As a film fan in the Philippines, severe limitation is the major experience; no foreign language films, few indie films, a lot of really terrible straight-to-video horror movies that for some weird reason are shown in our multiplexes.

There are no Tagalog movies since my list would not be comprehensive on that front as I was abroad for half the year, but if someone would like to write an alternative list of local films, that would be excellent!

I would describe the year as middling myself, with cartoons and Marvel still dominating the theaters (although we have had a Pixar-less year this year). All films in the list have been on wide release in the Philippines.

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Gone Girl

I had a very hard time convincing any of my coupled friends to watch this film. I can’t blame them. Playing on the dark fears that we modern people have about marriage, two great turns from Ben Affleck as Nick and Rosumond Pike as Amy bring us the most messed up couple in cinematic history. The deft hand of David Fincher directs us on this darkly fun, twisty ride that to me would be a great date movie because it will make you much more grateful about your own relationships.

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Nebraska

Released last year in America but in February of this year here (though I saw that it was showing in SM Cebu in August), this is one American indie film that actually made it over here. “A family drama about older people shot in black and white” may not thrill people as a description, but the sheer beauty of the cinematographed landscape and the excellent laughs will have people moving from profundity to hilarity throughout. Plus, this nostalgic road trip of a film is a great father-son watch that, in a manly way, you don’t even need to talk about to appreciate together. Just nod in appreciation.

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Interstellar

While reviews were mixed for the latest Christopher Nolan offering, having sat with it for a month, I find that this is a movie that resonates beyond his other films. A humanistic homage to the universe and humanity, you can read more about this movie in my review here. A great addition to the scifi genre.

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X-men: Days of Future Past

Time travelling can be a very problematic plot device as we humans tend to think of time in a linear fashion. The fact that the latest film of the X-men franchise gets away with it with some brio is thanks to Bryan Singer (who practically owns the franchise in my opinion). A stellar cast make up for problems with what, to me (as a comic book fan) can be really disrespectful treatment of some of the X-men characters (changing powers, character traits and histories). Special mention deserves to go to James McAvoy as the junkie Charles Xavier. Waiting till 2016 for the upcoming X-men: Apocalypse will be very trying indeed.

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Captain America: Winter Soldier

The best Avengers film so far has to go to Winter Soldier. The S.H.I.E.L.D. just hit the fan, as Cap is left questioning his heroic loyalties. The moral backbone of the Avengers and the perfect American Soldier, his problems just got much more difficult as he has to deal with modern life; our current surveillance society where every email, tweet and post is catalogued by the CIA, the Chinese government and who knows who else (Hydra?). Balletic action sequences balance on deep seated insecurities about the modern age, the war on terror and the invasion of the individual rights of privacy all coupled together is impressive for a comic book movie.

The Book of Life

The Book of Life

This came to me as a big surprise. Produced by Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Guillermo del Toro, this extremely colourful and beautiful cartoon follows classical lines in fresh ways. A swooning love-triangle romance, this Mexico-set animation makes the journey through life and death look like extremely good fun. It had me laughing through what would normally be considered dark material. The mythical elements play with a lot of Latin stereotypes in a love-filled amusing manner. Great mariachi renditions of modern classics also adds to a general sense of enjoyment by which you will not be failed.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Who knew Ralph Fiennes could be funny? Wes Andersen’s most rambunctious film gives you action, romance and comedy in a package of excellent storytelling. I was a little annoyed by the American inability to tell the difference between Eastern and Central Europe, but its joie de vivre and charm eventually took over any reservations that I had. Except for Adrian Brody, he sucks as usual.

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Twelve Years a Slave

A lot of people I know were put off watching this film because they thought it was too WORTHY. I nearly fell for that, but thank goodness I just thought, “You know what, a good film is just a good film.” This Steve McQueen movie, though about very harrowing material, is actually enjoyable to watch because of the sheer beauty of the cinematography by Sean Bobitt and jaw dropping performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. The resonance of watching it as a Filipino adds to its depth because of our historic affinity to black Americans (white Americans applied the N-word to us as well) and the fact that we are still surrounded by modern slavery in the Philippines; our underpaid workers and trafficked sex workers. This film can help us reaffirm a commitment to justice and the value of dignity in all people.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

We wish we were alive when the original Star Wars film was released, but Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest thing we are going to get in our day and age. The most fun of all the Marvelverse films, this is a rip-roaring ride through space with unique characters in a comfortingly familiar package. This is what Episodes 1-3 should have been like, helped by star making turns from Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. A kicky, vintage soundtrack adds to the nostalgic joy which will definitely have you shaking your groove thing the next time you go space outlawing.

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The Lego Movie

If you spent the first half of 2014 singing, “Everything is awesome!” then this amazingly life affirming animation dug its brick-formed claws as deep into you as it did me. To imagine that the best toy in the world could also make the year’s best film would have been beyond my ability to imagine, but this is uproarious fun for all the family. It will probably bankrupt you this Christmas, paying for the loans you need to buy these ridiculously expensive Danish toys. To be honest I did not love this film until its ingenuous meta-ending that is oddly theological in content, having you ponder about the nature of creation and human purpose. Ticks every box for me: humour, character development, depth and cutting edge animation. Buy the DVD now because it is way cheaper then buying a LEGO model of Metal Beard’s Sea Cow ($249.99! for a kids’ toy!). Expensive, but definitely awesome!

Stefan Garcia

Thanks for this list bai! For anybody looking to fill up their holiday schedule with movies to watch, you should start here. Stefan watched a ton of movies to filter the good ones from the bad, so you don’t have to. Enjoy!

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