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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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