Pinilakang Gawad Urian

Best Films of the Decades

Pinilakang Gawad Urian

In celebration of its silver anniversary, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino named the 10 best Filipino films made in the group’s nearly three decades of existence: the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.


Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975)

Director: Lino Brocka

Manila is portrayed as a web of exploitation and poverty, that traps and devours a naive probinsiyano, Julio Madiaga (Rafael “Bembol” Roco, Jr.), who journeys into the city in search of a better life and his beloved, Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel), who has become a common-law wife of a Chinese merchant. When they try to escape from the oppressive city, Julio and his beloved are destroyed.

Insiang (1976)

Director: Lino Brocka

A love triangle leads to a crime of passion as an innocent slum girl, Insiang (Hilda Koronel), is transformed into a scheming, ruthless woman by harsh social and physical conditions and by here even harsher experience. After being raped by her mother’s live-in lover (Ruel Vernal), Insiang makes the lover fall in love with here, so that the mother (Mona Lisa) would be forced to butcher the man in a gruesome fit of jealousy.

Gaano Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976)

Director: Eddie Romero

A sprawling, picaresque tale revolving around a character named Kulas (Christopher de Leon) who is tasked to bring bastard child of a Spanish friar to the city, and in the process, wanders through the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War, and wonders about the meaning of being Filipino in those critical decades of national self-definition.

Nunal sa Tubig (1976)

Director: Ishmael Bernal

Employing a quiet, experimental cinematic style, Ishmael Bernal’s opus recreates the quality and slow pace of life in a dying village surrounded by the sea, as it is caught in the eternal cycle of love and hate, of fertility and pollution, of birth and death. A bold—and successful— attempt to depart from the usual commercial fare, it cryptically paints a large, bleak canvas showing rural fold and how their chances at redemption and happiness are irreversibly decimated by poverty, ignorance, neglect and the dark side of big business.

Manila by Night (City after Dark) (1980)

Director: Ishmael Bernal

A loving, candid, Altmanesque vision of a city full of colorful, flesh-and-blood characters—living, loving, lying, fighting, struggling in a world of decay and decadence, joy and squalor, mystery and revelation, hope and frustration. Using the eloquent language of cinema, the filmmaker imaginatively exposes the frailties and strengths of these people, their joys and heartaches, encompassing the different seasons and special occasions like one explosive New Year’s Eve and a lusty Valentine merry-making.

Kisapmata (1981)

Director: Mike de Leon

Employing economy of means and the power of suggestion, director Mike de Leon effectively presents a highly visual and stark character study of a demented patriarch and retired policeman (Vic Silayan) and his acquiescent family. The old man’s tight grip n his submissive wife (Charito Solis) and daughter (Charo Santos) is threatened when the young woman marries her fiance, driving the father to fits of jealousy and violence. Also a statement on tyranny and the use of terror by an authoritarian figure, an oblique criticism of the Marcos dictatorship.

Himala (1982)

Director: Ishmael Bernal

Ishmael Bernal’s film may be read as a parable of “art” and “life, “ faith and fact, hope and despair, in a society driven to desperation by widespread destitution. A filmmaker (Spanky Manikan) plays a pivotal role in the unfolding of the story of a village “miracle-maker” (Nora Aunor) who in claiming the Virgin has appeared to her, consequently brings the dying barrio to life. Bernal’s parable is both philosophical and political. The filmmaker seems to have been set up as a representation of the artist who believes his art is a simple transcript of reality and finds himself confounded by the morality of condoning “untruth” by his failure to expose the outrage on the “miracle-maker.” The political aspect, in retrospect, is Bernal’s damning comment on the deceptions being foisted by the Marcos dictatorship on the Filipino– the fiction that Martial law had brought about the “miracle” of eradicating poverty and unrest in Philippine society.

Batch ’81 (1982)

Director: Mike de Leon

A realistic and metaphorical depiction of the horrors of fraternity initiations. The so-called masters of the organization subject their neophytes to gripping physical and psychological violence and humiliation leading to death and anarchy. It is yet another cinematic look at society’s tolerance and acceptance, even approbation, of mindless conformity and submission– the order of the day during the martial law regime.

Orapronobis (Fight for Us) (1989)

Director: Lino Brocka

The evils of militarianism and its paramilitary arm are exposed in this harrowing tale of a community reeling—and dying—in terror sowed by the vigilante group Orapronobis. Following the EDSA revolt, political prisoners are released, including Jimmy Cordero (Phillip Salvador), an activist priest who believes in the new government. When the abuses continue and when Jimmy joins the fact-finding mission to investigate the incident, he is now torn between his wife Trixie (Dina Bonnevie), a human rights activist, and his former girlfriend Esper (Gina Alajar) and his son (R.R. Herrera), and begins to question his decision to leave the underground.

Bayaning 3rd World (1999)

Director: Mike de Leon

This post-modernist take on the National Hero Jose Rizal, his life and legend, his psyche and that of his followers, follows the artistic and intellectual meanderings of two filmmakers (Ricky Davao and Cris Villanueva) who are struggling to make a movie about the Filipino martyr. They dissect the ubiquity of the Rizal figure, from one-peso coin to the pervasive popular practice of attaching his name to just about everything, including matchsticks and funeral houses. A movie of ideas, shot in black and white, it provokes the audience into reevaluating not only their perception of the revered nationalist and Renaissance man, but also their positions and attitudes toward hero worship, myth-making and deification.

Gawad Dekada (2000-2009)

A Selection by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino of the 10 Best Films of the Decade 2000-2009

The past decade saw an explosion of creativity and excellence in the local movie scene. Filmmakers were more daring and innovative, eschewing established old formulas and using more novel techniques and exploring personal and significant themes. Old genres were reshaped, reinvestigated, even shattered. The more successful ones had true vision which they put across eloquently, beautifully, sometimes disturbingly, terrifyingly. It’s the age of the Alternative Cinema or what everyone now refers to as the indie explosion. The death knell for mainstream cinema began at the end of the previous century, when so-called indie filmmakers started to make their presence felt, most of them making do with shoestring budgets. The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino has named its 10 Best Films of that decade, from 2000 to 2009, picking titles that may not have made it to the Best Picture list, but will be regarded as classics made notable by the freshness and sharpness of their insights, their intelligence, the courage of their conviction, and the power of their statements.

Tuhog (2000)

Director: Jeffrey Jeturian

Jeffrey Jeturian’s Tuhog from a screenplay by Armando Lao is a film about the incestuous relationship Gabino or “Amang” (Nante Montreal) has with his daughter Perla (Irma Adlawan) and granddaughter, Floring (Ina Raymundo). When news of Amang’s rape breaks out, a pair of enterprising filmmakers (Crispin Pineda and Frank Rivera) drives to Perla and Floring’s house and offers to buy the rights to their story in order to make a “social realist” film “based on a true story” denouncing Amang’s moral depravity. Perla and Floring reluctantly make a deal. They then show up at the premiere of the promised movie cheekily entitled “Hayok sa Laman” starring Jacklyn Jose as Violeta, (Perla’s alter ego), Klaudia Koronel as Hasmin (representing Floring) and Dante Rivero as Leon (Amang’s counterpart). Perla and a pregnant Floring look excited at the start of the movie to see themselves on the big screen.

Batang West Side (2001)

Director: Lav Diaz

In the local movie industry, Lav Diaz has built a reputation as a maverick filmmaker not only for his unconventional demeanor and ways. He’s seen as an inscrutable, indulgent artist who makes marathon films paced rather deliberately. Ordinary moviegoers, especially young ones whose concept of movie entertainment is limited to hyperkinetic, special effects-laden Hollywood movies, will freak out on Diaz films, just as they would on those of the likes of the Russian Andre Tarkovsky and the Greek Theo Angelopoulos, which they will find excruciatingly, punishingly slow.

One of Diaz’s best films, the 2001 epic titled Batang West Side, runs for five hours without intermission. Compared to another Diaz oeuvre, however, Batang West Side is short. Diaz’s Ebolusyon, which is also on the Manunuri list of best films of the decade, is 10 hours long.

Babae sa Breakwater (2003)

Director: Mario O’Hara

Natatangi si Mario O’Hara bilang direktor hindi lang dahil marami itong sakop na gawain, pawang angat sa kahanay, kundi isa siya sa nakakapaglatag—sa pamamagitan ng pelikula—kung ano ang angkop na papel ng sining sa filmiko at aktwal na lipunan. Ang kwintisensyal na pelikula ni O’Hara sa naunang dekada ng bagong siglo ay Babae sa Breakwater, isang madilim—halos absurdo—na mahika-realismo ng mga buhay sa breakwater ng Roxas Boulevard at Manila Bay.

Sentral ang dagat sa naratibo ng pelikula: kung bakit napadpad ang mga taga-kung saan-saan sa breakwater; mga inimbento at urbanong alamat hinggil sa dagat bilang simula’t dulo ng buhay, at bilang tagapag-ugnay sa after-life; ang imposibilidad ng pag-ibig at ang probabilidad ng karahasan sa lupa na tanging dagat ang rekurso; at iba pa. At tulad ng dagat, pinapadpad ang manonood sa iba’t ibang eksena ng buhay ng mga taga-breakwater.

Magnifico (2003)

Director: Maryo J. delos Reyes

In 2003, the Film Ratings Board (FRB) was abolished and was replaced by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) which gave higher incentives to quality movies that were either graded A or B. (Graded A films were given a hundred per cent tax rebate, while those that got B were allowed to retrieve 65% from the taxes collected by the various cities and municipalities all over the country based on its income at the box-office.) Magnifico was its test case.

The newly sworn-in CEB members, eager to set the yardstick for graded A movies, thoroughly dissected this Maryo J. de los Reyes film and didn’t feel generous enough to give it a hundred per cent tax rebate.

The prints submitted to the board to begin with had a yellowish tinge and somehow that got in the way during the CEB screening.

Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino (2004)

Director: Lav Diaz

When it was nominated for the Gawad Urian best picture award in 2004, it was warned that Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino might trigger a revolution. Seven years later, the revolution has been fully realized, and it’s tectonic—nothing less than a sweeping artistic ferment set off by the digital upheaval.

Ebolusyon was the first full-length digital film in Philippine history and by its sheer length—more than 10 hours!—it’s very remote we would ever forget that milestone. A marathon screening of the movie embodies its length and breadth, a virtual-reality tour of what its comprehensive narrative tries to capture: the epic tale of the Filipino nation.

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005)

Director: Auraeus Solito

Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros has a deceptive charm that seems not to have faded since it became the crowd-pleaser and the Special Jury Prize winner in the first Cinemalaya independent film festival in 2005. A character study on the titillating subject of a poor homosexual kid’s coming of age, it easily shows the seemingly limitless capacity of digital cinema to provide new spins to tired narratives and concerns, endowing them with freshness, venturing new discoveries, and creating new worlds.

But looking back now, however, the achievement of Maximo Oliveros is even more astounding. Here’s an utterly small film about an utterly self-effacing character, a slum kid growing up gay and carefree, suddenly smitten by puppy love, but suddenly subjected to the ruthless social realities of the adult world, is forced to grow up and emerge not exactly unscathed but definitely unbowed.

Kubrador (2006)

Director: Jeffrey Jeturian

We have seen this figure in many films. In the film, Kubrador, the person is a woman. She is Amy, mother, danger incarnate, believer.

Today is no different from any other day. She begins the day with a prayer, asking for divine intercession, the votive candles approving, the saints seemingly listening. Her gaze is unflinching. The intensity is disturbing because it is all too sincere and all too frank. For Amy is praying that God, and all the saints in heaven, will save her from the enemies—the cops.

In her world, too soon, we are told that her God in the form of a Child does not listen to a gambler’s plea. Not even the Saints, whose hands she touches with quiet desperation, could interfere when the policemen stop her for questioning. Heaven it seems can always wait at the door of the authority whose position about gambling is as complicated and as mysterious as the faith of Amy. But the unseen hands of the powerful free Amy. Out she goes into the world of the free and the impoverished. This does not happen though before the top policeman with the grace of some gods pushes into the hands of our collector his own bet.

Serbis (2008)

Director: Brillante Ma. Mendoza

Brillante Mendoza has two stars in the movie Serbis. The first is a moviehouse that has seen glorious days as a magnificent film palace and has declined with the years into a decrepit theater home to soft-porn movies and to patrons in search for sexual encounters of the third kind. The second is a human monument, tall and regal dowager-actress Gina Pareño who plays a matriarch who has sued the husband who abandoned her for another woman and when the movie begins, she is anticipating the husband’s conviction.

The film opens with a sequence showing the youngest daughter of the matriarch, fresh from a bath, naked and preening before a mirror while repeatedly whispering “I love you” to her reflection, all the while being observed by a little voyeur of a nephew from the half-open door. She picks out a red dress and puts it on. Oldest daughter Nayda (Jaclyn Jose) chances upon Jewel and orders her to take off the red dress. Jewel groans a protest but obeys. Nayda is inspecting the rooms in the theater, and as she wanders through the corridors, we see lurid movie posters and inhibitory signs of “Do Not” plastered all over the walls. As it turns out, love is not to be found in Family Theater; it is sex as love’s substitute that prevails in the hall. Assignations are made in the passageways and the lobbies where gays offer “serbis” to patrons who would respond. Fellatio takes place in the dark and even openly in the projection room.

Kinatay (2009)

Director: Brillante Ma. Mendoza

Higit sa pelikulang kapit-sa-patalim o pelikula ng krimen at karahasan, ang Kinatay ni Brillante Ma. Mendoza ay tumitistis sa kalagayan ng pagkaaba, ng pagiging mababa pa sa inaasahan ng taong nahulog sa posisyong kahindik-hindik. Bunga nito, lumabo ang kanyang dating pagkakilala sa sarili at sa kapwa. Nahintakutan siya. Nasindak nang gayon na lamang, at kasabay nito, nalusaw rin ang kahulugan, kahalagahan, at katatagan ng buhay.

Hindi na bago ang paksang pagkaaba ng tao sa ating mga pelikula. Sa katotohanan, ito ang kaagapay na tema ng maraming pelikula na naglalayong magsiwalat ng kabiguan at kasawiang dinaranas, madalas, ng uring maralita, at kasabay nito ang damdaming awa o habag na iniuukol sa mga tauhang sawi o api, at suklam at galit para naman sa mga tauhang naging dahilan ng masaklap na kapalaran ng una. Ang klasikal na resolusyong iginagawad sa ganitong salimuot ng banghay ay walang iba kundi ang simpleng pagpapalit o pagbabaligtad ng kalagayan ng magkabilang panig.

Lola (2009)

Director: Brillante Ma. Mendoza

Lola is an outstanding film by Briliante Mendoza with screenplay by Linda Casimiro. It captures the beat of a neighborhood in the Philippines, a common place, with its share of grime and crime. It is also about a resilient, strong, tenacious, giving, and loving people. Lola is a film that wants to be honest. From natural everyday dialogue, actors sans makeup, almost untouched production design and un-manicured cinematography. These decisions are decided by a masterful director.

Lola is about two women Puring (Rustica Carpio) and Sepa (Anita Linda) who have to face their day-to-day lives after they become involved in the aftermath of their grandsons’ crime and death. One of the grandsons is the crime victim and the other is in prison—the murder suspect. As they go through their everyday lives, we see them in their everyday struggle, driven with admirable tenacity. The two grandparents show their uncompromising love for their grandsons. They are not helpless old women who simply complain, gripe and blame the world for their misfortune. They are feisty, tough, and bounce back to make sure that they face the world and the challenges that it brings.

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