That said, what are the Best Pinoy Movies of 2019?
We at Cinema Escapist have compiled this list of top Filipino movies of 2019 to help answer that question. Though romance continues its popularity for Pinoy films in 2019, we’ve also added movies from other genres like crime and comedy. There’s even a few independent and art house movies of note on this listing of 2019’s best Filipino movies.
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11. Miracle In Cell No. 7
Director: Nuel Crisostomo Naval | Starring: Aga Muhlach, Xia Vigor, Bela Padilla | Genre: Drama, Family, Comedy
Adapted from the hit Korean movie of the same name, Miracle In Cell No. 7 won the love of critics and audiences with its heartwarming father-daughter story. Building upon the Korean original, Miracle In Cell No. 7 tells the story of a mentally disabled man named Lito who’s wrongly jailed. When Lito’s fellow inmates realize he’s an innocent man, they help smuggle in his young daughter Yesha so the two can continue bonding.
Like its Korean source, Miracle in Cell No. 7 is a huge tearjerker. The movie touches upon universal themes of familial love and kindness, and doesn’t feel contrived. Child actress Xia Vigor does a great job of portraying Yesha, and the actors playing Lito’s fellow inmates also provide great comic relief. Furthermore, the Filipino Miracle in Cell No. 7 made modifications to fit conditions and tastes in the Philippines. For example, the movie changed Yesha’s hiding place given Filipino prisons are different from Korean ones. This makes Miracle in Cell No. 7 not a simple copy of the Korean original, but rather a wholehearted localization.
Director: Carlo Ledesma | Starring: Carmina Villaroel, Mylene Dizon, Krystal Brimner | Genre: Horror
Horror movies are a regular part of Filipino cinema. While some 2019 Filipino horror movies like Eerie and Clarita made lots of money, their production quality and storytelling weren’t as great. Sunod is one of the better horror films from the Philippines this year.
In Sunod, Carmina Villaroel plays a single mother who takes an entry-level call center job to help her sick daughter Annelle (Kyrstal Bimner). Unfortunately, her call center job is located in a haunted building… and a workplace-tinged ghost story proceeds from there.
Winner of three awards at 2019’s Metro Manila Film Festival, Sunod has above-average production quality. Its cinematography is quite impressive, and its opening scene makes you want to watch the rest of the movie. Given its call center setting, Sunod also has valuable social commentary about social inequality.
Director: Antoinette Jadaone | Starring: Liza Soberano, Enrique Gil | Genre: Romance, Drama
Made by millennial-focused Black Sheep Productions, Alone/Together follows a standard romance storyline but executes it well. The film stars real-life couple Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil as the leads—a girl named Christine “Tin” Lazaro and a boy named Rafael “Raf” Toledo, respectively. Both first meet as university students. Tin studies art, and Raf studies Biology en route to becoming a doctor. They get into a relationship, but drift apart. Five years later, they meet again at an awards ceremony, where their chemistry re-ignites.
With excellent production quality, Alone/Together offers a realistic and heartfelt look at balancing romance against individual dreams. Liza Soberano’s acting really helps the story come to life. She aptly and intensely portrays Tin’s vulnerability in a manner that doesn’t feel overly sentimental. As the second-highest grossing movie of 2019 in the Philippines, Alone/Together reaped great financial rewards for telling its story well.
8. Lola Igna
Director: Eduardo W. Roy Jr. | Starring: Angie Ferro, Yves Flores | Genre: Family, Drama
She’s 118 years old, and wants to die. However, everyone around her wants her to live—because she might win a monetary prize for “oldest grandmother in the world.” Welcome to the world of Lola Igna, a film who takes the name of its aged protagonist.
Enter Tim, Igna’s great-great-grandson. An upstart vlogger, Tim also wants to exploit Igna’s potential fame—but ends up helping her in a different way than expected. Tim and Igna’s interactions form the film’s core, and help it become a meditative but accessible reflection on inter-generational relations. Veteran actress Angie Ferro’s portrayal of Igna gives the film an extra punch. She’s vulgar, stubborn, and charming in her own curmudgeonly way. As Igna and Tim learn more about themselves and each other, a beautiful and relatable story story about life, death, and family results.
Director: Irene Villamor | Starring: Nadine Lustre, Carlo Aquino, Marco Gumabao | Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Ulan might be about love, but it’s not your average Filipino romance. The movie stars Nadine Lustre as a writer named Maya, who’s struggling to find romance and happiness. As Maya journeys through life, Ulan weaves fantastical stories from her imagination and childhood as a reflection of her psyche. We see her talking with tikbalangs in one moment, and typhoons in another. It’s a sprinkle of coming-of-age mixed with a dash of magical realism.
Through its fantastical storytelling, Ulan begins to question commonly held expectations around romance. The film subverts common romantic tropes (ex. like figurative knights in shining armor), and feels more like Pan’s Labyrinth than your regular loveteam-headlined blockbuster. Ulan is a distinctive and well-made breath of fresh air when it comes to romance in Filipino movies.
6. Isa Pa with Feelings
Director: Prime Cruz | Starring: Carlo Aquino, Maine Mendoza| Genre: Romance, Drama
Another more unique Filipino love story that came out in 2019 was Isa Pa with Feelings (One More Time With Feelings). Maine Mendoza stars as Mara, an aspiring architect. After failing her architecture board exams, Mara meets Gali (Carlo Aquino), a deaf sign language teacher. The two develop an unlikely connection as they find comfort in each others’ imperfections.
Through Mara and Gali’s relationship, Isa Pa with Feelings offers an intriguing exploration of social divides and the feeling of “otherness.” Filled with moments of strategic silence, the film creates an evocative ambience that allows viewers to empathize with the characters, and come along for their journey as romance develops in spite of differences.
Director: Brillante Mendoza | Starring: Judy Ann Santos, Allen Dizon, Yuna Tangog | Genre: Drama
A big winner at 2019’s Metro Manila Film Festival, Mindanao is set in the context of a conflict zone in the eponymous Filipino island. In the real world, Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels created an atmosphere of violence and terrorism that led Filipino President Rodrigo to put the entire island under martial law.
Mindanao follows the life of Saima, the Muslim wife of Filipino soldier Malang. Their daughter Aisa has brain cancer, forming much of the daily struggle for Saima. All the while, Malang serves as a combat medic hours away.
Director Brilliante Mendoza artfully blends animation between the live-action scenes, representing Aisa’s perception of the world. While some critics think the characters and plot are shallow, we’re glad that a filmmaker dared to portray the complex conflict environment in Mindanao and raise global awareness of the warzone.
Director: Glenn Barit | Starring: Ianna Taguinod, Leomar Baloran, Julian Narag | Genre: Drama, Comedy
There’s never been a Pinoy movie like Cleaners. A relatively obscure indie film that swept the awards at 2019’s QCinema International Film Festival, Cleaners is distinct in both storytelling and technique. It’s an undiscovered treat that shows Filipino cinema has more to offer than big-budget romances and horror films.
The movie contains an anthology of five different stories featuring designated classroom cleaners in a Tuguegarao high school. Each of the stories touches upon the theme of “cleanliness”—whether physical, moral, or otherwise. A cast of first-time actors brings the five stories to life, and gives them an authentic, natural feel. Those who went to high school in the Philippines may find moments of tender nostalgia in Cleaners‘ narratives. Anyone who didn’t will still enjoy the five stories’ straightforward but meaningful takes on adolescence.
Furthermore, Cleaners‘ visuals look like highlighted black-and-white photocopies—evoking the appearance of Filipino high school reading materials. Director Glenn Barit physically printed out the frames he shot, manually highlighted them, and then scanned the highlighted printouts to craft the final film. This intensive, months-long process results in a movie that literally looks like nothing else that Pinoy cinema has to offer.
Director: Raymund Ribay Gutierrez | Starring: Rene Durian, Max Eigenmann, Kristoffer King, Jordhen Suan | Genre: Crime, Drama
Our third best Pinoy movie of 2019 is a legal procedural drama—Verdict. Verdict follows the case of Joy, a Filipino housewife who stabs her abusive husband Dante in self defense. The film walks the line between documentary and drama, walking us through Joy’s search for justice against Dante.
Verdict explores the intricacies of the Filipino justice system, but more importantly, it also explores feminist themes in a contemporary context. The Filipino justice system stacks odds against Joy, making her testify multiple times against Dante. Fans of legal procedure will enjoy the exposition of the legal system of the Philippines, while broader audiences will find it easy to empathize with Joy’s struggles.
2. John Denver Trending
Director: Arden Rod Condez | Starring: Jansen Magpusao, Meryll Soriano | Genre: Drama
John Denver Cabungcal is a 14 year-old 8th grader in Pandan, Antique. When he’s falsely accused of stealing his classmate Makoy’s iPad, he attacks Makoy—and gets caught on video. The video goes viral, and turns John Denver’s life upside down.
This is the plot of John Denver Trending—a hidden Pinoy indie movie gem from 2019. In an age when cyberbulling and social media-driven disinformation are hot topics, this film helps viewers realize that online speech has real-world consequences, while not feeling overly preachy.
John Denver Trending has excellent cinematography and well-developed characters (John Denver’s mother is an especially interesting figure). This makes its online witch hunt story feel all the more resonant, and illuminates the raw horrors of internet-driven mobs. Director Arden Rod Condez keeps the narrative tightly focused, and never lets it descend into the same irrationality that some of its characters embody. Impressively, this highly relevant film is Condez’s directorial debut. We look forward to seeing his future productions.
1. Hello, Love, Goodbye
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina | Starring: Kathryn Bernardo, Alden Richards | Genre: Romance
Our top entry for 2019’s best Pinoy movies is Hello Love Goodbye. Helmed by prominent director Cathy Garcia-Molina, this romance topped 2019’s Philippine box office and gained great critical acclaim.
In Hello, Love, Goodbye, Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards split from their regular loveteams to play protagonists Joy and Ethan. The two are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong. Joy is a diligent domestic helper trying to save money for a move to Canada, while Ethan is a carefree bartender finding his way in life. The two strike up a romance that forces them to discover more about themselves.
Bernardo and Richards prepared intensely for their roles; Bernardo spent time away from the other cast members to build a sense of isolation. What results is a realistic and empathetic performance that avoids the hollow sugariness of other Filipino romances. It’s great to see a romance featuring OFWs that doesn’t sensationalize the challenges of working life and strikes a meaningful, empowering tone.
Learn more about Hello, Love, Goodbye in our full-length review.
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Want more top Filipino movies? Check out our list of the best Pinoy movies of 2018!