Best of 2014: Top 15 Filipino Films

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2013 was the year when Erik Matti released On the Job, showing the world that there was more to the Philippines than the suffering and dolor most of its films so valiantly depict. It was also the year when filmmakers Siege Ledesma (Shift), Jerrold Tarog (Sana Dati), and Whammy Alcazaren (Islands) broke away from the usual mold to tackles various facets of love that would be too complicated for commercial cinema. Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History), 2013's best film, even had Lav Diaz breaching his trademark aesthetics of monochromatic long takes to deliver a narrative that is comparatively easier to digest but still powerful like no other.

2014 saw Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals, the Philippines' most reliable fund granters, actively seek out projects with commercial potential. The film festivals heavily featured films where personal visions are draped within conventions that are traditionally connected to genres. Star Cinema, the Philippines' biggest film studio, on the other hand, started to think out of the box, churning out its usual romantic comedies, melodramas, and horrors with slivers of daring innovation.

Intriguingly, the year's top films are diverse in motivation, technique, and social relevance. It only paints a national cinema that has risen beyond the wants and needs of international film festival and is slowly realizing that there is a need to look inward and create products for a slowly maturing market. 

There are 2014 releases that did not quite make it into the year's best but deserve to be sought out and seen. Cha Escala & Wena Sanchez's Nick and Chai documents a Haiyan-ravaged couple's journey from grief to recovery with astounding sensitivity. With Ang 'Di Paglimot ng Alaala (The Unremembering), Carl Papa, whose animated shorts dazzle with their ingenuity, utilizes footage captured from manufactured Skype conversations and Papa's own photographs to create a film that expertly traverses the thin line that separates documentary and fiction filmmaking and explores the full extent of grief over a dying loved one. Jason Paul Laxamana's Magkakabaung (The Coffin Maker), set in his native province of Pampanga, tells the tale of a father, played remarkably by Allen Dizon, who comes into terms with a tragedy he inadvertently causes.

Dementia has first time director Perci Intalan converting the gorgeous green slopes of Batanes into an intriguing stage for both supernatural and psychological terror. Anchored on Nora Aunor's ability to convey the most complex of emotions with the subtlest of facial gestures, the film succeeds in fulfilling its goal of evoking scares that dwell longer. Shake, Rattle & Roll XV, the horror franchise that features three shorts usually from various directors, is predictably an uneven effort. However, Ulam, the middle entry directed by Jerrold Tarog, salvages the film with its ability to draw terror out of both the supernatural and the mundane and commonplace. Alec Figuracion's grossly misunderstood Bitukang Manok masterfully creates dread and tension out of a group of individuals mysteriously trapped in a zigzagging provincial road.

Joselito Altarejos' Unfriend and Kasal (The Commitment) differ in the aspects of gay life it attempts to portray. Unfriend has a teenage loner get tragically consumed by the shallow connections that modern connectivity has so abundantly provided. Kasal, on the other hand, tackles a gay couple's relationship that has been  but are united by the emotional sincerity they depict them. Mike Tuviera's The Janitor and Carlos Siguion-Reyna's Hari ng Tondo (Where I Am King) both premiered in Cinemalaya, the country's most famous independent film festival but are crafted with sensibilities that are more common to movies with commercial intentions. Nevertheless, the films are absolute crowd-pleasers, burdened with as little pretensions of being anything else than effective entertainment. The same is true with Dan Villegas' English Only, Please, a rom-com that has the right balance of fluff and maturity.

Chris Martinez's The Gifted is decidedly mean-spirited and is rabidly hilarious because of its unabashed cruelty in its depiction of geniuses on the verge of love-rooted insanity. On the other hand, the humor of Antoinette Jadaone's Beauty in a Bottle, which Martinez also had a hand in creating, is fueled by an accurate understanding of seemingly inane but actually profound common female concerns. 
 
Now to the list:

15) Echoserang Frog (Joven Tan)

Starring second-rate TV personality Shalala as an even more self-deprecating version of himself with a silly ambition to star in a self-produced indie film, Joven Tan's Echoserang Frog surprises with its candor.

Get past its hideous lack of aesthetics, which in my opinion adds to the overall charm of the picture even if it is probably a product of its low budget roots, and you’ll get a hilarious but suspiciously accurate look into the world of independent filmmaking, which topples the more famous satires that also tackle filmmaking ambitions within the indie scene context from the past few years by sheer charm alone.

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