My Ten Greatest Filipino Films (So Far) and Some Remarks Regarding the Filipino ‘Film Community’

Recently the film blog community Pinoy Rebyu undertook a poll among the Filipino ‘film community’ to determine the 50 Greatest Filipino Films. Critics, scholars, directors, screenwriters, producers, and even blogger were asked what are the ten films they consider the best of best. There is a scoring system based on number of times certain films were mentioned and ranked. The results is interesting, I don’t really have a problem with it. Here is the link (

This is an endeavor that should have been done a long time ago. This task gives a lot of insights in a nation that loves cinema (national pastime, coined Joel David) but has a very “poor” (prolific but unappreciated) state of film criticism. First, the list is dominated by the Filipino New Wave or Second Golden Age (70s-80s). Second, majority of films were commercial flops. Third, all are in Tagalog except one, I think. Fourth, most respondents are based in Metro Manila. This all basically means that we have a rich film culture but poor film preservation practices. Also the “movie scene” barely goes outside Manila. I recommend a second poll, a viewer’s choice poll or bakya crowd poll to show the great discrepancy between the ‘film community’ and the ‘bakya crowd’. I doubt if many would actually consider any Filipino film ‘great’.

I believe the respondents are ‘old’ in sense they were exposed to the Second Golden Age. It was during this time when they fell in love with cinema, and naturally movies from this period would be their benchmark. There are very few recent films (so called Third Golden Age) and older films (First Golden Age, 50s). Since I was brought up with the digital wave of film making, my choice are more recent. After sharing my top ten Filipino films, I have some notes regarding the state and improvement of the Filipino film industry. Like the results from Pinoy Rebyu, my list is also very subjective.

My Ten Greatest Filipino Films (So Far)

10. Oro Plata Mata (Peque Gallaga, 1982)

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Gallaga’s war epic (written by Jose Javier Reyes) is I think the closest thing we have to the Southern Gothic artistic movement. Story of a haciendero family in Negros and their servants in different periods in World War Two. This is war cinema that neither “from the bottom” nor “from the top”, but rather “from the bottom all the way to the top”. There is no heroism or valor, there is only decay and animalistic fervor that consistently haunts Filipino society but becomes vividly apparent during the onset of war.

9. Batch 81 (Mike de Leon, 1982)

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If you want something said or exposed, watch Brocka. If you want something intelligently reconstructed, watch de Leon. Brocka is the ideal artist, but de Leon creates ideal art. Unlike Brocka, de Leon’s kind of protest is a little more playful, witty, and indirect, which could both be viewed as either its strength or its weakness. Batch 81 is about the initiation of neophytes in a fraternity, his metaphor for Martial Law’s brand of fascism and violence. Each de Leon movie is an achievement; Itim (1976), Sister Stella L (1984), Kisapmata (1982), Kakaba Kaba Ka Ba (1980), but I always had great admiration for multi-character/multi-protagonist works. And with that consideration, Batch 81 stands out from de Leon’s roster of masterpieces.

8. Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (Tikoy Aguiluz, 2011)

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Contrary to the views of majority of cineastes, Hollywood isn’t all crap. There two things I wish Filipino film makers will try their hand at in making their own; smart (and/or dark) comedy and smart action movie especially film noir (and its various permutations or pastiche). Aguiluz reworks the classic story of the great urban folk hero of Tondo. Manila Kingpin bashes the tradition of messiah action stars with big guns, sexy women, and noble hearts. The genre actually died on its own, and actors became politicians. Beautifully shot in black and white, Asiong Salongga is human, complex, and certainly not bulletproof.

7. Mababangong Bangungot (Kidlat Tahimik, 1977)

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Kidlat Tahimik gave avant-garde a postcolonialist flavor making him one of the most respected film makers in the world and out rightly incomprehensible to the bakya crowd, the group in most dire need of his talents. I don’t think Perfumed Nightmare could be pinned down to a category; experimental film, autobiographical film, documentary, film poem. Tahimik unlike his auteur contemporaries obsess with the metaphysical, brings cinematic inquiry to the religious, cultural, political, the commonplace. Perfurmed Nightmare may not be the great Filipino alternative film, but it certainly sparked the movement for more personal and naturally political films.

6. Himpapawid (Raymond Red, 2009)

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A probinsyano just wanting get back in his hometown, willing to make drastic measures, this is my Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975). Like Maynila, we see a man tangled in the cruel web of the city; one misfortune after another. This is another tragedy but a slightly different kind, we see our (anti-) hero almost succeed. With his fall (literally) we see what Brocka seemed to overlook in Maynila, continuity, the vicious cycle of anguish in the city. This is not only a tragedy of man but also of society.

5. Tinumbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Lino Brocka, 1974)


The real coming of age story; young man not only learns about himself but also about his community; its contradictions, hypocrisy and absurdity. Shows the dynamics of relationship between men and women, the rich and the poor, the sane and the insane, the ill and the healthy; how it began and continues to reproduce itself. Brocka is peerless in showing the individual’s interaction with society [Bona (1980), Insiang (1976), Maynila (1975), Kapit sa Patalim (1984), etc] but in Tinimbang, the process it two-way; society molds individuals, individuals molds society. The film that introduced a young Christopher de Leon to the Filipino audience, for me, this is Brocka at his best.

4. Tuli (Auraeus Solito, 2005)

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Gender relations is a tricky subject matter especially for cinema. It is something everyone experiences, and performs, and its commonplace nature makes it a challenge to be visually represented. Attempts in elaborating gender in cinema often end up melodramatic and idealistic (for both hetero- and homosexual subjects). Tuli tells the story of a girl growing up with a patriarchy personified father playing the important role of circumcising the young men of the town during summer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a son to pass down the trade. Tuli is sexual politics and antagonism at its best. Bashing of the idealized small town rural community; demythologize the romance behind harana and general notion of a peaceful life in the countryside. Tuli questions what it truly means to be a man, a woman, and a person. Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) is just a precursor to Solito’s achievement in Tuli.

3. Donsol (Adolfo Alix, Jr., 2007)

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Romance, melodrama, chick flicks, or whatever you want to call love stories in the widescreen is the most exhausted (and thus most campy!) genre in Filipino cinema. Naturally, the (digital) new wave of young film makers wants to shy away from it as much as possible, but not Alix. In his directorial debut he tells a romance in the island of Donsol, where the butanding or whale sharks visit once a year, between a grieving widow (Angel Aquino) and a tour guide (Sid Lucero). Not a love story but a story of people who happens to be madly in love and also in great pain. Changes your perception of summer, beaches, and tourism. Beneath the beauty, there are people and suffering. Highly recommended for all Boracay pilgrims.

2. Pisay (Auraeus Solito, 2007)

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Everyone has their favorite coming of age or teen age movie; from Bagets (1984) to Jologs (2002) and everything in between (even ‘PBB teens’ comes to mind). Unfortunately it always revolves a story with heart ache in the foreground and family troubles in the background. Pisay locates these experiences of teen-agers along with education, political turmoil, and personal aspirations. Story of a high school batch in the Philippine Science High School during the end of Martial Law. I find it intriguing given Filipinos value for education (diplomas in living rooms, etc) that the educational experiences don’t interest film makers and producers, good examples of which include Dead Poets Society and 3 Idiots. Maybe because the fact education is valued not for sheer love of knowledge but for social mobility it ideally provides. Pisay reminds us of what it really means to be educated and defines the responsibility of being the best of the best members of the intelligentsia in relation to larger society.

1. Pepot Artista (Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., 2005)

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Doy del Mundo’s more playful and less meta 8 1/2. About the life of Pepot, a child who dream being next big child star in order to alleviate his family from poverty. We see the hopes and frustrations of people around him; his parents, his friends, his neighbors and how the strong the impact of movies and the show business as a whole have on their lives. Filipinos fascination with child stars reveals how they perceive cinema; a medium that tells that what to desire while a same time automatically fulfilling these desires. Filipinos watch like movies like a child would; with great enthrallment and but in a naive manner. Directorial debut of the screenwriter of Filipino movie classics, Pepot Artista is my Great Filipino Film.

Some Remarks Regarding the Filipino Film Community

I think it’s very obvious that the Filipino film industry is facing many problems. Not only are they numerous but also intricately related; one can’t determine where one ends and the other begins. Here are some of my “diagnoses”. My motivation behind this analysis is very simple: you can’t forever blame the bakya crowd.

• Reality check and cooperation from the corporate world

Let’s call a spade, a spade; rich people want more money. That’s why malls would use all eight cinemas to show Twilight, Avengers, or Harry Potter. That’s why producers would keep using tried and tested formulas in movies to ensure profit. Reality check; quality films are also profitable. My advice to the corporate world, create and show films that you would want to see. Films that you’re children could be proud of.

• Reality check to film makers (directors, screenwriters, etc)

Locate your artistic ambitions in the context of Filipino society and history. Like the great Lino Brocka said, don’t aim to create the Great Filipino Film but rather mold the Great Filipino Audience. You can’t rely on foreign festival’s taste for exotic films from the third world forever. If that satisfies you, then you’re not a real artist, you’re just a pretentious person who happens to be making movies. You can’t change the taste of the bakya crowd overnight. Filipino films have roots in traditional Spanish theater, read them up. Know your subject, know your audience

• Abolish censorship

Censorship reached its peak during Martial Law; scripts were submitted to the state for approval. Interestingly, state censorship is retained even after EDSA. Now, that gives you an idea of power relation in the country. If a film is rated 18, commercial cinema would shy away from it because of the small market. So now we have been saturated with ‘safe’ materials; romantic comedies, family melodrama, and an occasional horror flick. Dear, censors, the people are not stupid.

• Bringing film reviewing and criticism into everyday life

I think most people are familiar with the beautiful Disney animated movie, Ratatouille (2007). Remember the anxieties of the chiefs regarding the notorious but respected restaurant critic (in France)? That’s the way things should be, more or less at least (critics are not perfect). Critics make or break careers. We have good film critics inside universities, but we don’t have film reviewers that could read in newspapers. We have showbiz writers who happen to review films. This is to be expected since Filipinos is not a very ‘reading’ population. We are more audio-visual type of people. That’s why we love movies! [And singers! But these singers must also satisfy our visual criteria. You will understand what I mean if you reflect on the phenomenon that is Charice Pempengco (good voice, not so good looks). And her opposite, Daniel Padilla (good looks, not so good voice).] Film reviewing should be done orally. Some radio stations are doing it, but I think the best medium for this is television. Roger Ebert does it (or use to do it, God rest his soul). Instead of petty showbiz news no one cares about, why not have one or two resident critics discuss the latest movies on air? Indie film makers don’t need to pay expensive fees for their trailers to be shown.

• Organization of critics outside Manila

If you are a film buff and an aspiring film critic, the logic would be to go the metro leave the ignorant bakya crowd of the rural areas and province. Manila is the place where you can study, work, watch good films, and interact with other like minded people. Why not organize critics outside Manila? It doesn’t have to be every town. At least every city. Create movie clubs that could organize screenings of films commercial cinema doesn’t find so profitable. If these critics are based in schools, all the better. Need an audience? Send the students. Not just college student required to write reaction papers but also high school and elementary students. It is always best to start young. Filipino audience should also learn to appreciate non-feature films like documentaries, short films, and experimental films.

• Film as an art form

Fine, I will actually demand something from the bakya crowd. Films are utopia in our absurd world. There is logic, coherence in stories we see in the screen, something wish that are in more quantity in our individual lives. Good cinema is not just to entertain us, it is an art form. It should suggest how we view and perceive things. Why be satisfied in escaping reality (for approximately two hours) when you can change it permanently?

Why movies? Why Filipino Movies?

A friend of my mine once asked why I am so fascinated with movies, especially Filipino films. I gathered he somehow taught I get a sort of nationalistic kick out it. Well, I don’t like Filipino films, I like good films. And the category of ‘Filipino’ comes second, if it comes at all. If asked what is the greatest film tradition in world, I have to say it is Japan, followed by France, then Italy. Korea is also fast catching up (one doesn’t have to be a Kpop fanatic to know that). We don’t need a Filipino film as great as a Kurosawa or a Fellini or a Bergman. Filipino films will always speak a language closest to Filipino’s hearts and minds. This fact should not be rejected as an artistic accident of some sort. We are a people with common experiences, misery, struggles, and joys. This medium is a key to finally build an ‘imagined community’ divided geographically, by language, religion, class, and ethnicity. We should cultivate the language of film so that it could articulate our common destiny and liberation. The ‘film community’ and the ‘Filipino community’ are one and the same

Mabuhay ang pelikulang Filipino!


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