Top 25 Film Performances of 2017

(Disclaimer: This list only consists of performances from films released theatrically in Philippine cinemas in 2017 and officially released in their countries of origin in 2017.)

It’s always been difficult for me to critique acting. A good performance can wear an infinite number of faces, but at the same time every good performance revolves around the same thing: truth. At the end of the day, as I compiled and ordered this list, it wasn’t necessarily these actors’ technical skill that put them above all the others. It was the heart they put on display, the authenticity of their emotions, and most importantly the ways they made their respective characters memorable and real to me. The featured actors this year range from up-and-coming stars who have found their niches, veterans who have found new outlets for their particular skill sets, underdogs who surprised us with their rawness, foreign actors who transcended the language barrier, and those who needed no words to tell a story.

A quick note: in the interest of full transparency, let it be known that I meant to include a certain Filipino actor quite high on this list. But I have opted not to, upon hearing that this person has conducted themselves inappropriately toward some student filmmakers I may know tangentially. I’d rather spare the details because it isn’t my accusation to make. But if you think someone’s missing on this list, there’s a chance it could be them.

Anyway, let’s do this.


25) ADRIENNE VERGARA as Lilibeth – Bliss


Jerrold Tarog’s Bliss is a psychological horror film that isn’t particularly scary in the traditional sense. But whenever Vergara’s mysterious nurse walks into a room, the very air seems to grow stale. Something is just off with Lilibeth—the way she speaks to Iza Calzado’s Jane Ciego, the way she borders on both abusive and seductive, the way she giggles in childish glee. It’s a profoundly disturbing performance that should be remembered.


24) ABRA as Hendrix – Respeto


I expected someone of Abra’s popularity to end up showboating in his first major film role. As this aspiring rapper and small-time drug dealer, however, he shows impressive restraint. For all of Hendrix’s attempts to appear macho and street hardened, he’s ultimately just a scared, confused little boy who has far more good in his heart than others are willing to believe. By giving an honest face to the vicitimized poor, Abra succeeds.


23) NONIE BUENCAMINO as Fr. Gus Saenz – Smaller and Smaller Circles


As a crime-solving Jesuit priest-slash-forensic anthropologist, Fr. Saenz is the closest thing Filipino cinema got to a true superhero this year. But Buencamino never forgets to give this man of God the most everyman qualities: he’s patient and diligent with an unflagging sense of humor, yet perpetually tired and fed up with those stopping him from doing honest work. It’s one performance I really wouldn’t mind seeing in multiple sequels.


22) IZABELA VIDOVIC as Via Pullman – Wonder


A third of the way through Stephen Chbosky’s family drama Wonder, sheepish older daughter Via begins to tell the story from her perspective, transforming this already sweet film into a thing of beauty. It only takes a matter of minutes for Vidovic to steal the show from her talented castmates. The 16-year-old actress crafts a character who is lonely and self-conscious, but overflowing with genuine love for her family. The tears are real.


21) JOSHUA GARCIA as Caloy – Love You to the Stars and Back


Of all the young Filipino actors who currently find themselves in their own love teams, Garcia has consistently proven himself to be far and away the most talented guy of his generation. He takes a well-worn trope (that of the cancer-stricken romantic) and reminds us why it works. As Caloy, Garcia runs the gamut from despair to pure selflessness, and roots every sentence in charm and vulnerability. Julia Barretto’s a lucky girl.


20) JERALD NAPOLES as Officer Wizky / Dave / Voltron – Triptiko The Write Moment Haunted Forest


2017 was the year that Napoles, a staple jester in many a romantic comedy, truly earned his stripes as one of our best character actors. In the horror film Haunted Forest, he played a mentally ill witness to a murder. In the anthology film Triptiko, he played a menacing and legitimately terrifying cop. And in the rom-com The Write Moment, Napoles showed us the full range of his abilities, as a leading man both hilarious and compassionate.


19) MICHAEL STUHLBARG as Mr. Perlman – Call Me by Your Name


Some actors only need one scene to be remembered forever. Toward the end of Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age romance Call Me by Your Name, Stuhlbarg delivers a monologue that opens the floodgates of emotions being built up over the last two hours. As this gentle and intellectual archaeology professor, Stuhlbarg finds the tenderness hiding behind all of his character’s intelligence, and gives our hearts a collective hug.


18) ANDY SERKIS as Caesar – War for the Planet of the Apes


As long as the Academy refuses to recognize Serkis’s revolutionary performance capture work, I will continue to shout as loud as I can that he is one of the best actors working today. As the fearless leader of his society of apes, Serkis continues to find new emotional ground for Caesar. Here, we find him pushed to the brink, tempted to become the primal beast he has tried so hard not to embody, standing on the edge between human and animal.


17) MAJA SALVADOR as Carson – I’m Drunk, I Love You


In an alternate dimension where Salvador wasn’t famous, and JP Habac’s indie rom-com I’m Drunk, I Love You was her first role ever, this would’ve catapulted the actress to superstardom anyway. As the lovesick and punch-drunk Carson, Salvador becomes the embodiment of every college senior looking out into the mystery that is the rest of their lives. Playful, energetic, and brimming with heart, Salvador breathes new life into love.


16) PATRICK STEWART as Charles Xavier / Professor X – Logan


Who would’ve thought that Stewart—celebrated for decades as the ever-recognizable Captain Picard and Professor X—would still be able to show us a completely new side to himself? Gone is the sophistication and warmth from Charles Xavier; here, Stewart turns him into an old man filled with the most unbearable guilt, simply trying to live till the next day. Watching the world’s most powerful mind cave in on itself is excruciating, but astonishing.




One of the biggest surprises of the year was a Thai thriller about students cheating in their exams, and Chuengcharoensukying became its confident, hard-edged, badass face. Though the subgenre of heist films often makes use of archetypal, one-note characters, Bad Genius‘s Lynn is anything but boring. Determined, in over her head, mischievous, and remorseful, she adds a rare level of nuance to a genre that needed just that.


14) VINCE VAUGHN as Bradley Thomas – Brawl in Cell Block 99


Perhaps no other actor this year exceeded expectations more than Vaughn did in S. Craig Zahler’s grindhouse prison odyssey Brawl in Cell Block 99. As the hardened ex-criminal Bradley Thomas, Vaughn is more force of nature than human being. He quite literally lumbers his way from one violent situation to the next, brutally pummeling down anything in his path. It’s a performance of almost pure physicality, and Vaughn sells all of it.


13) DANIEL KALUUYA / ALLISON WILLIAMS as Chris Washington / Rose Armitage – Get Out

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I’m giving this spot to both Kaluuya and Williams because their chemistry and the way they adapt to each other’s dynamic performances is simply undeniable. Together, they form one of the most likable movie couples of 2017, struggling to make it through the most awkward of situations. But as secrets are revealed, Chris and Rose become cold, desperate, animalistic, and calculating, taking us to the very edge of our cinema seats.


12) JOANNA AMPIL as Candida Marasigan – Ang Larawan


Already lauded for her achievements on the West End stage, Ampil completely steamrolled all competition at this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival in her portrayal of the fiery, rat-killing, barely-holding-it-together Candida. Armed with soulful eyes and an explosive voice, Ampil takes Nick Joaquin’s original material and takes it to the most emotional highs imaginable. Here’s to hoping we see more of her on screen; we need her.


11) BEN STILLER as Brad Sloan – Brad’s Status


Nearly everybody had written off Stiller as a one-trick pony, only ever playing a specific kind of person in many of his comedies and dramas. But in Mike White’s midlife crisis drama Brad’s Status, he reintroduces himself to us as a seriously powerful actor. As a self-loathing, self-destructive man constantly comparing himself to others, Stiller touches a nerve so raw and deep, you’d have to be dead not to respond. And the theater scene? Perfection.


10) EMMA STONE as Billie Jean King – Battle of the Sexes


In Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s sports biopic Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King is portrayed as tennis player second, and woman first. But instead of portraying the sports legend with the emotional depth of a Wikipedia article, Stone makes her leap off the screen. In her hands, King is undaunted, a ray of sunshine, and so absolutely in love that you begin to blush for her. Still, even with these qualities, Stone makes sure to expose the cracks in King’s confidence. As much as she takes pride in her own emancipation, she is nervous, scared of making the wrong move, of what people will say. And yet, she keeps playing.


9) SAM ROCKWELL as Officer Jason Dixon – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


As one of the most repulsive, backwards, racist characters to hit screens in 2017, Rockwell makes hating Officer Dixon almost too easy. However, at the risk of spoilers, halfway through Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Rockwell takes Dixon on one of the most satisfying redemption arcs of the year. His spirit crushed and his face demolished, Dixon sets off to right the wrongs he helped make worse, expecting no forgiveness but risking life and limb anyway. And Rockwell is nothing short of captivating every step of the way.


8) AGOT ISIDRO / JOJIT LORENZO as Alex – Changing Partners


My favorite performances from Filipino actors in 2017 were from Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo taking turns playing the same character in Dan Villegas’s musical romance Changing Partners. As the embittered older lover Alex, both actors spit out some of the most painful lines in local cinema this year both spoken and through song. But what makes this dual performance truly impressive is in the little nuances with which Isidro and Lorenzo play Alex. Lorenzo is exasperated, frantic; Isidro is articulate, exhausted. Both are extraordinary.


7) FRANCES MCDORMAND as Mildred Hayes – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Turning in probably the angriest performance of the year is veteran actress McDormand playing a divorced mother seeking justice for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. McDormand leaves all decorum at the door, blazing through this small town with no more sense of self-preservation. But she doesn’t make Mildred seem desperate, exactly—just finally fed up with a system that she believes has failed her. However, while McDormand’s rage is endlessly entertaining to watch, it’s in the moments of silence, when Mildred speaks to a deer or sits on a swing, when McDormand defies description.


6) NAHUEL PEREZ BISCAYART as Sean Dalmazo – BPM (Beats per Minute)


The first thing that impressed me about Biscayart was that I at first had no idea he was the protagonist of his own film. Never calling attention to himself, he starts out as just another member of his HIV/AIDS activist group stirring trouble in Paris. The next thing that impressed me was how he slowly began to transform, physically and emotionally. As Sean, he goes through the entire spectrum of what it’s like to live with a deadly disease, oscillating between total bliss and utter hopelessness, deteriorating but pushing himself by sheer force of will. It’s almost uncomfortable in its authenticity, and it’s pure inspiration.


5) DAFNE KEEN as Laura Kinney / X-23 – Logan


Some of us lower our standards when it comes to child actors. If they can act at least a bit convincingly, it’s impressive enough. But Keen went above and beyond the call of duty in portraying the feral young mutant on the run from the Reavers in James Mangold’s superhero Western Logan. She gives her older co-stars a run for their money as she slices through hordes of enemies, completely unblinking in her conviction. But even without the claws out, Keen is much better than you’d expect. She displays a toughness that never comes across as pretend, and eventually a softness of heart that you can believe was lying in wait the entire time. Keen creates a complete character, bloodied but unbroken.


4) DANIELA VEGA as Marina Vidal – A Fantastic Woman


It’s sad that actual trans actors are rarely chosen to play trans characters in both Hollywood and Filipino cinema. So how beautiful it is to see Vega, a trans actor from Chile, in Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman. And how much more beautiful it is that she makes you stop thinking about her sex or gender just a few minutes in; she is simply an incredible actor. Marina is a woman of quiet resolve, even as prejudice continues to chip away at her exterior. But Vega is even better as a lover than as a fighter. Through her eyes, we witness as pure a love as there’s ever been, without any prejudice or politics. Don’t hesitate to give her a standing ovation by the end. She deserves it.


3) MATILDA LUTZ as Jennifer – Revenge


Ten months ago, Lutz played the lead in the abysmal horror sequel Rings. I wrote her off as a decent actor saddled with a bad script. I would like to apologize. Because in Coralie Fargeat’s exploitation thriller Revenge, Lutz turns in a performance that should (in a perfect world) be regarded as instantly iconic. With zero dialogue after the first 30 minutes, she grabs a rifle, brands a phoenix onto her stomach, channels Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, and becomes the very definition of a badass. It’s an intensely physical performance made all the more captivating by how Lutz never makes Jennifer invincible. She is naive, fragile, frightened—and even cooler because of it. Her wrath is glorious.


2) HUGH JACKMAN as James “Logan” Howlett / Wolverine / X-24 – Logan


Seventeen years ago, a then-unknown Hugh Jackman made comic book movie history by becoming the best Wolverine we could have ever asked for on screen. This year, he put his claws away for the last time, and delivered a performance unprecedented in its depth and nuance. In Logan, he redefines the movie superhero. Haunted, reclusive, and one step away from the end of his rope, this Wolverine doesn’t want to save the world. He just wants to be left alone. But in this, his final adventure, he finally finds the thing he’s been looking for since the beginning: home. A family. A chance to be something he can be proud of. And Jackman is nothing short of masterful here. Movies are all the better for him.


1) TIMOTHEE CHALAMET / ARMIE HAMMER as Elio Perlman / Oliver – Call Me by Your Name

Chalamet, Hammer.jpg

The greatest performances of 2017 come from the greatest film of 2017, Call Me by Your Name. As two young men who meet each other one summer in Italy, Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer slowly proceed to dig their fingers into your heart, then squeeze and tear and rip until you feel as if you’ve fallen in love for the first time all over again. With unbelievable chemistry and movements so measured, subtle, and precise, Chalamet and Hammer bring to life one of the purest romances these eyes have ever seen on screen. Their love burns slowly but surely, quietly but with unparalleled intensity.

This spot belongs to both actors, but individually, they’re still stellar. Even as Chalamet keeps a poker face, you can just barely make out his true feelings beneath his relaxed gestures and the skips in his steps. On the opposite side, even as Hammer exudes self-assurance and almost ignorant glee, there is just the slightest hint of hesitation and guilt when the music dies down. Together, they complement each other perfectly. There is so much raw, honest emotion on display here, that it’s a miracle that the actors and director Luca Guadagnino have been able to mold it into such a universally accessible form. Through Elio and Oliver, anyone can come closer to finally grasping the mystery of love.


VIDEO REVIEW: First Filipino Movie of 2016!

This year’s first local movie that I was able to see in theaters was the three-part anthology film adaptation of the popular book by the writing collective known only as Bob Ong. Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin satirizes tropes in the Filipino action movie, the Filipino horror film, and the Filipino romantic comedy. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t get anywhere near the subversive quality of its source material. It’s a movie riddled with technical issues, annoying acting, and a wrong understanding of what satire is.

Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin

Directed by Mark Meily, Andoy Ranay, and Chris Martinez

Written by Bob Ong and Eric Cabahug

Based on Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin by Bob Ong

Starring Benjie Paras, Candy Pangilinan, Herbert Bautista, Shy Carlos, Maricel Soriano, Antoinette Taus, Paolo Ballesteros, Jason Gainza, and Cristine Reyes

VIDEO: 2016 Movie Highlights

We’re almost one full month into 2016, but it’s still fun to look ahead and see what the remaining eleven months have in store for us. Since I don’t really know how to measure my own anticipation, here’s a run-through of movies set to be released in 2016 that have piqued my interest. Take note that I am nervous about every movie that comes out ever, so I’ll always have my doubts. Here’s to a year of being proven wrong!

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Always Better on the Big Screen: Preserving the Theater Experience

From the Loyola Film Circle’s Fete du Film. A room of college students and professors watching REC (Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, 2007).

Context: Here in the Philippines, we don’t really get a lot of movies. Our online streaming services are nowhere near as content-rich as those in the United States. Our video stores’ selection of DVDs are bafflingly limited and seriously lacking in films released before the 2000s. Local movies (no matter how popular) that aren’t backed by major studios almost never get DVD releases after their theatrical runs (no matter how long). Television channels have a bad habit of showing the same movies for weeks on end, and of showing the same kinds of movies day-in, day-out.

And in cinemas, local mainstream film studios are lucky to release more than two films every quarter. The independent scene is staying strong, but indie festival runs are restricted to a select few theaters for one to two weeks–and then most of the entries never see the light of day again. Additionally, foreign film distribution isn’t as strong as I feel it could be. Once in a while we get gems like Boyhood or Whiplash, but most of the time we miss out on big awards contenders when they’re released in other parts of the world during the fourth quarter of the year (partially because of how the Metro Manila Film Festival effectively shuts down foreign film screenings for two weeks every Christmas). In their place, we get direct-to-DVD schlock and “movies” that seem like they were greenlit for theatrical runs by mistake.

Continue reading “Always Better on the Big Screen: Preserving the Theater Experience”

VIDEOS: Best and Worst Movies of 2015

Working on a new (long) post and it’s been taking a while, so I’ve decided to keep this blog updated by sharing videos from my YouTube channel! Expect to see a lot of these kinds of posts. I will not be posting regular reviews on this WordPress site, since I’d prefer to keep my content varied across these different platforms.

Anyway, first up, here’s my own personal top 15 films of 2015! The list only contains films released in Philippine cinemas in 2015. Not as many big blockbusters as 2014’s list had, but lots of under-the-radar gems and excellent genre pieces.

Of course, what good would a best-of list be without a worst-of to complement it? Here’s my top 5 worst films of 2015 as well. This list is also only made up of films released in Philippine cinemas last year. I don’t find it very fun to talk about terrible movies, so I also attempt to articulate the deeper issues that I think these movies point to!

And if you enjoy my channel, please do subscribe!

Why I Love Movies: An Introduction

My first legit acting gig, for the short film Kaarawan (Matthew Ng, 2015). Photo by Sam Ganzon.

At the beginning of every self-proclaimed “epic novel” in the Captain Underpants series, two fourth graders named George Beard and Harold Hutchins present a crudely constructed comic book that explains their previous adventures and the origin of their mean school principal-turned-accidental-superhero, Captain Underpants.

In their comics, words are constantly misspelled, character models are drawn inconsistently, and none of the panels ever line up properly. And yet–reading these books as a fourth grader myself–I thought they were perfect. Back in 1997 when the series’ author, Dav Pilkey, published The Adventures of Captain Underpants, educators and librarians lost their minds, citing obscene content and miseducation that would make their students less intelligent and more naughty. But I thought to myself then (and I still think to myself now) that there was no other way it could have been done.

Continue reading “Why I Love Movies: An Introduction”