUNG (The Coffin Maker)
Directed by Jason Paul Laxamana

At the Third Hanoi International Film Festival, “Magkakabaung” won the Best Asian Film award and its lead actor, Allen Dizon, won Best Actor, winning against British actor Ralph Fiennes. The film is an outstanding follow-up to Laxamana’s dramatic thriller, “Babagwa.” Laxamana’s world has never been black and white. Shades of grey are his most prominent colors on his paint palette, figuratively speaking. He deals with life in the fringes, and he is one of the few current directors who do not shy away from focusing on unsympathetic characters. However, unlike some directors who deal with “poverty porn,” Laxamana is more focused on the complexities and humanity of flawed individuals, and in so doing, does his best critique of Philippine society as a whole.   In “Magkakabaung,” we witness Laxamana’s growth as a director and storyteller.

Directed by Milo Sogueco

Probably the film of 2104 that has the best ensemble cast. Some of the year’s best performances come from “Mariquina,” lead by Mylene Dizon and Ricky Davao with an even superb supporting cast: Che Ramos, Bing Pimentel and a breakthrough performance from Barbie Fortaleza. “Mariquina” is good artisanship at work. All the pieces fell into their proper places: a tight screenplay, music that highlights a scene than drown it, appropriate production design, fluid editing, and good cinematography. The ambition of the film may not be as grandiose or as philosophically lofty as some independent films, but the beauty of “Mariquina” is in its smallness. The problem of one family adeptly encapsulates Philippine society in the last twenty years.

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Directed by Jun Robles Lana

Set during the Marcos dictatorship, “Barber’s Tales” is a feminist film that dramatizes how Filipino macho society, then and now, regards women as commodities for male consumption. In a way, the Marcos military rule is a mere extension of whole scale male oppression of women, and rebellion against such macho domination is regarded as evil and must be severely punished. Lana was astute enough to put forth his message in an unhurried manner without being too preachy. In the end, the film espouses that freedom from all forms of oppression is achieved through solidarity, in the case of “Barber’s Tales,” female solidarity. 

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MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (From What is Before)
Directed by Lav Diaz

The film was chosen as Best Picture at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival, and in “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” Lav Diaz’s talent is at its peak. Mainstream moviegoers still has not warmed up to Diaz’s cinematic style, and this is further hindered by the industry’s focus on pure commercialization. However, Diaz’s films continue to attract a stable cult following, and the numbers appear to be increasing. Slow cinema is a tricky genre because it can go only two ways. The film can be pretentiously empty, a cinematic "Emperor New Clothes," or if done right, the film can be utterly brilliant. As IFC’s Vadim Rizov puts it, “the problem (with slow cinema): there are masters, and then there are imitators. The problem isn’t ‘slow cinema’ per se… the problem isn’t the masters. It’s the second-tier wave of films…”  It is safe to say that Lav Diaz is one of the masters of slow cinema, and “Mula” is his best work to date. That is  something because I am not a fan of slow cinema but my white flag is up, I surrender to Diaz.

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Directed by Janice O'Hara

“Sundalong Kanin” is a fine tribute to Mario O’Hara’s 1976 classic “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos,” and who better to pay homage to a great film than O’Hara’s own kin: Denise O’Hara (producer), Jerry O’Hara (scriptwriter) and Janice O’Hara (director). Director Janice O’Hara skillfully balances the poignant, the terror, and surprisingly, even the silliness of conflict. Class conflict is not ignored, and simplistic moral judgment is not shoved down your throat.

The film focuses on the complicated nature of war and its atrocious consequences. However, what makes the film unique from most Filipino war films about World War II is that the story revolves around innocent children. We witness the horrors of war from the point of view of children, specifically young pre-pubescent boys. From innocence to harsh realization, the young boys discover the true face of war, but without the experiences and maturity of adulthood to help them process, they become war’s most tragic casualties.

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Directed by Eduardo “Dodo” Dayao

Calling “Violator” as a horror movie is limiting. Eduardo Dayao’s debut film is a breath of fresh of air in an industry that churns out horror clichés one after the other. After all, the best horror films are always the ones that brilliantly capture the public’s unspoken fear.  “The Ring” became popular in Japan because it dramatizes the Japanese fear of technology controlling their lives. The fixation on haunted houses in American horror movies is symbolic of the hidden horrors in the American family (but I could be wrong). In the Philippines, the aswang is the oldest and most popular representation of the Filipino collective fear but the myth of aswang is passé, and it is now trapped in the “creature film genre.” Yes, the aswang is as bland and blasé as the vampire next door. The Filipino film industry is yet to put a face on the current collective fear of the Filipinos.  Perhaps, the purveying evil in our public institutions such as the government, our churches, our schools, or our correctional facilities (to name a few) is the “new fear” of the Filipinos. This milieu’s evil is unapologetic and out in the open, walking among us. We elect them. We are the evil ones. In “Violator,” Dayao may be telling us that we have control over this evil and the horror is we let it go. (Review)


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