25 Most Memorable Films
Mario A. Hernando (The Philippine Star) - July 27, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - This is not a list of the best Filipino films ever made, though it could well be. Neither does it purport to be a comprehensive list. The 25 titles cited may be considered very good or outstanding, but more importantly, memorable — to this writer and all other viewers of local films who could still relish the memory of these fabulous works.

Some of these films may be enjoyed on DVD (if available) or PBO and Cinema One. For various reasons, several worthy film directors are not represented in the list of films, like Gregorio Fernandez, Ronwaldo Reyes, Mel Chionglo, Olivia Lamasan, and the new filmmakers in the indie film scene.

Two unforgettable movies that have been delisted are the bright, spectacular LVN musical-dramas by Manuel Conde, starring Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa — Tingnan Natin (1957) and Bahala Na (1958), released in color and wide screen. They are most memorable. However, prints of these marvelous pictures have long ago been lost.

1. Anak Dalita, 1956, directed by Lamberto Avellana (photo). Great drama set in then slum-infested Intramuros about a hard-up community in post-war Manila and the whore with a heart of gold (Rosa Rosal’s performance is one of the finest in local cinema history). At the time, the Walled City was already a depressed area, soon becoming a No Man’s Land inhabited by poor folk, rioting gangs, and criminals of every stripe. Heavily influenced by Italian Neo-Realist movement of that decade (De Sica, Rossellini, early Fellini), the future National Artist shunned conventional styles and came up with this work that still resonates today.

2. Biyaya ng Lupa, 1959, Manuel Silos. This is the Great Filipino Film — a melodrama that follows a married couple (Rosa Rosal and Tony Santos) from their courtship to old age, between which they rise and fall with the vicissitudes of life in the farm. It’s about family, poverty and having a dream. Two most memorable moments: lanzones seeds being planted, grown into trees, and then harvested, a metaphor for the family; and the townsfolk calling for vigilance and living the communal spirit (bayanihan) against a menacing figure (Joseph de Cordoba).

3. Noli Me Tangere, 1961, Gerry de Leon (photo). The filmmaker and future National Artist known as “Manong” made other visually-meaningful, mesmerizing films but this one will live in our memory for his successful adaptation of Rizal’s novel into a sprawling epic tale with colorful characters that are heroic, contemplative, loving, pusillanimous, contemptible, dastardly. Eddie del Mar played Ibarra with scene-stealing Oscar Keesee as Padre Damaso.

4. Juan Tamad Goes to Congress, 1961, Manuel Conde (photo). A great filmmaker and satirist, the posthumously awarded National Artist pokes fun at local politicians via the folkloric character of the lazy bum who, in this case, runs for public office and makes promises to voters (like asphalting every road and garden). A sequence that will forever be etched in this movie addict’s memory shows Adorable Liwanag looking for brother Juan, played by Conde himself, calling out his name, and passing by popular Philippine scenic spots like the Mayon and Taal volcanoes, the Chocolate Hills and the Banaue Rice Terraces. Absurd but lovely and magical.

5. Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon, 1976, Eddie Romero (photo). The veteran director-writer had made several notable local films and Hollywood B-movies in the ‘50s and ‘60s. With this picaresque costume drama exploring the long-debated issue about the Filipino national identity at the time of oppressive Spanish rule, National Artist Romero earned a new audience and followers that put the director in a pedestal. The movie also strengthened the box-office clout of Christopher de Leon and Gloria Diaz who are still active in showbiz.

6. Nunal sa Tubig, 1976, Ishmael Bernal (photo). Long before the indie spirit became palpable to the new generation of filmmakers and cineastés, the National Artist was the original independent director with an independent mind, sensibility and approach to film expression. That spirit is most evident in this “experimental” film, which is a dirge to a dying fishing village. It is as creative, artistic and cryptic as cinema can be. This writer has received more hostile feedback for championing the film, than for movies he panned.

7. Insiang, 1976, Lino Brocka (photo). The director’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag may have made it to an international listing of the best 100 films of all time, the only Filipino work cited, but Insiang showed that a modest work shot in a few days on a shoestring budget could be such a powerful, unforgettable film as well. Set in the Manila slums, this film — as well as the other early works by the National Artist, including the terrific Nora Aunor film Bona (1970) — may have spawned what is now called poverty-porn or slum voyeurism (exploitation movies about slum life), but they have also given rise to such acclaimed contemporary films as Dante Mendoza’s Tirador and Serbis, and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

8. Burlesk Queen, 1977, Celso Ad. Castillo (photo). The maverick director of the early ‘70s “bomba” hit Nympha assembled a great cast and told the story of stage performers’ low lives. Swept the awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival. The awards were recalled the following day after some movie folk raised a furor. To this day, the recall was a mere act of appeasement. Burlesk Queen is on record the multiple festival winner. Most memorable for its long, long climactic dance of death by the star, Vilma Santos.

9. Sister Stella L, 1984, Mike de Leon (photo). The director has done some of the best local movies ever, but this one examines labor issues and the dangers that befall protesters. It is also a tribute to militant activists who would invariably lead hundreds of thousands of people to join People Power two years later. Among the multitude must be the movie’s fictional nun in the title role. The movie swept Gawad Urian including Best Picture and Best Actress (Vilma Santos).

10. Bagets, 1984, Maryo J. de los Reyes (photo). Maryo J. has done works that reaped honors here and abroad (chiefly the magnificent Magnifico), seduced large crowds young and adult and covered various film genres. But no one will forget his rousing youth-oriented films like High School Circa ‘65, Annie Batungbakal and Bagets. The latter presented a refreshing young cast, including Aga Muhlach, William Martinez and now-Mayor Herbert Bautista in the collective title role, plus romance, music, dance and comedy. All these may be forgotten but not the title. The slang is still the byword in referring to youth, usually boys, in their early teens. The word, coined by the moviemakers, seems to have joined the Filipino vocabulary permanently.

11. Scorpio Nights, 1985, Peque Gallaga (photo). The director of such masterpieces as Oro, Plata, Mata, and The Unfaithful Wife shocked moviegoers with a sensational erotic drama that proves that sex and violence could be essential elements in a daring, fearless, well-executed movie. Pooh the so-called “moral terrorists.” This defies all taboos and to this day is unmatched for its power and film aesthetic.

12. Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, 1989, Elwood Perez (photo). Maybe because he created one box-office monster after another during the ‘70s and ’80s, helping launch new female stars in great crowd-pleasers, the director has now invariably been underrated. He reteamed the legendary pair of superstar Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III in an epic melodrama of love, betrayal, vengeance and redemption. Perez showed that the early commercial and critical successes of such works as Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae, 1974 (starring Boots Anson-Roa, Pilar Pilapil and Amalia Fuentes) and Pakawalan Mo Ako, 1981 (acting awards to Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon), were no fluke.

13. Hihintayin Kita sa Langit, 1991, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna (photo). An adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, this well-written, well-photographed, well-scored melodrama looks well in Philippine setting. With the tandem of Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta and fine support from Jackielou Blanco, Eric Quizon and Michael de Mesa, it set a standard for “quality,” first-rate moviemaking hereabouts.

14. Segurista, 1996, Tikoy Aguiluz (photo). The director is in peak form as he takes a long, hard look at the life and fate of a beautiful young lady selling insurance and her body. It is set in the vast wasteland of a lahar-buried province, possibly the most successful — and memorable — movie that takes a side glance at the effect of the Mt. Pinatubo disaster on the place and its people.

15. Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginawa?, 1998, Chito Roño (photo). A free-spirited woman and madre de familia runs her life and raises her children unconventionally. It is one of the best films that espouses feminism without being didactic and self-righteous. Humorous, poignant and insightful, it features a yet-another dazzling performance by Vilma Santos.

16. Jose Rizal, 1998, Marilou Diaz-Abaya (photo). Previous filmbios of the National Hero were made as early as 1912, but this latest and most expensive effort starring Cesar Montano reintroduced the Filipino martyr and intellectual to a whole new generation of moviegoers. A monumental accomplishment. The “textbook” epic swept movie awards and brought Rizal back to life for new audiences.

17. Saranggola, 1999, Gil Portes (photo). One of the unofficially original indie filmmakers in this country, the director presents the relationship between father and son, and their frustrations and aspirations, as symbolized by the titular flying toy. Holds a candle to some of the best contemporary small indie films. Ricky Davao in an Urian-winning performance.

18. Tuhog, 2000, Jeffrey Jeturian (photo). Bernal satirized the “bomba” movie scene (movie porn industry) in his 1970 directorial debut. Tuhog relives that spirit with another parody of the making of a commercial sexy movie, the casting call and the ensuing hype. A funny, sad and erotic piece of filmmaking made at the height of the new “bold” wave (softporn).

19. Tanging Yaman, 2000, Laurice Guillen (photo). Star Cinema, an outfit known for sleek, inoffensive and entertaining products came up with a winner with a comebacking director and a large cast of young actors and veteran stars led by the glorious Gloria Romero in her Urian-winning role. Romero plays a matriarch dealing with her large progeny and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Few in the industry would know what constitutes a formula for movie success but this one hit the right formula, winning not only the crowds but also the critics and award-givers.

20. Deathrow, 2000, Joel Lamangan (photo). Just as the Greek-Russian filmmaker Costa-Gavras earned renown for his political thrillers, Lamangan continues to do films that take up social and political issues, such as he has done in The Flor Contemplacion Story (about the plight of the OFW), last year’s Sigwa, and the 2011 Cinemalaya entry Patikul. Among his early works espousing a social advocacy is this prison drama that exposes the presence of minors in a hellhole that is meant for hardened criminals. With Eddie Garcia in an Urian-winning performance and young actor Cogie Domingo.

21. Batang West Side, 2001, Lav Diaz (photo). At five hours, this may strangely be considered Diaz’s “short film.” His grand oeuvre, like his later Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, each runs for over nine hours. The epic length and deliberate pacing allows viewers to appreciate the panoramic mural of Filipino diaspora, focusing on the plight of a young, murdered immigrant in New Jersey (Yul Servo) and the policeman (Joel Torre) who investigates the case. It is rich in detail and full of insights about the Filipino psyche, social dynamics and recent historical past.

22. Babae sa Breakwater, 2003, Mario O’Hara (photo). Ever since he directed Nora Aunor in her first award-winning performance (as the first Gawad Urian Best Actress) in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, 1976, the film and theater artist, director and actor has come up with works that borrow elements from theater, but Babae fuses theater and music with distinctive elements of cinema as he zeroes in on the marginalized folk living precariously under the walls of Manila Bay’s breakwater. A beautiful, sad drama and commentary about bayside slum-dwellers, told with pathos and some humor.

23. Masahista, 2005, Dante Mendoza (photo). Officially the director’s first feature work, this antedates Mendoza’s phenomenal string of much-praised films such as Kaleldo, Tirador, Serbis, Kinatay and Lola, all focusing on the wretched side of Manila (or Pampanga, as the case may be). Shows the workaday world of a young masseur at work with gay clients and at home with his troubled family. It served notice that a gay film need not be sloppy, silly and purely exploitative.

24. Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo, 2007, Joey Reyes (photo). The movie that beat the usual “winners” in the Metro Manila Film Festival. Defying box-office traditions that favored mixed genres like fantasy, adventure, horror and slapstick comedy, it offered a fresh alternative — a domestic comedy-drama that confirms that in this country, one does not only marry a man or a woman but an entire family. The film was rewarded with record-breaking attendance and several trophies. Has a great cast headed by Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo.

25. Himpapawid, 2009, Raymond Red (photo). This underrated film from the first Filipino director to win a major prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his short film Anino uses the various elements of cinema to great effect as it tells the story of a desperate worker, rage piling up within him and how hell breaks loose when that anger is exacerbated by various social forces including bureaucracy and labor injustice.

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