During 2020, the Philippine cinematic industry came to a standstill with coronavirus-induced theater and production shutdowns. Despite this, Pinoy films still released before lockdowns started, and graced certain international film festivals and streaming sites afterwards. The 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival also persisted, albeit in a remote format.
Amidst this, you might wonder: what were the Best Pinoy Movies of 2020?
Cinema Escapist’s staff has curated this list of 11 top Filipino films to answer that question. Here, we’ve selected both indie and blockbuster movies across genres like comedy, animation, action, romance, and more. We tried choosing Pinoy movies that are not only entertaining or artistically notable, but also have sociopolitical significance.
Let’s take a glance through 2020’s best Filipino movies!
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Director: MacArthur Alejandre | Starring: Alfred Vargas, Iza Calzado, Shaina Magdayao | Genre: Romance
Directed by MacArthur Alejandre, Tagpuan tells a simple love story that traverses three cities. In the movie, Alfred Vargas and Iza Calzado play an ex-couple from Manila who reunite in New York City after a five year separation. Additionally, Vargas’ character has a liaison with a prostitute in Hong Kong (Shaina Magdayao).
In an interview, director Alejandre explained how the film is meant to “comment on the social and economic forces that shape our reactions to love and relationships.” The film touches upon the struggles of diaspora Filipinos—both immigrants and OFWs—which is especially fitting in a year of travel restrictions and isolation amid COVID-19. Tagpuan was also one of the selections for 2020’s Metro Manila Film Festival, where Shaina Magdayao won an award for Best Supporting Actress.
10. Block Z
Director: Mikhail Red | Starring: Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia, Ian Veneracion | Genre: Horror, Zombie
Block Z follows a group of university students who try to survive a zombie pandemic in the Philippines. The movie is replete with tension and bloody combat; its agile zombies feel reminiscent of those in 28 Days Later. When Block Z came out in January, some audiences also compared it to international blockbusters like Train to Busan and World War Z.
9. The Boy Foretold by the Stars
Director: Dolly Dulu| Starring: Adrian Lindayag, Keann Johnson | Genre: Romance, Boys’ Love
Besides zombies, 2020 also saw the success of Boys’ Love (BL) media in the Philippines, for example the webseries Gameboys and Gaya Sa Pelikula. The Boy Foretold by the Stars builds upon this trend as the first-ever Pinoy BL feature film.
Those familiar with the BL genre will find that The Boy Foretold by the Stars follows a pretty standard BL template. It has attractive male leads, a Catholic school setting, and teases the audience with romantic tension. Nevertheless, it executes upon the formula well, and offers a refreshingly escapist experience replete with emotion.
Director: Christian Acuña | Starring: Miggs Cuaderno, Elijah Alejo, Princess Aguilar, Josh Eugenio | Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
If you’re looking through escapism through adventure instead of romance, then consider Magikland. This Pinoy fantasy film focuses on four children who are transported to the mystical world of Magikland when they play a mobile game. Once there, they must save Magikland from the evil villain Mogrodo-Or.
Overall, Magikland provides an endearing take on childhood, updated for the modern era. Director Christian Acuña based the world of Magikland on a theme park of the same name in Negros Occidental, but also incorporated mobile gaming mechanics that make the movie feel more dynamic and familiar. As a testament to good worldbuilding, Magikland won the Best Production Design, Best Musical Score, and Best Visual Effects awards at the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival.
Director: Yam Laranas | Starring: Yam Concepcion, Jeffrey Quizon, Soliman Cruz | Genre: Horror
Fans of horror should look out for Nightshift, the latest film from director Yam Laranas. The movie follows a young woman named Jessie who gets a job as a morgue pathologist’s assistant. On her first day at work, the morgue’s corpses begin to show signs of resurrection—and Jessie learns that she’s entered a macabre world of odd characters that inhabit the borders between life and death.
While there are plenty of Filipino horror films, Nightshift might be the first that’s actually set in a morgue. The film offers surprising insight into some of the details of a pathologist’s life. It also aptly leverages the morgue setting to create a distinctively chilling ambience.
6. Midnight in a Perfect World
Director: Dodo Dayao | Starring: Glaiza De Castro, Jasmin Curtis-Smith, Anthony Falcon | Genre: Horror, Sci-fi, Thriller, Indie
Imagine Manila with an efficient drainage system and smooth transportation infrastructure—welcome to the near future setting of Midnight in a Perfect World. While the Manila of this sci-fi horror thriller film seems utopian on the surface, dark secrets lurk just underneath. In the movie, a group of four youthful friends gets caught in a mysterious blackout, and must battle hidden forces to make it out alive.
Sci-fi indie films aren’t common in the Philippines, so Midnight in a Perfect World already has some novelty value. It’s also a source of blatant social commentary: its near future world contains an authoritarian government prosecuting a brutal war on drugs. With chilling cinematography and sound design on top of all this, Midnight in a Perfect World offers one of the more notable indie members of 2020’s Pinoy film repertoire.
5. Babae at Baril
Director: Rae Red | Starring: Janine Gutierrez, Felix Roco, JC Santos | Genre: Drama, Crime
Though Babae at Baril (also known as The Girl with the Gun in English) technically premiered in 2019, we’re including it in 2020’s list of best Pinoy movies because it enjoyed broader distribution and international attention during the year. During 2020, this indie Filipino movie screened at the New York and Osaka Asian Film Festivals.
Directed by Mikhail Red’s sister Rae Red, Babae at Baril provides a pointed commentary around the status of women in the Philippines. The film centers on a young department woman saleslady who stumbles upon a discarded gun and begins to take revenge for indignities she suffered in an oppressively patriarchal society. Amidst the usual deluge of sappy romance movies in the Philippines, Babae at Baril provides a welcome change that actually empowers its female lead.
To learn more about Babae at Baril, read our interview with director Rae Red!
4. Death of Nintendo
Director: Raya Martin | Starring: Noel Comia Jr., Agot Isidro, Moi Marcampo | Genre: Comedy, Coming-of-Age
If you grew up in the 1990s, then Death of Nintendo may feel satisfyingly familiar. This coming-of-age comedy movie revolves around three teenagers on summer vacation in the 1990s.
With a distinctive retro look and pop-tinged soundtrack, the film offers a charming nostalgia trip through the 90’s, complete with references to Super Mario and Michael Jordan. Beyond nostalgia though, Death of Nintendo also contains a rather nuanced and realistic depiction of how its teenage characters respond to adversity. With screenings at numerous international festivals including the Berlinale, Death of Nintendo is one of the most interesting Filipino indie films of 2020.
3. On Vodka, Beers, and Regrets
Director: Irene Villamor | Starring: Bela Padilla, JC Santos | Genre: Romance
We return to the romance genre with On Vodka, Beers, and Regrets. Given COVID-19 shut down theaters soon after its release, this film was the highest grossing Pinoy movie of 2020.
Bela Padilla and JC Santos headline the film, respectively playing a down-on-her-luck actress and a band frontman. The two leads slowly connect, sharing their life’s tribulations and growing closer through the process. It’s a subtle and beautiful dance of emotions, one that never feels too saccharine nor bleak. Padilla deserves special praise for her performance, which has a level of psychological depth that such romances often lack.
2. Watch List
Director: Ben Rekhi | Starring: Arthur Acuña, Bernard Carritero, Alessandra de Rossi | Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Though Watch List had its festival running starting in 2019, we’re including it on this list because it had a Philippine release in 2020, and is worth highlighting for its sociopolitical relevance.
Amidst the contemporary Philippine Drug War, Watch List centers on a woman named Maria who joins a force of vigilantes after her husband is murdered for being an alleged drug pusher. Though many movies depict the Drug War, Watch List stands out with a humanistic depiction of its characters. Alessandra de Rossi’s performance as Maria feels especially poignant. Instead of relegating herself to the trope of victimhood, she embraces a sense of measured defiance.
Beyond humanism, Watch List is also entertaining. It has a tightly woven plot, a significant degree of suspense, and a compelling underlying moral conflict. This is also a rare Pinoy movie that gained a wide virtual release in the US and other countries during 2020, allowing overseas audiences to get a taste of Filipino stories on the silver screen.
1. Fan Girl
Director: Antoinette Jadaone | Starring: Charlie Dizon, Paulo Avelino | Genre: Coming-of-Age, Drama
Our selection for the very best Pinoy movie of 2020 is Fan Girl. The latest title from director Antoinette Jadaone and Black Sheep Productions, Fan Girl swept 2020’s Metro Manila Film Festival and won eight well-deserved awards. The film focuses on the relationship between a young girl named Jane (Charlie Dizon) and her idol Paulo Avelino (who plays a fictional version of himself).
Jadaone’s movie forces audiences to think about the complexities of fandom culture, as well as their roles and boundaries as fans. While Fan Girl occurs in the Philippines, its story is universal. The film speaks to many different kinds of fans, whether those of singers, artists, filmmakers, athletes, or politicians. Jadaone’s film also gives voice to a group that is often sidelined as hysterical and mindless young girls—when in fact, they are also a new force of social justice—whether through fancams, donations, or mobilizing movements.
Learn more about Fan Girl in our interview with Antoinette Jadaone!
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