After it was established in 1975, the Metro Manila Film Festival served as the barometer by which the best films of the year as a whole were measured — and for good reason.
As a result, the films that comprise InterAksyon’s picks for the Top 5 Best Films in MMFF history are from those first two decades.
A big reason for this is that in recent years, the MMFF has severely compromised its integrity as a result of honoring blatantly commercial films with little artistic value (i.e. “Enteng Kabisote 3: Okay Ka Fairy Ko: The Legend Goes On and On” and “Ang Tanging Ina Mo: Last Na ‘To!”).
Be that as it may, the MMFF has still managed to produce quite a number of very good films from its later years, including “Jose Rizal”, “Crying Ladies” “Segunda Mano” and, yes, “Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story”, the latter two from just last year.
Some fans will argue that these films as well as other MMFF classics like “Halimaw Sa Banga”, “Karnal”, “Moral”, “Paradise Inn” and “Imortal” also deserve a place among the filmfests’s “Hall of Fame”. And they do.
But we’re sticking with our Top 5, which we are presenting in descending order below with short clips of each film. We’d love to hear you make your own cases for those that we should have included and those that we shouldn’t have.
5. ‘SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL’
Many would probably cry sacrilege at its inclusion in this list but let’s face it, the very first film in what would later turn out to be a cash cow franchise every Christmas season for Mother Lily (outside of “Mano Po”) redefined the horror genre in more ways than one (14 ways to be exact, if you count the sequels).
It’s also arguably still the best in the series, with Peque Gallaga’s atmospheric “Manananggal” episode winning the best actor award for now Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista. And oh, yes, it also featured Ishmael Bernal’s now classic “Pridyider” episode, whic spawned a much belated sequel this year that starred Andi Eigenmann.
Although it entered the MMFF on its 10th year, “SRR” forever changed the way producers submit entries in the festival, which also explains why 3 to 4 of the entries every year are sequels.
4. ‘BURLESK QUEEN’
Celso Ad. Castillo dared Vilma Santos to take on what turned out to be the most daring role of her career and swept the MMFF’s major awards in a controversy-marred awards process.
That’s too bad. Many critics now agree that all the accolades that “Burlesk Queen” received during its time were well-deserved, including the Best Actor trophy that went to Rolly Quizon, the son of Dolphy who was then a popular matinee idol.
In his very last media interview which he granted to InterAksyon, the late filmmaker also hinted that the Star for All Seasons was not easy to work with at the time. She initially refused to do her famous dance sequence, which prompted Celso Ad. Castillo to offer to return her talent fee.
If the finished product is any indication, it looks Ate Vi and Direk Celso Kid managed to settle their differences and their careers benefited as a result.
Contrary to popular belief, there was really no awards recall that ever took place. The MMFF would never receive another entry like “Burlesk Queen” ever again.
Lino Brocka only won once as MMFF Best Director and that was in 1979 for “Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo” but most people will regard 1976’s “Insiang” as his best entry in the filmfest.
Mario O’ Hara wrote the script that was based from his own teleplay of the same title, the film tells the story of a poor woman who seeks vengeance against the people who ruined her life including her mother, Tonya, and her good for nothing lover, Dado, who raped her. Both Mona Lisa and Ruel Vernal also won supporting acting awards for their portrayals of these roles.
Aside from the MMFF, “Insiang” also made history by being the first Filipino film to be entered in the Cannes Film Festival, where it was well-received despite not winning any awards. It would have a successful stage adaptation in 2007.
The second and only other film submitted by Mike De Leon in the MMFF after 1977’s “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising”, “Kisapmata is considered by many critics to be his greatest work.
Based on the short story, “The House on Zapote Street” by Nick Joaquin, the film is also the finest hour of the late, great actor Vic Silayan.
Playing the role of a domineering father who is later revealed to have an incestuous relationship with his own daughter (Charo Santos), he is driven further to madness when his daughter decides to get married in a desperate attempt to get away from him.
Winner of 8 MMFF Awards, it went on to win 10 major awards in the FAMAS before it was presented in Cannes in its Director’s Fortnight.
It was ultimately adjudged by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as one of the 10 Best Films of the 1980s. After this, Mike De Leon would only make six more films before leaving the industry altogether in 1999.
Recently shown in a spanking new, restored high definition version, Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala” remains a powerful commentary on traditional beliefs, religious devotion and even small town politics.
This story of a poor, young barrio lass who finds herself being adulated like a rock star after seeing what she thought was the image of the Virgin Mary will always be one of the greatest Filipino films ever made.
It also highlights what is arguably Nora Aunor’s greatest performance ever even as it is just one of the many highlight reels she has delivered in the MMFF in its entire history.
Among her other best entries in the festival are Lupita Kashiwahara’s “Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo”, Mario O’ Hara’s “Bulaklak Ng City Jail” and Eddie Garcia’s “Atsay”.
Winner of 9 MMFF Awards in 1982 and many more thereafter, the legacy of “Himala” is further cemented by its recent restoration. Hopefully, that could also pave the way for future “retouches” of other MMFF classics.