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Philippines’ 89th Oscar Submission: Ma’Rosa   Leave a comment

ma-rosa-posterYesterday, the Film Academy of the Philippines announced Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa as the country’s submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards that will happen on February 2017. The film bested nine other entries which includes Berlin winner Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis, Cinemalaya Best Picture Pamilya Ordinaryo, and the last minute addition Ang Babaeng Humayo by Lav Diaz.

This is the first time for director Brillante Mendoza who has been shortlisted thrice before (2009 for Kinatay, 2013 for Thy Womb, and 2015 for Taklub). Mendoza has also won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival back in 2009, also for Kinatay. In a way, he’s – for lack of a better term – overdue for an Oscar submission. Why he hasn’t represented us thus far is really surprising.

Ma’Rosa, tells a day in the life of a poor family, headed by their matriarch Rosa (played by Jaclyn Jose), as they scramble to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested them or dealing drugs. Back in May, it competed at the Cannes Film Festival Main Competition section where it pulled off the historic Best Actress win for Jose, being the first Filipina and Southeast Asian actress to do so. Certainly, it has the clout and the festival exposure.

Now let’s dissect its chances. Can Ma’Rosa pull off that elusive first nomination for the Philippines? For those counting, we’ve submitted 27 times in the past — back from our very first in 1953 for Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan up to last year’s Heneral Luna from Jerrold Tarog) to no avail. No nomination and no shortlist mention.

As mentioned above, one of the things going for Ma’Rosa is its festival exposure. Not only did it take a home a prize at Cannes, it also played at the Toronto Film Festival. It has partnered with sales agency company Films Distribution which also distributed current Best Foreign Language Film winner Son of Saul. Impressive, right? Well not in the sense you’re thinking of. It has to be clarified though. Films Distribution is not an Oscar-campaigner studio per se. It’s not the same as Focus Features or Fox Searchlight or even The Weinstein Company. Son of Saul‘s win last year was due to being campaigned by Focus Features which handled its whole awards run campaign. Ma’Rosa doesn’t have that.. yet. In reality, the most Films Distribution can do is to help the movie gain more festival exposure. Going by a quick search shows that after Toronto, it’s also heading to BFI London, which is good. More festival exposure is always better.

Reviews by foreign critics is always a factor too. It has to be mentioned first that Mendoza is really as divisive when it comes to foreign critics. Remember when the late Roger Ebert mentioned that Kinatay surpassed Vincet Gallo’s The Brown Bunny as “the worst film in Canes history?” So it’s a  bit of delight that Ma’Rosa is probably one of the better-reviewed films in his filmography. While critics still had reservations, they were more welcoming than the usual. THR mentioned “Thankfully, and as in his other features, Mendoza again manages to turn his locations into a character in its own right. ” Variety’s Maggie Lee summed it best when she said “Boasting a simple, coherent plot shot with real-time, handheld verismo, it’s a work of understated confidence that will not disappoint his festival acolytes, but probably won’t win many new converts.

A lot has been mentioned about how we, at a certain extent, can be helped by our own country’s narrative right now. As the world probably knows already, we’re very vocal in our battle with the issue of drugs. And many feel that the movie is timely and that can help buzz. Historically, not really. This category really doesn’t care about that, to be frank. A year after Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture, a significant amount of queer films were submitted for Best Foreign language Film including our own Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. The total number of gay films nominated that year? Zero. In 2010, an election year in many countries, a lot of them rode that narrative, again including us when we submitted Dondon Santos’ Noy and Brazil went with Lula. Number of election themed nominated movies that year? Zero. This whole controversy reminded me just three years ago when we went with Transit as our submission (make no mistake, still a great film, just not a great Oscar entry) over the snubbed On the Job and the FAP’s reasoning was that they don’t want to submit a film that showed the negative side of the country. Submitting Ma’Rosa I guess is a huge leap to the other direction, if that means something.

The biggest factor that can probably help Ma’Rosa is its Cannes win. Sure its only Best Actress (and by only I mean that in the hierarchy of Cannes wins, its in the lower tier alongside Best Actor and Best Screenplay. This sentence, by no means, does not intend to take anything away from the marvelous Jaclyn Jose), but a win is still a win. And that it’s still buzz. For a movie that was perceived as a non-event of some sort at Cannes (it was one of the least buzzed films of the competition, but then it’s pretty understandable since he’s competing with the likes of veterans and/or those with Hollywood cast), how it ended up going home with a win is a win itself already.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Three days ago, it was announced that Lav Diaz’ Ang Babaeng Humayo will go for a September 23 release, which would make it eligible for this year since it’ll be meeting the necessary requirements to contend. The huge amount of buzz over its historic Golden Lion win (the highest honor ever received by a Filipino movie in history) is too much to ignore. Sure, it’s a Lav Diaz film which means it runs for more than three hours, and that didn’t help Norte two years ago. That said, foreign critics being unanimously positive about it, plus the film being called as his most accessible (especially since Diaz is another name that’s divisive to foreign critics), with a sure huge company to back its campaign (Charo Santos was the president of the biggest TV network in the country), it’s basically a decision too obvious to make by that time. That’s why it’s a tad surprising that the announcement happened yesterday. This prompted Humayo to move back to a September 28 screening, which will make it ineligible for next year’s submission too. That, and the buzz over Golden Lion and the Toronto inclusion will be old news by then. Let it be clear though that none of this should be pointed against Ma’Rosa, Mendoza, or any of his team, since decision wasn’t really theirs.

A few weeks ago pre-Venice Film Fest, I wrote about the possible submissions and strongly felt that none of the films would do the trick. In that case, why not throw a bone to Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa. But the whole Golden Lion win affected everything. My final verdict says that nope we ain’t getting that nomination nor that Top 9 mention.  If anything, my takeaway with this year is that we’ve finally acknowledged and submitted Mendoza’s work (which was already beyond deserving back in 2009 when we had that tragic Ded na si Lolo submission), but at the expense of a stronger contender. I’d love to be wrong though.

Off to next year.

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89th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   6 comments

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It’s the time of the year! By September, the Film Academy of the Philippines will submit one movie to the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences (AMPAS) that will be our bid to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards. This will be our 28th participating year and we are yet to receive a nomination.

To qualify as an eligible submission, the Academy’s rule states that “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2015, and no later than September 30, 2016, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

Currently nine countries have already announced their submissions with our likely winner, Germany’s Toni Erdmann, in the longlist already. So which film will be our best bet to advance forward? I’ve divided them in three different categories.

DISCLAIMER: It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations and recommendations.

FRONTRUNNERS:

anino sa likod ng kahapon

ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: LJ Reyes, Luis Alandy, Anthony Falcon
Philippine Release Date: July 20, 2016

Amidst conflict between the military and communists, three people are confronted with a difficult dilemma.

Jun Lana, no stranger from Oscar representative (he directed our 2012 submission Bwakaw), is in contention yet again for his latest effort which is a one-long two-hour take staged just like a play with only three characters interacting all throughout the movie. The film also has participated alongside many different international festivals both in Asia and Europe (though none in the Big 4 major film festivals). That said, the film is unanimously considered as one of the best from 2015 among local critics.

felix manalo

FELIX MANALO
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Bienvenido Santiago
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Bela Padilla, Gabby Concepcion
Philippine Release Date: October 7, 2015

Felix Ysagun Manalo is a sprawling historical epic that traces the origin of Iglesia Ni Cristo (The Church of Christ) which is established in the Philippines from its humble beginnings in 1914 through the present day.

Definitely one of the most divisive films of last year, Felix Manalo is epic in its landscape detailing one of the most important personalities among Iglesia ni Cristo’s history. This almost three-hour movie boasts so much of its lavish production design and staging, that it would tick all boxes in an “baity Oscar film” checklist. But beyond the grandeur is a straightforward storytelling, and one that was considered as “weak” and “safe” by most critics. That said, never underestimate the taste of the FAP to include this in the shortlist, as they’re one easily swayed by buzz regardless if those were organic or fabricated.

hele sa hiwagang hapis

HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Susan Africa
Philippine Release Date: March 26, 2016

In the midst of revolution, a young poet and the man that ruined his life travel through the jungle in search of safety. At the same time, a grieving widow encounters mystical beings on a mountain while searching for the body of her beloved revolutionary.

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year (with jury president Meryl Streep awarding them), there’s no doubt that this is one of the two most-buzzed films we have in world cinema for this year. Imagine if we submitted this and have Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Oscar nominee Clive Owen campaign this right? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as that’s a bit of a reaching. The thing with Hele is that we have already attempted to submit a Diaz film back in 2014 via Norte which is half the running time of this one and arguably his most universal effort thus far, and yet the Academy didn’t give in to it.

honor thy father

HONOR THY FATHER
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Meryll Soriano, Tirso Cruz III
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

A family is caught in a financial ruin after being involved in a ponzi scheme.

With an Erik Matti film in contention yet again, it reminds me of probably the biggest miss we had not submitting On the Job back in 2013. What made that more infuriating was the committee’s response that they don’t want to submit a film that shows a negative image of the Philippines. Yeah, right. Anyway, Matti is back again this time with the MMFF entry Honor Thy Father which made its premiere a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Honor‘s best shot is that I can see the film appealing to the Western crowd with its theme and execution. That said, the film feels bit of an after thought by now, but with every controversy that the film has encountered, it just ended up soaring higher. Maybe, FAP atones to Erik Matti this time around?

ignacio de loyola

IGNACIO DE LOYOLA
Director: Paolo Dy, Cathy Azanza
Screenplay: Paolo Dy
Cast: Andreas Munoz, Javier Godino, Julio Perillan
Philippine Release Date: July 27, 2016

In 16th Century Spain, a soldier born of nobility gives his life of luxury to become a pilgrim devoted to God and his people.

Watch out Felix Manalo, there’s another religious biography in contention. Kidding aside, I can already imagine the FAP members creaming themselves over this one. For one, the casting of a foreign star in lead role will make them think it can add extra buzz to our own entry (this isn’t an Oscar rule after all. Lots of foreign actors starred in films from other countries which ended up as submissions. Case in point: French star Emmanuelle Riva in Austria’s Amour, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in Chilean film No, and even our own Angeli Bayani in Sinagpore’s Ilo-ilo). Plus, the religious theme somehow gives it more importance and a “good image” per se in representing the country (which apparently is an unwritten rule; see: On the Job again in 2013).

ma'rosa

MA’ROSA
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Troy Espiritu
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Andi Eigenmann, Julio Diaz, Felix Roco, Jomari Angeles
Philippine Release Date: July 6, 2016

A poor family scrambles to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested the parents for dealing drugs.

Sure it was one of the least buzzed entries at Cannes main competition this year, until the great Jaclyn Jose earned the coveted Best Actress win and the rest, as they say, is history. Ma’Rosa is currently participating now at Toronto International Film Festival and I think it has the most buzz for any Filipino film competing for this year when it comes to foreign exposure. And at this stage, after all his trips to Cannes and Berlin and Venice and TIFF, isn’t Brillante Mendoza overdue for a Filipino Oscar submission? I lobbied that Taklub was our best shot last year, but they can make up for it with Ma’Rosa this year.

pamilya ordinario

PAMILYA ORDINARYO
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Screenplay: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Killip, Sue Prado, Moira Lang
Philippine Release Date: August 31, 2016

Jane and Aries are teenage parents. They make a living out of stealing on the streets… until fate hits back at them.

After sweeping major awards at the recently concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival including wins for Best Picture, Best Director for Eduardo Roy Jr., and Best Actress for newcomer Hasmine Killip, this runaway favorite is getting an instant cinema release in time for the Oscar cutoff. Add the fact that it’s also heading to Venice under the “Venice Days” sidebar (think of it as their answer to Cannes’ Directors Fortnight section), and it’s on the right track. This also has the makings to appeal to an international audience,

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

tier 2

Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

DUKOT
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Enrique Gil, Ricky Davao, Christopher de Leon, Shaina Magdayao
Philippine Release Date: July 13, 2016

With Paul Soriano helming it (one of the producers of our 2013 Oscar submission “Transit“), this suspense drama about an abducted son also brags of an ensemble composed of some of the biggest names in the country both newbies and veterans.

ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI
Director: Gil Portes
Screenplay: Enrique Ramos
Cast: Aljur Abrenica, Louise delos Reyes, Enzo Pineda, Menggie Cobarrubias
Philippine Release Date: September 21, 2016

In the tradition of our love for hero films — some of which are deserved (last year’s Heneral Luna), some of which are good (Supremo), and some which are just flat out terrible (El Presidente), let’s say hello to Hermano Puli.

MAGTANGGOL
Director: Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigfreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Dina Bonnevie, Ejay Falcon, Joonee Gamboa, Tom Rodriguez
Philippine Release Date: June 8, 2016

Only because of its serious topical theme (with them even doing special screening this National Heroes Day), I can see this political themed film making a (not so) surprise appearance in the shortlist. Think of how Kamkam by Joel Lamangan made it to the Top 4 in 2014.

A SECOND CHANCE
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Carmi Raymundo, Vanesssa Valdez, Cathy Garcia-Molina
Philippine Release Date: November 25, 2015

We have that one slot, almost always reserved to those box office hits that tackle more serious topics than the usual. Not to say that they aren’t deserving since most of them actually are, but they  happen to end up in the shortlist. Examples include 2008’s Caregiver, or 2010’s Sa’yo Lamang, maybe even last year’s That Thing Called Tadhana can somewhat be considered.

TANDEM
Director: King Palisoc
Screenplay: Zig Marasigan
Cast: JM de Guzman, Nico Antonio, Rochelle Pangilinan
Philippine Release Date: February 17, 2016

As for starters, the producers of this film were also the producers of our previous submission Heneral Luna, so if anything, they;d sure be willing to campaign. This film got good to great reviews with solid performances from the leads, but if you compare it to other entries, it’s a tad low-key (in terms of buzz and not of film quality). And if it’s already low-key here, can you imagine how it would fare to the foreign market?

WALANG FOREVER
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Paul Sta. Ana
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Jericho Rosales, Lorna Tolentino
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

For an MMFF film, this one got solid reviews and even swept the Gabi ng Parangal of last year. This is also from the Dan Villegas and Jennylyn Mercado team-up, which reminds us that English Only Please, was part of the short-list that year.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES:

tier 3

So these movies have appeared in different indie film festivals but haven’t fulfilled the seven-day commercial distribution yet. This does not mean that these movies are bad obviously they’re not because there have been buzz for some of them to be submitted. Well, they still have the whole month of September to book a screening if they plan to be considered eligible. Or they can wait for next year instead. For what it’s worth, some films who made it in the shortlist the previous years aren’t from the same year where they participated in festivals. As for examples, the 2008 Cinemalaya film Boses only got a commercial screening in 2012, and thus was included in the shortlist for the 2012 Oscars. Same goes for Ian Lorenos’ Alagwa which gave Jericho Rosales his Urian in 2012 but was in the 2014 shortlist.

FINAL VERDICT:

For this year, I think we can trim it down to three films which would all be decent submissions by any means. For starters, there’s the John Lloyd starrer Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis with its Berlin victory, but is simply hindered by the 8-hr running time. Not that Lav Diaz needs Oscars anyway to validate his impressive work; it’s just that sometimes the Academy just doesn’t fit into a certain director’s style. Then there’s the other John Lloyd starrer Honor Thy Father, which I can see a scenario with it connecting to a foreign audience, if they’re gonna push it hard and run aggressive with it. That’s a big if, by the way. In the end, maybe Jaclyn Jose’s Cannes win can also be Brillante Mendoza’s first RP submission to the Academy. It’s doing its assignment by participating in TIFF and its Cannes win, but us submitting a Mendoza film for once won’t do us any harm, regardless of the end result if it gets in or not.

Share your thoughts with me! You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

69th Cannes Film Festival Winner Predictions   Leave a comment

2016 Jury

Another year has gone by, as the world’s most prestigious festival comes to a close. The 69th Cannes Film Festival has been a whirlwind of some sort. This year featured a bad Woody Allen joke during the opening ceremony, a barefoot Julia Roberts in the red carpet, and probably the most low-key Un Certain Regard competition in a long time.

As for the Main Competition, the consensus is that it’s a bit frontloaded with the latter half of the festival ranging from underwhelming (Dardennes), to bad (Dolan), to really bad (Penn), and sadly, to the no1curr (Mendoza). That said, this is one of the hardest to predict since there isn’t any specific basis as to what the jury will go for (and the jury changes every year!), but here’s a stab at possible winner predictions.

Screenplay

PRIX DU SCÉNARIO

PREDICTION: Cristian Mungiu, “Bacalaureat (Graduation)
Mungiu has already won this award four years ago with Beyond the Hills, but I can see him being the first person to win this twice. A previous Palme d’Or winner for 4 Months, 3  Weeks, 2 Days, this slow burner story about a father and his daughter is the type of thought provoking film that usually wins this category. He can find himself against the other Romanian, Cristi Piui, for equally talky film Sieranevada

ALTERNATE: Asghar Farhadi, “Forushande (The Salesman)”
Prior to the beginning of the festival, this one is touted as one of the major frontrunners especially since it was a late minute addition. While it can still happen in this jury, the relatively silent reactions around it makes me think that it can settle for a Screenplay award instead.

Actor

PRIX D’INTERPRÉTATION MASCULINE

PREDICTION: Dave Johns, “I, Daniel Blake
Mostly known as an English stand up comic, “I Daniel Blake” is Dave Johns’ first foray into movie acting. And if it’s any indication, he should be doing more of it. His commanding turn as the title role in Ken Loach’ entry this year reportedly broke a lot of hearts and had everyone praising him. Seems fitting in this category.

ALTERNATE: Adam Driver, “Paterson
The Jim Jarmusch film in competition this year is said to be in his upper tier of works, and if the Jury loves it so much, an award to its lead actor can be one way of rewarding it. In the event it happens, it’s quite delicious since Driver has just won the Volpi Cup two years ago for Hungry Hearts, and for him to have 2/3 of the major trifecta for a relatively short career yet is astounding, to say the least.

Actress

PRIX D’INTERPRÉTATION FÉMININE

PREDICTION: Sonia Braga, “Aquarius
Locks rarely do happen at Cannes of all people (heck even unanimously raved Blue is the Warmest Color in 2013 wasn’t a sure thing as we entered the awarding ceremony), but if there’s one performance that was continuously raved from its premiere up to now was that of Sonia Braga’s in Aquarius. It also helps that the film has received great word too, so it can be hitting two birds with one stone in this one.

ALTERNATE: Kristen Stewart, “Personal Shopper
To be frank, this is probably the most competitive lead actress year in Cannes for quite some time. There’s Isabelle Huppert gunning a third win for “Elle” and Sandra Huller for “Toni Erdmann” but I think both are also gunning for higher prizes. There’s also Ruth Negga who was consistently praised for “Loving“, the two women who played the title roles of”Julieta” — Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte, Adèle Haenel of “The Unknown Girl“, Sasha Lane of “American Honey“, Juliette Binoche of “Ma Loute“, Jaclyn Jose of “Ma’Rosa“, Elle Fanning of “The Neon Demon“, but maybe Kristen Stewart’s lead role in Oliver Assayas’ “Personal Shopper” is one that can appeal to this particular jury.

Directing

PRIX DE LA MISE EN SCÉNE

PREDICTION: Andrea Arnold, “American Honey
I’m sure politics isn’t the be all-end all of everything, but in the history of Cannes, only one woman has won the Best Director trophy (that would be Soviet director Yuliya Solntseva 55 years ago way back in 1961). The buzz for American Honey has managed to stay throughout the rest of the competition, and while I don’t think it was unanimously raved, this type of divisive response is perfect for a Best Director trophy.

ALTERNATE: Paul Verhoeven, “Elle
Sure he is no highly heralded auteur, but Paul Verhoeven’s comeback is enough narrative for him to win this. This is the man who gave us Starship Troopers and Basic Instinct, so winning a Cannes Best Director for his first film in ten years is something I can see the jury acknowledging.

Jury Prize

PRIX DU JURY

PREDICTION: Park Chan-Wook, “Agassi (The Handmaiden)”
Winner of the same award back in 2009 for “Thirst“, Park Chan-Wook’s comeback film in competition can also be his third-award winning one following 2004 Grand Prix winner “Oldboy” and the aforementioned Thirst.Agassi” surely isn’t the unanimous raved entry for this year, but between its feminist tones and deliciously looking visuals, this can be enough of a formula to win a Jury Prize.

ALTERNATE: Bruno Dumont “Ma Loute (Slack Bay)”
It’s a bit weird to see no French entry be rewarded with a win especially since this is the Cannes after all, but if there’s one, this Bruno Dumont comedy is my best guess to have a chance.

Grand Prix

GRAND PRIX

PREDICTION: Paul Verhoeven, “Elle
Saving the latter half of the competition, Verhoeven’s comeback vehicle “Elle” was met with raves from critics and was considered as the perfect closer to the festival. Its humorous and atypical take on a serious subject matter, as well as the combination of star power and potential wide appeal is definitely right up Miller’s alley. One reason why I’m not predicting it  for the Palme d’Or though is that I think it’s a tad controversial and boundary pushing for the top prize.

ALTERNATE: Andrea Arnold, “American Honey
American press kept on harping that this is the next Palme d’Or, but I have my reservations with that. I think it’s too divisive and not even the type of divisive that will have enough champions in the group. It’s more fitting for a Jury Prize or a Directorial one for Andrea Arnold. But who knows? Maybe they know something I don’t.

Palme d'Or

PALME D’OR

PREDICTION: Maren Ade, “Toni Erdmann
It’s really the breakout of this festival. This strange comedy from female filmmaker Maren Ade really had all the critics raving about it. As for starters, it’s one of the consistent performer across all different critics poll series. Then, George Miller hinted about wanting to reward/prefer a comedy. Add the narrative of only one female director winning the Palme d’Or (that would be Jane Campion’s “The Piano” back in 1993 but it won in a tie). Unless the jury really wants to go on a different direction, I think we’re looking at our Palme winner already.

ALTERNATE: Ken Loach, “I, Daniel Blake
Well this is the other direction I’m referring to. If they’re not in the mood for some comedy, then this heartwarming drama which was reported as having the jury really ecstatic about it can be our Palme winner. Ken Loach won this exactly a decade ago unanimously with “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (in a competition that included Bruno Dumont, Nicole Garcia, Andrea Arnold, and Pedro Almodovar too) so maybe history’s for rewriting this one.

As for that highly regarded film that ended up with no win, I’m leaning towards Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” and Cristi Piui’s “Sieranevada” as the likely victims for this year. I’m excited to see the Maren Ade, the Jim Jarmusch, the Paul Verhoeven, Asghar Farhadi, and I guess the Brillante Mendoza among the competition, but titles in other sidebars such as Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda” and “The Red Turtle.” Oh and for the sheer lulz of it, I hope we get to see Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” too!

Talk to me about it on Twitter: @nikowl

Sinag Maynila 2016   Leave a comment

Sinag

So yesterday I did a marathon of all Sinag Maynila entries. Sinag Maynila is a project close to me since I worked on it in its initial year up until the announcement/selection for this batch (before I left my previous work). I was really interested with the movies this year particularly because I already have a clue with these entries, so to see them translated in the big screen is what made me excited. Anyway, here are short thoughts on the 2016 batch.

  1. TPO (Joselito Altarejos)
    Probably the best in this bunch, Altarejos managed to capture in less than 80 minutes the pain, the process, the aftermath of domestic violence and how this goes beyond the victim and the abuser. Characters weren’t one-dimensional and the use of long shots made the situation linger. If anything, TPO shows how people cope up with this illness and how it’s reflective of our society.

    4/5

  2. Expressway (Ato Bautista)
    Everything in Expressway is flamboyant from its full opening credits to its choreographer stunts. One can make a case that it has a tendency to go style over substance for a paper thin story that’s predictable and excessive, but it was a joyride to see Alvin Anson and Aljur Abrenica navigate through it – the former to get a leading role like this, the latter to totally embrace the batshit character he’s portraying (even if in some scenes, he went full retard). Oh, and for some reason, setting the film during Christmas season somehow added to its appeal.

    3/5

  1. MRS. (Adolf Alix)
    MRS. is a character study for its lead Virignia (what a comeback for the always dependable Elizabeth Oropesa) as she deals with everything happening around her – her older sister wanting to sell the lot of her house, her loyal house helper who’s getting married, her daughter who has joined a cult, her missing child. She’s living in a house situated on a fault line thus her house has cracks and looks old which probably signifies where she is in her life right now. The film contains really powerful moments, and I acknowledge the intent more than I appreciate it. That said, Alix continues to bring out the best in his actors.

    2.5/5

  2. Dyamper (Mes de Guzman)
    What’s exciting about Dyamper is director Mes de Guzman’s humor obviously present in it. When following about the lives of these so-called “dyampers”, the movie is at its peak. The back story of Alchris Galura’s character however, while not cringe-worthy and him totally selling it, felt a bit disjointed than the “dyamper” storyline. It’s not actually bad, but I think there’s a lack of smooth transition between these two parts that’s a tad jarring.

    2.5/5

  3. Lila (Gino M. Santos)
    Philbert Dy summed it best when he said that “Lila feels like a script that Regal rejected.” For what it’s worth, the film was stylishly done and everyone involved seemed so committed with it. That said, not only is the lead character one of the more clueless leads in recent horror film memory, but probably one of the slowest readers… ever? Like if I discovered someone’s thin diary, you bet on it I’m done with it by the second hour, notes and all. Heh.

    1/5

Since the Gabi ng Parangal happens tonight, I’ll offer my personal choices on this batch’s winners. Picture and Directing obviously goes to TPO and Joselito Altarejos. Actor I give to Aljur Abrenica (give or take his really over the top scenes, but playing that annoying young character seems right up his alley). Actress is obviously Elizabeth Oropesa (no contest!). Screenplay and Editing go to TPO, Cinematography is Dyamper, Production Design is MRS, and Score goes to Expressway. Lila probably gets best outfits for Enchong Dee.

Sinag

While we’re at it, I still invite you to watch all five films from this year’s Sinag Maynila. And (heh), avail the Sinag Maynila ePLUS Festival Kit Card because trust me, it’ll save you a lot of money (I think a movie is at Php280 each if I’m not mistaken). Until next year! #SinagMaynila2016

88th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   4 comments

frontrunners

It’s that time of the year again when we try to clinch that historic first Oscar nomination for the Philippines in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. Back in 1953 when we first submitted Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan up until to Lav Diaz’ Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan last year, the Philippines has yet to be nominated for an Oscar. Will the 27th time be the charm for us?

As per the Academy rulebook, to be qualified as an eligible submission, “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2014, and no later than September 30, 2015, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations. These are the potential contenders for 2014, divided into three different groups.

FRONTRUNNERS:

Kid Kulafu

KID KULAFU
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Robert Villar, Alessandra de Rossi, Cesar Montano, Alex Medina
Philippine Release Date: April 15, 2015

Before he became one of the world’s greatest boxers, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao was a young boy living a hand-to-mouth existence, trying to survive from one day to the next.

This one hits so many boxes in the Academy already: Biopic? Yes. Success story? Yes. A known personality? Yes, I’m certain a lot of Americans do know his name. It received great to favorable reviews, and while this isn’t a huge box office hit (releasing a week before The Avengers isn’t really the most inspired playdate), it has enough reasons to be submitted by the country. As we all know, Oscars isn’t solely about being the greatest film out there and most of the time, it’s more about the politics. I can see the movie benefiting from a push from Star Cinema and/or Manny Pacquiao himself. While I don’t see a clear path for it giving us our first nomination, it will be a decent enough submission from the country.

Magkakabaung

MAGKAKABAUNG (The Coffin Maker)
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Screenplay: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Allen Dizon, Gladys Reyes, Emilio Garcia, Chanel Latorre
Philippine Release Date: December 17, 2014

This Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave entry picked up Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for lead star Allen Dizon back in December. It has also toured a lot of foreign film festivals from Harlem (where Dizon, once again, won Best Actor) to Hanoi (winning NETPAC’s Best Asian Film and another plum for Dizon) and even had a screening in San Francisco already. So quality isn’t definitely its problem. That said, its weak aspect is how its campaign will be handled once submitted. It will need a lot of money for screenings, and that’ll hurt its chances. If submitted, it’ll be one of the better films we’ve submitted quality-wise, but one which we’ll also know won’t advance much in the competition.

Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon

MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (From What is Before)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: Hazel Orencio, Karenina Haniel, Mailes Kanapi, Noel Sto. Domingo, Roeder,
Philippine Release Date: August 12, 2015

The Philippines, 1972. Mysterious things are happening in a remote barrio. Wails are heard from the forest, cows are hacked to death, a man is found bleeding to death at the crossroad and houses are burned. Ferdinand E. Marcos announces Proclamation No. 1081 putting the entire country under Martial Law.

I’ve also written about this in my piece last year, thinking it will qualify then. That said, Mula still holds the title of winning the single highest honor for the country in a foreign filmfest with its Locarno victory last year. Black and white isn’t even a problem since the current champion in this category (Poland’s Ida) is also black and white. However, its long screentime (running time of 338 minutes) will hurt it. Sure the longest running film to win an Oscar (running for 431 minutes) is in this category with the Russian film “War and Peace” in 1968, but that was more than 40 years ago, and recently, films running for three hours plus have already suffered even in the Top 9 voting.  If the Academy failed to go for a more accessible and more buzzed Norte, I think the reception will be more lukewarm to this.

Taklub

TAKLUB (Trap)
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Honeylyn Joy Alipio
Cast: Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, Lou Veloso, Aaron Rivera, Ruby Ruiz, Soliman Cruz
Philippine Release Date: September 16, 2015

After the Supertyphoon Haiyan, which changed the city of Tacloban in the Philippines into its horrendous state, the lives of Bebeth, Larry and Erwin intertwine. The survivors are left to search for the dead, while keeping their sanity intact, and protecting what little faith there may be left. A series of events continue to test their endurance.

It’s a bit surprising when you think about it that a Brillante Mendoza film hasn’t been entered yet for a submission despite his Cannes win and his stature now as one of the two (the other being Lav Diaz) who has mostly represented Philippines in world cinema. But then again, he hasn’t had many commercial releases for his film. His first miss was in 2012 when Venice entry Thy Womb was passed over for eventual submission, Hannah Espia’s Transit. This year can change though with his Un Certain Regard entry Taklub. Taklub has the early buzz already receiving good word of mouth from Cannes back in May and has been his best-reviewed film yet among his Cannes entries. It also touches a Filipino topic (survivors of the typhoon Haiyan which devastated the country in 2013), and has screen legend Nora Aunor in the forefront. This has almost all the elements…except for the commercial screening release. It was supposed to be release last August 19, but it did not materialize. Other websites report that it’s moving to September 16 (which will make it qualified), so unless it won’t make the screening schedule, we have a formidable contender with this.

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

Batch 2

Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

BONIFACIO: ANG UNANG PANGULO
Director: Enzo Williams
Screenplay: Keiko Aquino, Carlo Obispo, Enzo WIlliams
Cast: Robin Padilla, Vina Morales, Daniel Padilla, Eddie Garcia, Jasmine Curtis
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2014

It seems like every time we have a historical movie that tackles about our heroes, they instantly get a pass or an easy route to a shortlist mention (Supremo and El Presidente in 2012, Baler in 2008). Sure, “war” is a baity topic to the Academy as one can get, but we don’t have to be as predictable as that one.

EDNA
Director: Ronnie Lazaro
Screenplay: Lally Bucoy
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ronnie Lazaro, Sue Prado, Kiko Matos, Nicco Manalo, Mara Marasigan
Philippine Release Date: May 20, 2015

We’ve already tried to submit two OFW (overseas Filipino workers) in the past: Rory Quintos’ Anak starring Vilma Santos in 2000 and Hannah Espia’s Transit in 2012 but to no avail. Heck, even countries submitting their own films with Filipino househelpers (Anthony Chen’s Iloilo) didn’t even work for them. So I doubt this one which got weaker reviews and poor box office would seal the deal.

HARI NG TONDO (WHERE I AM KING)
Director: Carlos Siguion-Reyna
Screenplay: Bibeth Orteza
Cast: Robert Arevalo, Cris Villonco, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Rez Cortez, Liza Lorena, Aiza Seguerra
Philippine Release Date: October 1, 2014

The country has a tendency to submit lightweight entries (Crying Ladies in 2003, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros in 2006, Ded na si Lolo in 2009, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank in 2011, and Bwakaw in 2012), so I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up in the shortlist. That and the fact that it got a Toronto run at TIFF last year, and that we’ve submitted a Carlos Siguion-Reyna movie already in the past (1995’s Inagaw mo Ang Lahat Sa Akin), so it makes sense to see in the lineup.

HENERAL LUNA
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Screenplay: Henry Francia, E.A. Rocha, Jerrold Tarog
Cast: John Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Epi Quizon, Joem Bascon, Art Acuna, Arron Villaflor
Philippine Release Date: September 9, 2015

Directed by Jerrold Tarog, this huge epic film chronicles the life of one of the more prominent heroes in Filipino history — General Antonio Luna in his quest to achieve the promise of the Philippine Revolution. While there’s no mistaking that this will be met with good reviews, my only reservation with this is that it will cancel out with the other “hero” movie Bonifacio, in the same vein that both Supremo and El Presidente probably targeted the same demographics two years ago.

THE JANITOR
Director: Michael Tuviera
Screenplay: Aloy Adlawan
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Ricky Davao, Derek Ramsay, Nicco Manalo, Sunshine Garcia
Philippine Release Date: October 8, 2014

Picking up five wins at Cinemalaya last year and mostly praised for its superb technical achievements (and an Urian-nominated performance from lead actor Dennis Trillo), what hinders The Janitor is a bit similar to what the FAP used as its excuse reason for not picking Erik Matti’s On the Job in 2012: it portrays the country in a negative light.

KASAL (THE COMMITMENT)
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Screenplay: Joselito Altarejos, Zig Dulay
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila, Maureen Mauricio
Philippine Release Date: February 8, 2015

Joselito Altarejos’ drama about a gay couple whose relationship was put to test won the Best Picture award in the Directors’ Showcase from Cinemalaya last year, but pink film submissions (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros fresh from Brokeback Mountain‘s loss in 2005) or with gay characters (Ded na si Lolo in 2008 and Bwakaw in 2012) both haven’t materialized us with nominations.

MORE CONTENDERS:

Batch 3

ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Antoinette Jadaone, Dan Villegas
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Derek Ramsay, Kean Cipriano, Cai Cortez, Jerald Napoles
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2014

While the country hasn’t shied away from submitting comedies and/or romantic films in the previous years, we haven’t really submitted a rom-com yet. I don’t think this story of a Filipino-American who hired an English translator to convert a letter would be the first one to break that trend, regardless if the film was well received and performed well at the box office.

M: MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME
Director: Zig Dulay
Screenplay: Zig Dulay
Cast: Zsazsa Padilla, Nicco Manalo, Gloria Sevilla, Dennis Padilla, Marx Topacio
Philippine Release Date: January 21, 2015

Zig Dulay’s MMFF New Wave entry from 2014 about a woman who learned of her final days is just too low-key in terms of buzz to compete with the heavyweight submissions of other countries.

THAT THING CALLED TADHANA
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Screenplay: Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Angelica Panganiban, JM de Guzman
Philippine Release Date: February 4, 2015

Now holding the record as the highest grossing independent film in Philippine history, there’s a reason why Tadhana generated goodwill both from critics and the public audience. But just like English Only Please, this might be seen as too lightweight compared to other possible contenders.

THE TRIAL
Director: Chito Rono
Screenplay: Ricky Lee
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Richard Gomez, Gretchen Barretto, Sylvia Sanchez, Enrique Gil, Jessy Mendiola
Philippine Release Date: October 15, 2014

A Chito Rono film has already been submitted once back in 2002 (Dekada 70), and like DekadaThe Trial boasts of a huge ensemble with some of the reputable names in acting leading the pack. What separates the former from this one though is the historical coverage of Dekada dealing with one of the most controversial times in history. The same can’t be said for this melodramatic family film about a mentally-challenged guy who was put into trial after being accused of raping his teacher.

FINAL VERDICT:

Like what I mentioned last year, it was a trial to see if a Lav Diaz film would work for the Academy, and sadly it didn’t. If the shorter and more “commercial” Norte didn’t manage to make the shortlist after all its Cannes buzz and even a US distributor, this might be telling of what the Philippines must submit. To “Mula’s” credit though, it’s not its fault that its longer and its in black white. Besides, it still holds the record for the single highest honor received by a local film in international festival history, so that might work in its favor. Magkakabaung, despite its wonderful international run, is still low-key to compete for the Oscars, and sponsorship and funding would be an issue. The same can’t be said for Kid Kulafu, and like what I mentioned, I can see Star Cinema and Manny Pacquiao giving it some sort of a push. Add the fact that it’s about the most prominent Filipino boxer in history (and one Americans are familiar with), and it will be a wise move on the FAP’s part. In the end, it depends whether Taklub manages to fulfill its commercial run requirement. It got great reviews in Cannes (even winning a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury), and a Brillante Mendoza film hasn’t been selected to compete yet, so he’s an overdue name to represent the country at the Oscars of some sort. I think the wise choice to submit this year is Mendoza’s “Taklub” or Soriano’s “Kid Kulafu” if the former won’t have a commercial run in before the deadline.

Let’s hope after the great submission last year, that the FAP won’t screw up this year.

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

10 Best MMFF Movies of the Last 10 Years   Leave a comment

Last week, the Metro Manila Development Authority headed by Francis Tolentino has announced the entries for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. And as expected, MMFF staples such as Vice Ganda, Robin Padilla, Vic Sotto, Kris Aquino, and Aiai delas Alas all have entries this year.

Once the festival home of films such as Himala, Burlesk Queen, Karnal, Itanong Mo Sa Buwan, Magic Temple, and Dekada ’70, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of the criteria on how films are chosen the past decade. Commercial appeal has been the primary agenda now and box office as a main factor on which entries will make it.

And while this has elicited a lot of criticisms, particularly the idea of prioritizing box office over “quality” films, the MMFF has still treated us with some notable films quality films over the years. This coming year, entries from Gil Portes, Antoinette Jadaone, Jose Javier Reyes, and Dan Villegas have been chosen while those of Erik Matti’s and Jeffrey Jeturian were in the waitlist categories.

Before I reveal my picks of the ten best MMFF films of the last ten years (New Wave section excluded), here are five that came close from being included:

11-15

“Ulam” from Shake, Rattle, and Roll XV (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2014) – Ulam made good use of every minute we’ve seen on screen to show the horrors and tension of a marital relationship.

“Katas ng Saudi” (director: Jose Javier Reyes, 2007) – Probably the most memorable OFW movies in local cinema depict those of a mother leaving their children behind. Here’s from a father’s perspective of coming home and realizing it isn’t what he expected.

“Pagpag” (director: Frasco Mortiz, 2013) – It’s horror by the numbers, but it tackles such a Filipino ritual one can’t help but to give in to its scares.

“Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story” (director: Daryl dela Cruz, 2011) – It got its reputation as the one that started the action comeback, but its behind the scenes director mishap got in the way for  the film to move from being good to being great.

“One More Try” (director: Ruel Bayani, 2012) – Rip-off or not, the film brags of solid performances from its four leads, particularly that of its lead actress Angel Locsin.

And as for the top 10:

10

10. “Parola” from Shake, Rattle, and Roll 13 (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2011) – Parola is the perfect throwback to the early heydays of the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise, only with better production and technical achievements. Its scares mixes that of the old and the new, giving the type of scares that the audience will definitely bite.

09

09. “English Only Please” (director: Dan Villegas, 2014) – It’s easy to dismiss English Only Please from the get go, it’s not from the manufactured Star Cinema factory of kilig, not does it star a tandem that has a solid following. But it has proven that it doesn’t need any of those. It gives the same kilig and “feels” without the need to fall trap to the usual rom-com clichés.

08

08. “Blue Moon (director: Joel Lamangan, 2005) – During the last few years when Regal Films was still obsessed with this big star-studded ensembles in family dramas comes Lamangan directing a Palanca-winning screenplay about three generation of family members with the patriarch searching for his one true love. The film is mostly fluff hiding in between the big war backdrop, but its attempt is earnest one can’t help but fall in love with it.

07

07. “Lihim ng San Joaquin (director: Richard Somes, 2005) – When Shake, Rattle, and Roll made a comeback in the mid-Aughts, a lot expected to feel the throwback of the early 90s horror franchise. Instead, we got that ridiculous “Poso” episode and an uneven “Aquarium” one. Then comes “Lihim ng San Joaquin”, about a young , newlywed couple transferring to a rural town. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat with its silence.

06

06. “Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles (director: Erik Matti, 2014) – Sure, the MMFF has been a commercial venue for the whole family to enjoy, but with Kubot, the follow up to 2012’s Tiktik, Erik Matti proved that a sequel isn’t an alibi to come up with a lackluster addition to a franchise (which most MMFF franchises are guilty of doing). While it doesn’t necessarily have to beat its predecessor, it doesn’t have to be a downgrade as well.

05

05. “Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill (director: Chito Rono, 2013) – The best thing about Boy Golden is that it doesn’t want to prove anything. It doesn’t take itself seriously and just wants to have fun. And boy was it a fun movie-watching experience mixing camp and action we haven’t seen in a long time.

04

04. “Punerarya” from Shake, Rattle and Roll 12 (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2010) – Hands down, this is one of the best episodes ever in the whole SRR franchise. Jerrold Tarog’s first output stars Carla Abellana as a private tutor to two kids from the neighbor’s funeral parlor. And as secrets were slowly revealed, the tension just escalates further. This one doesn’t get old and is a must watch.

03

03. “RPG Metanoia” (director: Luis Suarez, 2010) – Not for lack of trying, the MMFF has welcomed local animation in the festival. Twice, even (the first one was 2008’s “Dayo sa Mundo ng Elemento”). RPG can brag about being the first Pinoy 3D animated film, but more than that achievement, its dedication in tackling a theme highlighting the rich Philippine culture is admirable.

02

02. “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” (director: Jose Javier Reyes, 2006) – On the outside, Kasal’s biggest achievement is how it managed to be a crowd-pleasing film, yet one that critics will positively respond as well. Digging deeper, it’s really not difficult to fall in love with this film. It touches the topic of a traditional Pinoy family whose value for marriage and relationship is as valuable to the whole family, maybe even more so, than to the actual couple. Obviously, the great ensemble elevated the already strong material further.

01

01. “Thy Womb (director: Brillante Mendoza, 2012) – It’s silly when you think about it, that the best film of the festival of the last decade, was just a replacement choice of that year. Shot in the farthest village of Tawi-Tawi, “Thy Womb” wasn’t just the story of a midwife attempt to provide her husband a child, but it also opened us to a culture we aren’t particularly familiar with. I believe this is one of the films that will go down as the best in the history of the festival. Plus, it gave us Nora Aunor’s comeback performance.

So as much as we rant and complain about the MMFF every year, chances are there are one or two entries that will really be worth of our money. This year has the potential to deliver as well.

You can tweet me if you want to talk about this list: @nikowl

86th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   9 comments

Yesterday, the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) has already released the shortlist on what the country’s likely submission for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. As of press time, nine films are included in the list which will be decided by the eight-person committee. While these films are already assured as a part of the shortlist, September released films can still be late additions to it, as the AMPAS eligibility extends up to September 30 of this year.

Last year, I decided to put my two cents on what the country will submit as an entry which you can read here. I suggested Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa from the field of seven that was announced earlier. The country ended up with Bwakaw, which wasn’t part of the initial list, but nevertheless, a competent and most inspired submission we had in years. This year, I’ll be doing the same based on the initial shortlist of nine films included and suggest what I think should be our country’s entry. One thing you have to remember though is that it’s not solely about the film’s quality, as politics and buzz also play a big part when it comes to choosing our Foreign Language Film submission. Anyway, here’s how I see each of the nine contenders:

boses

BOSES (The Voice)
Director: Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil
Screenplay: Froilan Medina, Rody Vera
Cast: Julian Duque, Coke Bolipata, Cherry Pie Picache, Ricky Davao

Boses tells the story of Onyok, an abused son, who was brought to a children’s shelter to be protected from his abusive father. In there, he develops an unlikely mentor with Ariel, the brother of the shelter director, who saw his potential to play the violin.  Through these lessons, both Onyok and Ariel managed to find an escape from their individual traumatic experiences.

Films with child/ren as the main character work well within the Academy, especially in the Foreign Language Film category. Think of France’s The Chorus or Brazil’s The Central Station. Add the music factor, and I can see this inspirational drama working well to the voters of this category. The production values, while not the top notch in this field are still commendable (I remember in 2005 when reception re: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was that the production values, particularly the sound, was poor). The downside of this film though is that if chosen, if they’re willing to do a campaign because otherwise; it will just get lost in the shuffle.

dance of the steel bars

DANCE OF THE STEEL BARS
Director: Cesar Apolinario, Marnie Manicad
Screenplay: Cris Lim, Michael Villar
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Joey Paras, Ricky Davao, Patrick Bergin

While the story of the friendship among the three inmates (two Filipinos, one American) is fictional, one central part of the movie incorporates the dancing inmates based from that viral video of the real dancing inmates (jiving to Michael Jackson’s Thriller) from one of the provinces here in the Philippines.

I don’t see this making much of a fuzz, as its reviews here locally are mixed to negative. It’s a very divisive film that also did not make waves commercial wise. When most of reviews range from “thin plot” to “melodramatic”, it probably fits more for a Lifetime TV of the week spot than an entry at the Best Foreign Language Film. I suspect that the friendship angle between a Filipino and an American is what paved its way in the shortlist.

ekstra

EKSTRA (The Bit Player)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Screenplay: Jeffrey Jeturian, Zig Dulay, Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Vilma Santos, Ruby Ruiz, Tart Carlos, Marlon Rivera

The movie follows a day in the life of Loida Malabanan, who works as a bit player in films and television show. For this particular instance, she works in a soap opera while still dreaming to have that one big break she has long been waiting for.

Definitely the most buzzed about entry at this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, Ekstra is a critical and crowd favorite with its humorous take not only on the roles of bit players, but with its satirical portrayal of a television production as well. The good thing about it is that it’s one of the more recent entries this year and is already starting its run at different international film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival. It also stars one of the country’s most important stars, Vilma Santos, in the main role. However, with this being a major comedy, I wonder if the FAP is adamant to submit a comedy once again, especially one that pokes fun at the entertainment scene, too soon (after 2011’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank). It can go either the way of 2003’s Crying Ladies which gained serious buzz or 2009’s Ded na si Lolo which gained none at all.

el presidente

EL PRESIDENTE (The President)*
Director: Mark Meily
Screenplay: Mark Meily
Cast: ER Ejercito, Nora Aunor, Cesar Montano, Christopher de Leon

A historical epic about the life of one of the Philippines’ most prominent heroes, Emilio Aguinaldo. It does a full circle depiction from his early childhood days up to his last few days highlighting some of the most important days in Philippine history.

Every now and then, the Foreign Language Film recognizes entries which are of significant and cultural impact to its country. Thus, the committee can’t help but bite into the bait by inserting not only one, but two films into the mix. The first one being El Presidente. While winning Best Picture in a lot of local award giving bodies earlier this year helps it chances, critical response wasn’t as kind as the others. However, I’d say that with ER Ejercito behind it, once chosen, they’ll probably try to pull off an aggressive campaign for it. I don’t think it’ll be enough though.

on the job

ON THE JOB
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Michiko Yamamoto, Erik Matti
Cast: Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, Joey Marquez

Inspired by true events, the movie shows the struggle of good vs. evil from different perspectives: jailed hitman Tatang and his protege Daniel, police officer Acosta, and NBI agent Francis. How all their paths crossed and the circumstances that bind them together is the main core of this action thriller.

After participating in the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, On the Job is already the best local reviewd film from this bunch. It also has the most buzz being the latest to be shown in this group. Local critics are rallying behind it and the word of mouth is really good.  Commercial wise, it might end up as the second biggest hit in the shortlist, and I think that makes it the most viable contender. The film’s appeal is also universal, as proven by a confirmed Hollywood remake. Since it’s produced by the country’s biggest film production, a campaign is definitely feasible for it. Needless to say, it should be the most viable option from the bunch.

supremoSUPREMO
Director: Richard Somes
Screenplay: Jimmy Flores
Cast: Alfred Vargas, Mon Confiado, Nicco Manalo Alex Medina

The movie gives a historical depiction of another Filipino hero, Andres Bonifacio, as he leads the Katipunan into a struggle for independence.

As for the other “hero” movie, while it’s the lesser buzzed movie between the two, it’s the one that got better reviews. With that said, it also suffered from lack of overall impact, as only a handful of people saw it during its run. Part of me thinks that with these two heroes in the mix, if they’ll cancel each other’s chances in order to avoid controversies about the chosen film in case one of them gets to be the top pick? I know that sounds ridiculous, but you’ll never know. Not that I think either of the film will actually end up as our submission, but one can’t  help but think it can affect such.

thy womb

THY WOMB
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Henry Burgos
Cast: Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe, Mercedes Cabral

Set in the beautiful village of Tawi-Tawi in the farthest island of Mindanao, the wife of a childless couple , Shaleha, suffered her third miscarriage. Out of frustration, it gave her an idea to find another wife for her husband Bangas-an. As she finally saw the perfect wife, conflict ensues when young lady Mersila gives her condition in exchange of this agreement.

Thy Womb was part of the official competition of last year’s Venice Film Festival. Aside from that, it also participated as part of Toronto International Film Festival as well. While this gives it a great advantage among other competitors, the fact that it already had its festival run last year gives it less buzz as compared to the newer ones. Sure, it i still under the same eligibility period, but it leaves a “been there done that” feel already. And while the raves for Nora Aunor’s performance is unanimously positive, there is a discrepancy with its reviews locally and internationally. It got great reviews here while it’s more mixed abroad, so that speaks volumes about its universal appeal. It’s also noteworthy to mention that Brillante Mendoza isn’t an FAP favorite with no previous entries submitted, despite getting worldwide accalim for some of his previous films.

tiktik aswang chronicles

TIKTIK: ASWANG CHRONICLES
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Ronald Monteverde
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Lovi Poe, Janice de Belen, Joey Marquez

Shot in the fictional town of Pulupandan, an overconfident Makoy hopes to win back the heart of his pregnant girlfriend.  But when his arrogance irked some people of the said town who happened to be a group of aswang (Filipino term for “monster like ghost creatures”), Makoy and his girlfriend’s family fight for survival.

This one is probably the easiest to eliminate here. The movie showed a great stylistic approach (and an effective one at that), but other than that, there’s nothing that’s gonna make sense to put this as the country’s submission. There will be a huge barrier to even explain the concept of aswang to a foreign crowd, and this one suits for an enjoyable popcorn flick than an Oscar submission. Besides, Erik Matti has another submission here which has the better odds of getting chosen.

tuhog
TUHOG
Director: Veronica Velasco
Screenplay: Veronica Velasco, Jinky Laurel
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Leo Martinez, Enchong Dee, Jake Cuenca

A bus accident left three strangers literally connected to a pole, and as they are waiting for their fate in the hospital, we get a glimpse of their individual lives prior to the said incident.

Tuhog‘s chances can actually go either way. On one hand, it’s the quirky film that can inspire a lot of passion among voters with its multiple storytelling. On the other, it might be seen as too light to stand out in a field of 70+ films worldwide. While the FAP hasn’t shied away from lighter films before (Ang Babae sa Septic TankDed na si Lolo), but end results did not bode well for the country’s chances.

All in all, I’d say On the Job is far and away the best option to be submitted this year. It has the buzz, the great push, the reviews, and the festival experience to make a mark in this category. A runner up position goes to Ekstra since it can follow Bwakaw‘s footsteps last year starting with its TIFF inclusion already. I think Boses can be a good submission as well, as I think it will work well among AMPAS voters. Tuhog and Thy Womb will also be decent picks, though not necessarily the strongest we can offer. With that said, there will probably be two to three more additions to this given that the Sineng Pambansa will be held mid-September.

*unofficial English titles

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