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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

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

13 Best Filipino Horror Movies of the Last 12 Years   6 comments

Halloween is right around the corner, and though the primary purpose of All Saints Day is to recognize those who are already there up with Him in the heavens, majority of those who await Halloween season are in for the horror stories that come during this period. Horror themed stories, shows, and movies seem to be a hit here in the Philippines, and with Asia being the region that produces the best horror films, the country has produced its fair share of horror themed films.

So for those who are looking for a Halloween themed movie playlist to marathon these next few days, here are thirteen titles that I  consider as the best of the best of the last twelve years and can recommend to you:

Director: Chito S. Roño
Stars: Maricel Soriano, Mika dela Cruz, Derek Ramsay
Story and Screenplay: Chito S. Roño, Aloy Adlawan, Chris Martinez
Release Date: April 11, 2009

While I’m no big fan of the over the top yet unpolished CGI effects in this one, I’m still pretty amused with the storytelling in the first two-thirds of the film. It focused on the different sayings, rituals, and legends from the Southern provinces of the country. I remember our helper telling me that she has experienced some of the scenes featured in the film like the group of black pigs that will suddenly block your way when traveling late at night which supposed to reincarantion of a group of aswangs. Doppelgangers were also present,  in the film, as well as the legends involving seeing a big submarine in a small creek or the simple sundo concept from the dead. If anything, this is the scary part of learning the rich culture of some parts in the country.

Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Stars: Rica Peralejo, Marvin Agustin, Dingdong Dantes
Story and Screenplay: Jose Javier Reyes
Release Date: December 25, 2003

This one is very reminiscent of that Keanu Reeves’s starrer The Gift about a woman’s psychic abilities. In here, Sara (Peralejo) has shown signs of possessing that gift of knowing if something bad will happen. The first sign of it will be a nose bleed which she has experienced way back when she was still a child. What I find creepy about this is that I experience nose bleed in a very frequent manner, so I somehow got paranoid after seeing this one. The film also benefits from having slick effects, cinematography, editing, and sound.


Director: Yam Laranas
Stars: Rhian Ramos, Marvian Agustin, Carmina Villaroel
Story and Screenplay: Yam Laranas, Aloy Adlawan
Release Date: November 30, 2011

The Road is one of those psychological thrillers more than your typical straight out horror film. With that said, it is very engaging and captivating enough to stay all through out the film. While there are particular loopholes within the storytelling of the film, its lavish technical effects make up for it. Also, watch out for Carmina Villaroel’s performance who was so good here and deserved some awards mention for her portrayal in the movie.

Director: Chito S. Roño
Stars: Vilma Santos, Janice de Belen, Pokwang
Story and Screenplay: Chito S. Roño
Release Date: July 25, 2012

The Healing certainly fits the bill of those Chito Roño horror film formula. However, with that said, this one goes deep into the Filipino habit of depending on healers for help. This one poses the man of science vs. man of faith concept that has been one of the age old questions that has every been asked. Also, among all of his past horror flicks, this one is the goriest and fits right up the crazy story that it presented in the movie.


Director: Richard Somes
Stars: Mark Anthony Fernandez, Tanya Garcia, Elizabeth Ororpesa
Story and Screenplay: Joven Tan
Release Date: December 25, 2005

After an eight year hiatus, in 2005, the Filipino film franchise Shake, Rattle, and Roll is back and has become the longest horror trilogy in Philippine cinema. While films in the series has been a hit or miss, there are still few solid gems in it like this one directed by Richard Somes. Lihim ng San Joaquin  is about a young newly-wed couple played by Mark Anthony Fernandez and Tanya Garcia who transfers into this rural town that is known to be inhabited by a manananggal and attracts all the men there and kills them one by one. This is a real breath of fresh air in terms of storytelling and production skills.


Director: Bobi Bonifacio
Stars: Maricel Soriano, Albert Martinez, Meryll Soriano
Story and Screenplay: Juan Miguel Sevilla, Bobi Bonifacio
Release Date: November 3, 2006

Numbalikdiwa has a richly interesting concept, probably one of the cleverest in recent years. The horror is not in your face; it’s more of something that will creep you out when you think about it. Here’s an interesting definition of what numbalikdiwa is as taken from the movie’s official blog site: An ancient, macabre ritual where the dead assumes the body of a living person. Like cannibalism, it involves the ingestion of the deceased’s ground meat andbones as part of the ritual. With the help of the Sasigloho, an ancient tribal deity, the dead assumes the identity of the living and continues to live his/her life accordingly, granting near immortality to the one who practices it. And yes, after seeing the film, I laid off eating any grilled street foods.

Director: Jerrold Tarog
Stars: Kathryn Bernardo, Louise delos Reyes, Sam Concepcion
Story and Screenplay: Maribel Ilag, Jerrold Tarog
Release Date: December 25, 2011

The 13th batch of the SR&R episode is one of its best. The first one, while bordering on fantasy territory, has good production values. The third one is relevant and also excellent. However, the best is the second one entitled Parola. Not only does it brag of a rich storytelling, it is also a perfect throwback to the early heydays of the said franchise. It represents the type of horror that Filipino moviegoers love, and it also contains exemplary production skills to boot. Definitely one of the best the whole series has ever produced.


Director: Chito S. Roño
Stars: Danilo Barrios, Vhong Navarro, Spencer Reyes
Story and Screenplay: Chito S. Roño, Roy Iglesias
Release Date: January 1, 2003

Probably one of the most prominent entries during its Metro Manila Film Festival batch, the follow up to the Spirit Warriors movie franchise is also the better movie between the two. I like how the movie has incorporated an interesting story to tackle referring to the “shortcut” that the spirits go to when they want to go to the world of the mortals. It also included a backstory at the start of the film that was shot perfectly in Vigan. I don’t see this in a lot of horror films list, but its inclusion is definitely merited here.

Director: Yam Laranas
Stars: Richard Gutierrez, Angel Locsin, Iza Calzado
Story and Screenplay: Roy Iglesias, Yam Laranas
Release Date: December 25, 2004

Sigaw is more popularly known as the horror flick that got an international version. But even with that distinction, I still prefer the original version about the bachelor who lives in an old building whose history seems to catch up with the present tenants. I feel that this is one of the underrated horror flicks of the past decade. People seem to catch on its appreciation with the film later on and not during its actual showing. And come on, a bloody Iza Calzado staring at your face? While Iza was every inch beautiful albeit the blood in her face, if that does not give you enough chills, then I don’t know what will.

Director: Richard Somes
Stars: Ronnie Lazaro, Tetchie Agbayani, Joel Torre
Story and Screenplay: Richard Somes, Dwight Gaston
Release Date: December 3, 2008

The Best Picture winner during the 2008 Cinema One Originals, Yanggaw definitely leans on its approach to manage the fight in you. With that said, the concept of a transforming aswang is something that is so popular and rich in this country’s culture, and that alone already deserves a slot in this list. The production design and cinematography, among all things, were also top notch. And lastly, the acting of the three actors (Ronnie Lazaro, Tetchie Agabayani, Joel Torre) is very convincing for that there’s no option left but to be swept along the whole ride.

Director: Jerrold Tarog
Stars: Carla Abellana, Sid Lucero, Nash Aguas
Story and Screenplay: Rona Lean Sales
Release Date: December 3, 2010

Another one from the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise, Punerarya follows the story of Diane (Carla Abellana) who home tutors two kids from the street’s funeral parlor. Unbeknownst to her, the family is hiding deep secrets that Diane unfortunately learned. The problem now is how she can escape unscathed from them. There are so many things that’s so commendable in this episode. Tarog’s approach in the direction is the primary reason for this episode to work, though. That, and Carla Abellana’s performance as the heroine  in the film. It definitely is deserving of the title as one of best Shake, Rattle, and Roll episodes of all time.

Director: Enrico Santos
Stars: Jodi Sta. Maria, Barbie Sabino, Gianna Cutler
Story and Screenplay: Joel Mercado
Release Date: July 14, 2010

Paa is the second episode in the five-parter Cinco (Duh. LOL). This one tackles a revengeful ghost of a young kid who visits the mother of her classmate. It was then revealed in the end what the connection of the mother (played perfectly by Jodi Sta. Maria) was to the untamed ghost. I think that this episode in particular is very underrated. The direction and approach was top notch, and the short length time of the episode worked well in its favor. The editing was also sharp, and Jodi Sta. Maria was more than capable in the lead role. My favorite scene perhaps was the end part with the montage, where everything was revealed. This is one of the few films that gets better and stands the test of time.

Director: Chito S. Roño
Stars: Kris Aquino, Lotlot de Leon, Jay Manalo
Story and Screenplay: Chito S. Roño, Roy Iglesias
Release Date: September 15, 2004

But of course, what’s a horror film list without Feng Shui? Chito Roño’s flick that showed how the fate of people depend on the Chinese ornament called bagua, and how one’s luck and demise are affected by it. Whether your creeped out by the “May uwi si Nanay… si Nanay… sa bahay” chant, the connection of one’s horoscope to the cause of your death, the scene where Alice (de Leon) comes across an image of the Lotus Feet holding a bloody and dead version of herself, or just by Kris Aquino’s kunot noo approach to show that she’s scared, there are no other reasons why this won’t be the top horror film of the last 12 years. 

How about you? What are some of your favorite local horror films? Do you feel there’s something that’s missing on the list? Or do you think there’s an undeserving entry here? Pipe them in below the Comments section.