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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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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.