What a year that was! While so many unsettling events may still have you reeling from the effects of 2016, I am now going to focus on what was for me a bright side of last year, its movies.
To qualify for my list, all films had to have been released widely in Filipino cinemas during the year of 2016. You might notice some of the current Oscar contenders won’t be on this list. Arrival, Lala Land, and Moonlight, for example, will most likely be released closer to the Oscars. Some of my favorite films were not widely released in the Philippines; this includes my favorite film Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, a surreal masterpiece a little to artsy apparently for our theaters. There are also not a lot of Filipino movies on this list (with one important exception); Rappler has given a good list of the highlights of local cinema for you to peruse.
- Sing Street
This joyful Irish musical knocked me off my feet. Created by John Carney of the classic musical Once, this little movie is the simple story of a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The abundant laughs and reality-inflected romance make it the film from this year I will watch again and again, and its music has found a permanent place on my playlist too. That such a small, specific film can exploit such big emotions once again prove the power of film. Only briefly in Filipino theaters, you should check Sing Street out through any means necessary!
As a fan of superhero movies, to have one that so playfully messes with genre was a welcome start to the year’s blockbusters. A semi-surprise hit for Fox, fans of the comics always knew that something good should have come from this cheekily charming character, and we were no let down by director Tim Miller or star Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool is a laugh-a-minute action-fest which has us clamoring for more from this franchise.
- Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis
Heneral Luna proved that Filipino history has a rich vein of stories that should be mined by filmmakers. Lav Diaz takes on this gauntlet and moves deeper with Hele, making a film that is more ambiguous about giving advice as to what makes a Filipino hero. It also takes a more balanced approach, certainly in terms of sexual politics; Diaz gives us history from the female perspective that is mostly lacking, especially in the hagiographies of great men which normally pass as historical movies here. I hope this kind of thoughtful meditation of our history is continued by Diaz in his future films, as it is only by exploring our past will we come to understand where we are now.
- The Jungle Book
Disney’s live action transmutation of their classic cartoons has probably reached its zenith with The Jungle Book. How director Jon Favreau transformed a fun little musical cartoon into an epic thriller is a thing to behold. Its A-grade voice talent (Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyongo and Ben Kingsley included) certainly had a lot to do with it, but I found the visual’s play of darkness and light, reminiscent of the jungle’s light and shade, and the energy of Neel Sethi’s performance of Mowgli equally impressive. This version, which picks up more from the Kipling original, made for the most cinematically riveting film of the year.
My favorite film of last year’s Oscar race, Room really engaged me. This is a film about survival (like The Martian and The Revenant) and watching people, energized by love, fight. The drama itself is built up so expertly, it is impossible not to get emotionally involved with the film. Pity, suspense, sympathy, empathy, uplift are all present within the structure of this touching film.
- Captain America Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is resplendent with the glories that make a comic book movie great: balletic action sequences, clever set pieces, witty one-liners, and camp costumes. So refreshing after more recent dour DC offerings! Things are kept entertaining while delving deeper than most blockbuster fluff by working over the themes of friendship from so many angles.
- The Big Short
The Big Short is funny and informative. While it is not great drama, there are a few flashy performances built to amuse. However, Steve Carell’s fund manager does offer us some moments of emotional truth among the flashy editing and ratatat dialogue. Partnered with the more affecting film 99 Homes, The Big Short expertly describes the sub-prime mortgage crisis in a way much more entertainingly and clearly than we have a right to expect.
- Hail Caesar
The Coen brothers go a little lighter for their release this year and ended up with a hilarious ode to the golden age of Hollywood. George Clooney’s hapless ham Baird Whitlock offers many chuckles, but the loudest guffaws go to charismatic innocence of Alden Ehrenreich, a young actor set to play the young Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars spin-off. Throw in some amazing musical numbers by Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, and that’s entertainment.
- Doctor Strange
The Marvel origin story formula may be getting ancient by now, but Benedict Cumberbatch can take as much screen time and space as he wants. He is the master of the tortured genius cliche, with which Doctor Strange certainly plays. The psychedelic CGI makes for a trippy ride to bring to the life the journey of an important character of the Infinity Gauntlet (well the comic book version of the narrative at least) story which is setting up to be the central film of the whole Marvel cinematic universe.
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Last year Disney showed us how to make a Star Wars sequel; this year they followed it with an exemplary prequel. Rogue One, a semi-stand alone narrative about rebels trying to get the plans of the Death Star, is a planet-hopping adventure that paints its picture with the darker tones of the Star Wars palette. While the characters in this one may be less likeable than others in the series, a grand finale will leave viewers ultimately thrilled, giving a satisfaction that is the perfect ending to a cinematic year.