Philippine cinema is continuing to grow as it nears its centennial year this 2019. But before we head onto its upcoming celebration, let’s look back at its amazing run this 2018. Both the independent and mainstream scenes have produced quality films that truly reflected the culture, values and current state of Filipinos not just in the country but everywhere around the world.
The list contains a good mix of festival and independently produced films along with big studio films as every side becomes increasingly competitive in this modern age of growing demand for visual content.
Here are 12 films that entertained, touched, and encouraged people to think. If you haven’t watched some on this list, you better catch up now!
Note: This is the author’s personal choices and it does not include the films she wasn’t able to watch this year.
12. The Hows of Us
Cast: Kathryn Bernardo, Daniel Padilla
Director: Cathy-Garcia Molina
Story: Primo and George is a couple in a long-term relationship. As life happens, their misunderstandings including their career paths start to draw them apart.
This Star Cinema hit took the biggest share in the box office scene this year with an over Php 600 million in earnings. It’s not difficult to see why moviegoers flocked to the cinemas to catch this sweet and relatable story. Other than the fact that it stars the biggest love team in the country right now, the film also offers a delightful but realistic look into millennial relationships today. In addition, it also bears Bernardo and Padilla’s improved and more mature performances. Just like the norm in the local cinema, you can never fail with star power.
11. Meet Me in St. Gallen
Cast: Bella Padilla, Carlo Aquino
Director: Irene Villamor
Story: A man and a woman shared a drink one night. What they didn’t know was that their chance meetings will eventually intertwine their lives forever even if they are not together.
Villamor plays with the idea of fate in three time periods within six years in this Viva Films/Spring Films flick. The serendipitous but memorable encounters of Celeste and Jesse are the strength of the film. These meetings are mostly filled with conversations that you yourself would want to get involved in but just like any conversations, it ends. The film makes you believe in love at one moment but pulls you out of the dream bubble at the next, just like in real life. In totality, what it does best is show you that chances are fleeting and it’s up to you to turn it to something that could last.
Cast: Anne Curtis-Smith, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Arjo Atayde
Director: Erik Matti
Story: An elite PDEA team, which includes rookie police officer Nina Manigan, conducts a drug bust in a maze-like Manila slum to capture an elusive drug lord.
This Tarantino-esque action film provides a strong social commentary about the ongoing Philippine Drug War. It’s all about this unnecessary mayhem and bloodbath that doesn’t really solve any problem. Viva Films and Reality Entertainment are very ambitious in what they wanted to achieve here especially the production design which gave us a real constructed slum area just for the film. Buybust utilized 217 crew, 1,278 extras, 309 stuntmen, 23,057 explosives, and 251,226 grams of gunpowder. It’s definitely worth seeing already just for the fact that the team behind it gave an unprecedented effort to step up the game of Pinoy action films.
9. Sid and Aya: Not a Love Story
Cast: Anne Curtis-Smith, Dingdong Dantes
Director: Irene Villamor
Story: An insomniac stockbroker spends his time and money on a woman for her to accompany him through his sleepless nights. It becomes complicated when they develop something beyond their late night conversations.
This clever film divided the Filipino viewers into two, the Team It’s-A-Love-Story and Team It’s-Not-A-Love-Story. To finish the debate, let’s just declare it as a love story. It is because it is! You cannot deny that at one point both of them loved each other. It’s not just your usual love story where you’ll get a happily ever after. No. You will realize that social class most often times dictates what can and cannot be. That’s hard reality and that’s what Villamor serves pragmatically here just like in her other films.
8. Signal Rock
Cast: Christian Bables, Elora Españo, Mon Confiado
Director: Chito Roño
Story: A provincial guy quietly takes care of his family in Biri, Samar, while his sister works abroad. The only way the siblings can connect with each other is through the telephone signal around a strange rock formation in the island.
Roño veers away from his mainstream filmmaking and joins the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino with Signal Rock to tell a realistic story that’s critical of the Filipino diaspora, a phenomenon which resulted from the difficult life in the country specifically in rural areas. It highlighted important Filipino characteristics such as the “Bayanihan” or the coming together of a small community to help one another in accomplishing a difficult task. It’s always refreshing to watch stories from places other than the metropolitan areas and Signal Rock successfully delivers us one.
7. Tanabata’s Wife
Cast: Miyuki Kamimura, Maribeth Fanglayan, Kurt Alalag
Director: Lito Casaje, Choy Pangilinan, Charlson Ong
Story: A successful Japanese immigrant farmer in La Trinidad Valley, Benguet, hires and then marries a young Bontoc woman. However, the woman is attracted to somewhere else and to someone else.
Tanabata’s Wife is this year’s ToFarm Film Festival Best Picture and is rightly so. It proves how simplicity can be classy and aesthetically beautiful. It’s a quiet film yet its visuals scream certain degrees of beauty, identity and history. It’s about a Japanese man and was influenced by Japanese filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa but it offers a rich view on Filipino life. Cultural diversity has been utilized to unite instead of to divide and that’s what makes Tanabata’s Wife a gem to treasure.
6. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Carlo Aquino, Aaron Villaflor, Mon Confiado, Epy Quizon, Gwen Zamora
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Story: It follows the real-life story of Gregorio del Pilar, one of the youngest Generals during the Philippine-American war, and his tragic death during the Battle of Tirad Pass.
As the second instalment to Tarog’s Philippine history trilogy next to the highly successful Heneral Luna, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is definitely one of the most anticipated films of 2018.
What made this different from Heneral Luna is that it’s not about a hero, it’s about a human being. It showed us how a hero became a human, not the other way around. It makes us question things we’ve been taught of our whole lives and films like this develop a smarter audience. That’s the power of cinema.
Cast: Iza Calzado, Therese Malvar, Nonie Buencamino
Director: Perci Intalan
Story: Liza finds herself coming home after abandoning her husband and children to take care of her sick lover and as expected, her return gives everyone a hard time adjusting back to their normal lives.
Distance is one of those Cinemalaya films that will leave you staying on your seat long after the credits rolled. It’s a family drama that slowly builds on you and leads you to a painful confrontation where all your bottomed-up emotions spill out. The treatment of the film including the cold dialogues, spacious visuals and melancholic music live up perfectly to the film title. Furthermore, it has some of the best acting performances in film this year with Calzado, Buencamino and most especially Malvar bringing out their characters out of the screen into the hearts of the viewers.
4. Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus
Cast: Iana Bernardez, Nicco Manalo, Anthony Falcon, Soliman Cruz, Dylan ray Talon
Director: Dwein Baltazar
Story: One woman, Aileen, interacts with four different men in Avenida and leaves them hanging, desiring and longing for her.
It’s funny how the film is about falling in love but it’s not a love story at all. Let’s just say it intends to differentiate the phases and faces of love. It does not aim to have a complete story but collect pieces of that story to show how it’s not all the same for everyone. The film can be compared to a poem collection that tackles infatuation, admiration, obsession and true love. Its uniqueness is indeed a pleasure to witness. It’s also noteworthy to mention that Baltazar is an emerging force in cinematic mood setting and Gusto Kita is a strong sophomore film to prove this.
3. Oda sa Wala
Cast: Marietta Subong (aka Pokwang), Joonee Gamboa
Director: Dwein Baltazar
Story: Sonya, an old maid, tries to save their ancestral house from debt collectors by working extra hard through her embalming business.
Yet again, QCinema International Film Festival impresses us with a haunting Best Picture. Longing, isolation and melancholy are the three dominant feelings you’ll go through while watching Oda sa Wala. The director knows how to set a mood and how to frame it well to get the underlying messages across. The actions of the characters can be considered as absurd but their emotions aren’t and so the audience can’t help but sympathize with them. In the end, the greatest achievement of the film was making madness seem reasonable and even relatable to everyone and that’s a tedious feat to accomplish.
2. Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon
Cast: Perla Bautista, Dante Rivero, Menggie Cobarrubias
Director: Carlo Catu
Story: An elderly couple, Celso and Teresa, is quietly living their lives until Teresa’s dying legal husband reconnects with her.
There are films that make you sad, and then there are films that actually make you cry out loud and that’s Kung Paano for a lot of people. Unlike all the love triangles depicted in TV and movies today, this trio restores faith in humanity. It’s not all about blaming, revenge or any other clashes. It’s about understanding, forgiving and loving each other despite all the painful experiences in the past and especially in times of great need. The film perfectly embodies how it is to be in your twilight years in which you don’t have much time for unnecessary bitter things anymore and thank God the film did not waste any running time covering that. Instead, it basked us with quiet moments that have sure calmed and touched our hearts to the core.
Cast: Eula Valdes, Ian Veneracion, Khalil Ramos
Director: Carl Joseph Papa
Story: A middle-aged couple is challenged by the husband’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease.
Cinema One Original’s Paglisan is the most uncommon film on the list. It’s presented through patchy animation and it’s a musical. At first, some may find this film challenging to watch but as the story progresses, you realize the style and every detail in the film are intentionally used for its distinct storytelling. The bittersweet story, the poignant songs and melodies, and the heartfelt performances from the voice actors, all of it adds up to the film’s success. We should thank Paglisan for showing us that even if happy memories start to fade and are replaced by bad ones, love will always remain and all you can do is embrace it no matter what. Just like that, the film may fade from our memories but the feeling it gave us will definitely stay through and through.