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90th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   3 comments

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It’s the time of the year! One Filipino film will be chosen to represent the country for the 90th Academy Awards next year. With the rise of more local film festivals such as FDCP’s recently-concluded Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, and their partnership with SM Cinema – Cine Lokal – getting the requirement of seven day commercial release seems easier nowadays as compared to previous year.

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, 2016, and no later than September 30, 2017, 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.” The country must submit its intended film before October 2, 2017.

As of this writing, only six films have submitted thus far, and none of the usual favorites have made their decisions yet. Will Submission #29 be our charm? Which film will be our best bet to advance forward to represent the country? 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:

Apocalypse Child

APOCALYPSE CHILD
Director: Mario Cornejo
Screenplay: Mario Cornejo, Monster Jimenez
Cast: Sid Lucero, Anicka Dolonius, RK Bagatsing, Ana Abad Santos, Gwen Zamora
Philippine Release Date: October 26, 2016

The film is set in the surfing town of Baler where Ford is wasting his youth away. Named after Francis Ford Coppola, his mother continuously hopes that the Hollywood director would someday acknowledge her son. As another surfing season is ending, he is faced to confront his past, including the myths about his life.

Winner of the Best Picture at the QC Film Festival back in 2015, Apocalypse Child only had its commercial run almost a year later of October in 2016. The film, while having a Hollywood connection in its plot, is no doubt about it one of 2015’s best offerings, but it’s just a case of something that’s not right up the Academy’s flavor. Obviously, it doesn’t undermine the greatness of Apocalypse Child, a personal favorite of mine, but just a case of oil and water not mixing together.

Area

AREA
Director: Louie Ignacio
Screenplay: Robby Tantingco
Cast: Aiai delas Alas, Allen Dizon, Sue Prado
Philippine Release Date: November 9, 2016

Named after the red light district, Area centers on Hilary, an aging prostitute, saving up money in the hopes of going to the US to find her long lost son.

Area has been hopping and collecting awards from low-key international critics, and while I don’t think it will ultimately end as a final submission pick for the country, this poverty-themed film will have its fans in the selection committee.

Birdshot

BIRDSHOT
Director: Mikhail Red
Screenplay: Mikhail Red, Rae Red
Cast: Mary Joy Apostol, John Arcilla, Arnold Reyes
Philippine Release Date: August 16, 2017

Birdshot is a coming-of-age thriller that tells the story of a young farm girl who wanders off into a Philippine forest reserve. Deep within the reservation she mistakenly shoots and kills a critically endangered and protected Philippine Eagle. As the local authorities begin a manhunt to track down the poacher of a national bird, their investigation leads them to an even more horrific discovery.

Before it opened the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival earlier this month, Birdshot has already made rounds internationally – Goteborg, Osaka Asian, Titanic Hungary, Vilnius, Taipei, Cinemalaya, New York Asian film festivals – and a victory for director Mikhail Red as Asian  Future Best Film Award at Tokyo, so there’s no denying that it can work its international presence. That plus its critical consensus and its huge potential of a crossover international appeal can certainly make it a decent, if not great, submissions for the country.

 Bliss

BLISS
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Screenplay: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Iza Calzado, Adrienne Vergara, TJ Trinidad, Ian Veneracion
Philippine Release Date: May 10, 2017

After involving in a film production accident that leaves her crippled, Jane Ciego, a successful actress, slowly transitions into madness after experiencing horrors and torture in her own home.

Even before its local premiere last May 10, Bliss has already made rounds because of Iza Calzado’s victory at the Osaka Asian Film Festival for this performance. This + love for Jerrold Tarog, who is no stranger here after his 2015 smash hit Heneral Luna was submitted, can certainly work for this film’s advantage to be our country’s submission.

Die Beautiful

DIE BEAUTIFUL
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana, Rody Vera
Cast: Paolo Ballesteros, Christian Bables, Joel Torre
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2016

Friends attend the wake of Trisha, a Filipino transgender woman. They look back into the her life as she faces the adversities and triumphs of living as a transgender in Filipino society

Sweeping awards left and right, which started its victory at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, Die Beautiful is probably the closets contender we have this year that managed to have both great commercial and critical response, something that will surely benefit it as well. At the center of the film is Urian (and Tokyo) Best Actor Paolo Ballesteros who will surely campaign for the film if it gets selected. They can also spin an LGBT narrative here with a transgender lead character, and pop culture mentions ranging from Miley Cyrus to Lady Gaga and Beyonce can also help.

Kita Kita

KITA KITA
Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
Screenplay: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
Cast: Alessandra de Rossi, Empoy Marquez
Philippine Release Date: July 19, 2017

A blind woman falls in love with a man who uses kindness and humor to make a connection with her.

Kita Kita is the box office success story of 2017 in the Philippines, no doubt about that. So don’t be surprised to see it as a possible shortlist submission entry. This Empoy-Alessandra rom-com might be seen as too fluff to be submitted (and frankly, I agree), but then if middlebrow material like The Intouchables by France can be submitted in 2013 because of its huge box office performance, then I won’t be surprised if the local Academy goes with this. After all, Intouchables made it to the shortlist of nine only to miss the actual nod.

Patay na si Hesus

PATAY NA SI HESUS
Director: Victor Villanueva
Screenplay: Moira Lang, Fatrick Tabada
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Chai Fonacier, Melde Montanez, Angelina Kanapi
Philippine Release Date: August 16, 2017

The death of a woman’s estranged husband brought her and her family into a road that changes their lives forever.

Another crowd-pleasing comedy, this film starring a dysfunctional family on a road trip is right up the alley of previous submissions such as Ded na si Lolo, Bwakaw, and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank. This also stars Cannes Best Actress Jaclyn Jose which can work to its advantage (but then, if her in Ma’Rosa didn’t work last year, then maybe I’m just reaching a bit here).

Pauwi Na

PAUWI NA
Director: Paolo Villaluna
Screenplay: Paolo Villaluna, Ellen Ramos
Cast: Bembol Roco, Cherry Pie Picache, Meryll Soriano, Jerald Napoles, Chai Fonacier
Philippine Release Date: August 16, 2017

The film follows a family who decide to use pedicabs so they could “pedal” their way back to the province. A series of unfortunate events occur that will either test their determination or distract them from their journey home. ‘Pauwi Na’ is a tragic-comic portrait of a dysfunctional family and the disquieting blind faith they invoke as they dream of going home.

Also titled as Pedicab, this heartwarming drama with a strong ensemble headlined by Bembol Roco and Cherry Pie Picache has already received Best Film at the Shanghai International Film Festival. I feel that this is a movie that can appeal to the international community that has the most ‘local’ flavor so to speak. While it has a tendency to be lost in the shuffle when competing against other countries, this is a good, possible submissions for us.

eRespeto

RESPETO
Director: Treb Monteras II
Screenplay: Treb Monteras II, Njel de Mesa
Cast: Abra, Dido dela Paz, Loonie, Chai Fonacier
Philippine Release Date: TBD

Hendrix dreams of hip-hop greatness, but  he’s spiraling down a rabbit-hole of crime and poverty until he meets Doc, an old poet still haunted by his martial law past. Respeto is a celebration of the underground Pinoy hip-hop world and how we find the words to find ourselves.

Winning the top plum at Cinemalaya earlier this month, Respeto teases a commercial screening already, and while there is no definite date given yet, it needs to have a seven-day run by September 30. While hip-hop and fliptop is something that can appeal to a foreign audience, I fear for a “lost in translation” scenario on how this will be received internationally as compared to the love it got here.

Sunday Beauty Queen

SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN
Director: Babyruth Villarama Gutierrez
Cast: Rudelie Acosta, Mylyn Jacobo, Leo Selomenia
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2016

Beneath Hong Kong’s glittering facade, Filipinas working as domestic helpers work in relative anonymity and for near slave wages. In a beauty pageant like no other in the world, five helpers give themselves makeovers for a day and gleefully reclaim their dignity.

There’s already a narrative written for this because it can be the first ever documentary submitted by the country for Oscar consideration. The last documentary feature to be nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar is 2013’s The Missing Picture from Cambodia. It’s also helped by the idea that the concept of OFWs is so Pinoy in culture, and we’ve submitted those in the past too (2000’s Anak comes to mind).

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

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While I don’t think these films will end up as submissions, don’t be surprised to see any of these in this group to make it in the final shortlist:

2 COOL 2 B 4GOTTEN
Director: Petersen Vargas
Screenplay: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Khalil Ramos, Jameson Blake, Ethan Salvador, Ana Capri
Philippine Release Date: March 15, 2017

Winning Best Picture at the Cinema One Originals 2016, this coming of age story of a young boy has done some international festival rounds (even winning an Audience Choice in Italy), but its too small scope will certainly hinder its chances.

HAMOG
Director: Ralston Javier
Screenplay: Ralston Javier
Cast: Zaijan Jaranilla, Therese Lamvar, OJ Mariano, Lou Veloso, Anna Luna
Philippine Release Date: August 16, 2017

Like, 2 Cool 2 Be 4goten, Hamog might be seen as more of a low-key contender, which can be quite the challenge if it faces and more buzzed entries from other countries.

ANG HULING CHACHA NI ANITA
Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
Screenplay: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
Cast: Therese Malvar, Angel Aquino, Jay Bordon
Philippine Release Date: June 16, 2017

There have been instances from previous years when we included films from older years to make the shortlist on their actual year of commercial release (Boses in 2012, Alagwa in 2013) so this one certainly fits the bill.

PAGLIPAY
Director: Zig Dulay
Screenplay: Zig Dulay
Cast: Garry Cabalic, Anna Luna, Joan dela Cruz
Philippine Release Date: August 16, 2017

Again, another film that might be perceived as too low-key for a submissions entry but is certainly deserving to be up for consideration.

SAVING SALLY
Director: Avid Liongoren
Screenplay: Carlo Ledesma, Charlene Sawit-Esguerra, Avid Liongoren
Cast: Rhian Ramos, Enzo Marcos, TJ Trinidad
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2016

While this type of animation can work on its advantage when attracting the international crowd, the story might be seen as too lightweight which can hinder its overall chances. Romantic light stories aren’t really the Academy’s cup of tea.

SEKLUSYON
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Anton C. Santamaria
Cast: Ronnie Alonte, Rhed Bustamante, Phoebe Walker
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2016

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.

SLEEPLESS
Director: Prime Cruz
Screenplay: Jen Chuaunsu
Cast: Glaiza de Castro, Dominic Roco, TJ Trinidad
Philippine Release Date: May 26, 2017

With its surprising box office receipts and a good to great critical reception, this can fit the slot of the rom-com slot that has included films such as English Only Please and That Thing Called Tadhana.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES:

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The other big winner at this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival is Kiko Boksingero from director Thop Nazareno, a small gem of a film about an aspiring boxer who met his father. The critical standout at the ToFarm Film Festival is What Home Feels Like which stars indie favorites Bembol Roco and Irma Adlawan. Both of the said films have no commercial releases yet since their festival run. Meanwhile, Sheron Dayoc’s Women of the Weeping River, the biggest sweeper at this year’s Gawad Urian including the top Best Picture plum (among more Best Picture prizes), will definitely get a commercial release from TBA, though date of release isn’t publicly revealed yet. If eligible, it’s a strong contender for the submission.

FINAL VERDICT:

After last year’s bloodbath of competition between frontrunner Ma’Rosa by Brillante Mendoza and the late gamechange Ang Babaeng Humayo by Lav Diaz, this year looks tame in comparison. Of course I’m talking about the international buzz-level and does not reflect the quality of these films mentioned above. 2016 was probably the strongest presence we had in the international scene with Competition entries at the Big 3 festivals and winning a prize in all three too. As for this year’s entries, I’d trim it down to three – Birdshot which I can see having a really great international appeal (its toughest challenge is putting itself out there which it has already started to do), Pauwi Na (heart tugging family film that has won Shanghai’s top prize already), and Die Beautiful. If I were the one deciding, my vote goes to Die Beautiful, as I think it’s right up the Academy’s alley – great acting performances, has this crossover crowd pleasing appeal, and possible narrative for its central transgender character.

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

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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:

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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

Philippines’ 88th Oscar Submission: Heneral Luna   Leave a comment

11541975_1632374606977269_5171522840825921614_nIt was only a few hours ago when the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) announced via its director Leo Martinez that Jerrold Tarog’s film “Heneral Luna is the Philippine submission for the 88th Academy Awards. It’s first time for director Tarog whose film tells the tale of underrated Filipino hero Antonio Luna in his quest to lead the country against the Spanish colonizers during Emilio Aguinaldo’s regime.

As per Marinel Cruz of Inquirer, “Heneral Luna” beats out five other contenders including Brillante Mendoza’s Un Ceratin Regard entry this year “Taklub” and Carlos Siguion Reyna’s multiple Cinemalaya winner last year “Hari ng Tondo.

The journey of “Heneral Luna” is really impressive to say the least. The film opened up to decent numbers but the strong word of mouth particularly in social media paved the way for more cinemas to bring it back to more screens. As a matter of fact, its second week opening day was way higher than its initial first day grosses. It has received raves one after the other with critics praising its polished direction, great ensemble headed by John Arcilla in a career-best role and the different treatment it used as compared to the other biopics about our Filipino heroes.

Now less than two weeks after it opened, its now the Oscar submission of the country representing it in the world platform against more than 70 countries in the world. It’s also the first time the Philippines submitted a film about one of its heroes in the 27 times that we have sent a bid at the Oscars. It’s a bittersweet feeling for everyone in the film involved as well as its fans, and the announcement of it as the country’s submission was met with such enthusiasm and clamor.

But now, let’s talk about the real deal. How will it fare at the Oscar race this year? Just like how I predicted that both “Bwakaw and “Transit” aren’t going anywhere or that “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan can count a top nine inclusion at most, it’s time to analyze Heneral Luna‘s chances. When I wrote about my usual Oscar submission analysis and recommendations a month ago, I specified how this is a year when we’re lacking that ecstatic contender that can bring us at least that much-awaited Oscar attention. And now a month later, I still think stand with the same sentiment.

As for starters, this year shapes up as a stacked group of submissions by far from Oscar-friendlier countries. Portugal went with the Cannes movie “Arabian Nights Part 2″ by Miguel Gomez while Hungary is close to have that Oscar wrapped up already with its entry Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul” which won the Grand Prize Jury earlier this year at Cannes. There’s also “Embrace the Serpent” from Colombia, “The Second Mother” from Brazil, and Un Certain Regard winner “Rams” from Iceland. Among Asian contenders, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s comeback film “The Assassin” leads the pack. Not only are they miles ahead from Heneral Luna in terms of festival buzz, but they all have US distributors already who will campaign the hell out of them. Maybe Heneral can still hop in a competent enough distributor (FWIW, announcement was only made a few hours ago so it’s not as if they’re already on full gear with their campaign plan).

Another thing blocking Heneral Luna‘s way is that its theme isn’t really the Academy’s cup of tea. For Oscar, it’s Holocaust or bust. I’ve read some comments how the portrayal of Americans in the movie would pick up interest among the voters, and that point is pushing it. Antonio Luna, probably as underrated as he is, doesn’t bring the same type of buzz as let’s say if it was a Jose Rizal biopic (which isn’t the film’s fault). The film’s biggest hurdle is that it needs to be seen in order to be voted. It’s really not safe to count on the “plus three” system of the executive system (those that don’t get in the popular vote) especially since it’s reserved for quirky and non-traditional films that aren’t really Academy friendly (think of Dogtooth or An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker). Heck, even Lav Diaz’ Norte last year didn’t get in the plus three system and that has the Cannes buzz surrounding it.

Heneral Luna is a great film — no doubt about that, but all its Oscar talk about it “as our shot at winning an Academy Award” or even that “we have a chance” is setting themselves up for disappointment. And let it be clear that it’s not because of its quality. It’s a well-made film that deserves to be seen by every Filipino. Period. But if we are to talk about the aspect of it being our Academy Award submission, then it’s a different story altogether. If anything, the greatest thing that comes with this announcement (aside from recognition for the team behind the movie) is that it shows that the Filipino audience is willing to show up for quality films. Forget about Oscars, it’s a long shot at best.

Talk to me about it on Twitter: @nikowl

Philippines’ 87th Oscar Submission: Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan   1 comment

Norte After days of waiting, it’s the time of the year again when the country chooses its representative for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Let it be clear that of course, Oscar is not the be-all and end-all of anything great when it comes to filmmaking, but somehow among casual moviegoers, Oscar is synonymous to anything that represents great quality. And its prestige is still ever so present that one can’t help but be interested in the whole process. After all, having an “Oscar winning film” or “Oscar winning country” is a great bonus to a film’s achievement.

Just hours ago the Film Academy of the Philippines, represented by Leo Martinez, confirmed that the Philippines submitted Lav Diaz’ 250 minute film Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan” for next year’s awards consideration. Norte, a take on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, showed the contrast of a man (Sid Lucero) committing a crime but was spared from it and an innocent one (Archie Alemania) paying for the former’s sins. In line with that, life goes on for the latter’s wife (Angeli Bayani) as she deals with the aftermath of the incident.

In my annual analysis of possible contenders almost a month ago, I’ve specified that it boils down to two contenders: Jun Lana’s “Barber’s Tales” and Lav Diaz’ “Norte“. Both make sense as submissions, but I’m not holding my breath for any of the two considering how the panel assigned to submit has made more mediocre choices than not since its inception in 2007, so seeing them finally taking the right path slowly but surely the past few years is indeed commendable. Besides, what is there to lose if we experiment with a Lav Diaz submission this year? It’s not as if we’ve been nominated before. This can actually serve as a trial of some sort to see what kind of films that we offer can match Oscar’s taste. But anyway, enough about my personal feelings. Let’s go straight to the point. How will Norte fare in the competition this year? And can it *actually* be nominated in the end?

As for starters, this is a year when there is no solid frontrunner for the category Oscar-wise. Sure we have lot of solid contenders to battle out (Brazil’s “The Way He Looks”, Belgium’s “Two Days, One Night”, Canada’s “Mommy“, Mauritania’s “Timbuktu“, Poland’s “Ida“, Turkery’s “Winter Sleep“, and even unofficial but slightly obvious Argnetina’s “Wild Tales“), but none of those are as sure things as “A Separation” was three years ago or even “Amour” the year after. In an open year like this, there are bigger possibilities for an out of the field choice which definitely helps Norte‘s chances.

Second, distribution counts. Among 60+ announced contenders by far, only 17 have US distributors already. Yep, including Norte. Sure, The Cinema Guild might not be as big as Sony Picture Classics, Magnolia Pictures, Roadside Attractions, or even Sundance Selects as far as distribution companies are concerned, and that other likely contenders might even pick up theirs as the season progressed, but having the benefit of a distributor already is a big thing in the country’s history of submitting in this category.

Norte” also boasts of having a wide festival coverage. Even before it participated as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival last year, the film has participated as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Post-Cannes, with unanimous reviews to boot, the film traveled from Locarno to Toronto, New York to Busan, and Brisbane to Glasglow among a plethora of other festivals in different parts of the world. I mean how’s that for exposure right? And did I already mention its great reviews? Because if anything, at least there’s a universal consensus on the quality of the film both here and abroad.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, really. There’s a lot that the film still needs to overcome and it’s not a smoothly paved road en route to Oscar recognition. The film’s length is still running at 250 minutes. That might be too shallow of a reason to actually consider, but remember that the voting to end up in the shortlist is still by public vote from the foreign language film department. It’s not an easy pill to swallow for them to stay 250 minutes to watch a film and convince them to sit around and stay that long or even prioritize watching it (even if one can argue that it’s their job to do so). 200 minutes I’d say they can still tolerate, but anything longer than that might possibly turn them off leading to either not finishing the film or choosing not to even watch the film at all. That is a crucial factor to end up as part of the top six in the first stage of the voting which aims to be included in the shortlist of nine. That said, an executive committee is in charge to review the remaining films left off the top six and add three more films that they’ll base on merit. This is the part where I think Norte might benefit a lot. While it is not being publicly announced which among the shortlist of nine came from public vote and which were inserted the last minute, this change of ruling has led to inclusion of offbeat, quirky, or non-traditional/Academy friendly films such as Belgium’s “Bullhead” to the shortlist in 2011 or something like Greece’s “Dogtooth” to the final five a year before. This part of the voting can really be crucial in helping Norte (and other films that aren’t as buzzed as the early contenders I’ve mentioned in the fourth paragraph) to be a part of the shortlist.

Two years ago, I correctly predicted that a shortlist mention for Bwakaw is a long shot and that last yearTransit isn’t going anywhere. Now if you’re gonna force me to say an actual answer now, I’d say it’s better if we take things slowly. First step of getting the actual nomination is knowing the rules of the game by submitting a competitive film which we have already done. Honestly speaking, I guess a Top 9 shortlist mention isn’t really out of reach this time. After all, this is the best and most competitive submission we had since “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” in 2005. It seems like stars are aligning good enough for the Philippines this year, at least even for a shortlist mention. But I’m quite optimistic with this one. In the end though, Oscar nomination or not, this is already a win-win situation for the country. If you ask me a few years ago if we’ll ever see the day that a Lav Diaz film will be considered as an Oscar contender, I will without a doubt say that it’s impossible. But times are changing, and so far, they’re for the good. Nevertheless, I raise my imaginary glass of toast and say cheers to everyone involved in Norte and the FAP for actually getting this year right. We’ll surely be rooting for you all the way!

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl