137. That is the number of movies I managed to watch this year. Dwindling this to a top 10 list is a daunting task. I’m listing a top 20 instead. Double click on those titles to view the trailer for each.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)
A film about a man who goes to prison for his then pregnant girlfriend. Years later he breaks out of prison to go back to his love and child with tragic consequences.
Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita (2013)
I wasn’t able to catch this when it was shown as one of the entries of this year’s CineFilipino Film Festival. The screening time and venue could not fit into my schedule. When I heard that it was going to be screened at the UP Film Center I had to be there. The film was funny and lovely and starring the luminous Angel Aquino, who was present at that time, as the older woman who becomes a young adolescent girl’s summer crush.
Chito Rono is back in top form in this film about Philippine elections and corruption. The film shows how corruption and vote-buying is done and protected in a small island barangay a day before the local elections.
Before Midnight (2013)
The third installment of the Linklater-Delpe-Hawke collaboration of the life and loves of Jesse and Celine. This time around the couple is finally together but this is not your they-live-happily-ever-after fairy tale. Their life together is not exactly what it looks like on the outside. This comes to the fore when they find themselves in a hotel room on a one-night sojourn. The fight is vicious.
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
This film won this year’s biggest prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The lesbian sex scenes are long and graphic but you can’t keep your off the screen about a woman’s discovery of her sexuality and falling in love with another woman so intense both of them may not get out of unscathed.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star in this HBO TV-movie directed by Steven Soderbergh. Douglas plays real-life pianist Liberace and Damon as his much younger lover. Terrific acting from both stars especially from Douglas.
Captain Phillips (2013)
I’ve always liked Paul Greengrass films. They are intense and thrilling. Try to watch, aside from the Bourne films, United 93 and Bloody Sunday.
Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
My first reaction after watching this film was “Why didn’t I see or hear how great this film is last year?”. This is the story of a couple who still hang out together after their separation. Lovely film, this one.
Frances Ha (2013)
I really can’t quite describe this black-and-white film from the director of “The Squid and the Whale” and “Fantastic Mr Fox”. The main protagonist is unsympathetic and trudging through a directionless life but she won me over the end as her life looks to be getting some traction.
Alfonso Cuaron is a god! I’ve always loved his films from “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to “Children of Men”. This time he focuses on a woman fighting to survive in space. Sandra Bullock has never been better. Methinks her role here has more bite than her Oscar-winning role in “The Blind Side”. The destruction sequences are terrific and thrilling. I saw this film twice on IMAX 3D and I could not imagine a more complete experience if I had watched it on an ordinary screen.
The Great Beauty (2013)
If I were to choose one best film among this list, I’d choose this. A story about a 60-something male writer in high society Rome attending dinners and parties and reflecting on a life that he thinks has not seen great beauty.
A Hijacking (2012)
A Danish film about a hijacking on a cargo ship. This film is not a thriller as the other hijacking film in this list but more of a psychological drama involving the hostages and negotiators back on land.
Ilo Ilo (2013)
A simple story of a Filipino domestic helper in Singapore and the bond she builds with her young male ward. That scene near the end involving a scissor and hair tugs at the heart it almost brought me to tears when it was first screened at this year’s Cinema One Originals Film Festival.
Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975)
Many has hailed this Lino Brocka classic as the best Filipino film ever. After finally watching this film but not the restored version, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala is still top on my list. This does not make Maynila a lesser film. It’s not. It tells the story of a young man who goes to the city to look for his lost-love. This was released almost 30 years ago but the themes exposed is still alive today – poverty, exploitation, prostitution.
On The Job (2013)
This film is about Filipino prisoners temporarily set free for a few hours on a given day as hired killers. Yes, there are a few points to nitpick – Leo Martinez playing a general (does he meet the height requirement?) – but that does not make this film less great. I’ve also read about the scenes they added in the film released locally. I wished the producers had placed more trust on a mature Filipino audience to be enticed to watch a film not because of the love scenes which, to be honest, were rather tame and not integral to the plot.
Sana Dati (2013)
One of my two favourite entries from this year’s Cinemalaya. I love that this romantic film does not succumb to the triteness and banality of mainstream romantic-comedy films. The acting is spot-on and the cinematography beautiful. I have one misgiving though. How can a teacher fail a student who get high marks in Physics and the student’s parents not raising a ruckus?
Side Effects (2013)
One of the trademarks I find in Steven Soderbergh’s films is its smoothness, if you know what I mean. This film, about a depressed woman whose life goes on a tailspin after her husband is released from prison, is no exception. Twists abound in the film and they are, for me, jaw-dropping.
Spring Breakers (2013)
This film has a flimsy plot, college girls going on spring break and getting mixed up with drug dealers, but I dig it. James Franco is almost unrecognisable here. And that scene with him sucking on a gun silencer? Classic.
My other Cinemalaya favourite about the lives of Filipino workers in Israel. Irma Adlawan and Ping Medina are at their normal best. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a revelation. I wished (again!) it ended with the same scene as the first scene in the film. Gives it more punch, I think.
Upstream Color (2013)
This is a bit of a mind-fuck film about a woman who gets experimented on and wakes up with blood on her bed sheets and no money to her name. She meets and falls in love with a man who shares a history with her. This may warrant a second viewing after viewing it the first time and consulting Wikipedia on what the heck just happened. Lol.
A few notable films that could have landed on this list I have not seen yet. These are, at the top of my head: Norte, 12 Years a Slave, Her, Guerrilla is a Poet, Blue Bustamante, My Little Bossing, and Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy.