Guy with Internet Access’ Incomplete List of 2018 Films You Need to Catch Up On Pt. 1

2018 continues to be a godsend, at least when it comes to the movies.

We’re more than halfway from the year & we have a wide variety of films that I could easily turn into a Top 10 list for 2018 & I’d walk away satisfied. From Hollywood blockbusters, Filipino romantic comedies, & arthouse hits, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. I certainly loved all of these films.

Since we’re flooded with a deluge of films this month just with the start of Cinemalaya & Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipno Cinema) alone – and that doesn’t even include the likes of Buybust, Christopher Robin, & Teen Titans Go to the Movies on this week alone – let’s recap what notable films released in 2018 are worth catching up on.

Let’s set up some rules. In order to be included in the list, it needs to be released before August 2018. If it’s a contender for Oscars 2018 that was only released this year, it counts as a 2017 film. More importantly, I need to have seen the films in order to be eligible. If it didn’t make the cut, it either means I missed it out on these films or I didn’t love it enough to include it in the list. (This is where I’ll admit I barely saw any films from CineFilipino & Sinag Maynila, so this list will be shorter than it should be.)

Without further ado, here is the incomplete list of 2018 films you need to catch up on, ranked in alphabetical order:

Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (The Two Mrs. Reyes)

Two scorned women conniving to break up their respective husbands’ loving relationship for each other sounds like a nasty, horrible concept for a movie, but in the hands of Jun Robles Lana – who also made a bunch of modern queer Filipino classics like Bwakaw & Die Beautiful – it’s a beginner’s guide into understanding & embracing the LGBTQIA+ community that doubles as a hilarious, empathetic farce.

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil)

Lav Diaz’s latest film suffers from a few problems, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful or urgent. This four-hour “rock opera” set during the height of Martial Law links the current horrors we’re facing in the Duterte administration, operating as a stirring lamentation for a country vulnerable to oppression & authoritarian rule, & a rousing battle cry to fight against its continuous rise.

A Quiet Place

This debut from John Krasinski takes the idea of monsters who can only detect prey through sound & uses it as a launchpad for clever, anxiety-inducing horror, backed with a masterful sound design that makes it one of the few films that improve if seen in a movie theater. That alone is an accomplishment, but at the center of A Quiet Place is an affecting story about parents willing to do anything for their children to protect them from a post-apocalypic landscape, & their children learning to grow up & survive without them. It’s a familiar tale told through an outlandish, horrifying circumstances.

Bao

Ignore every white person who were confused & derisive about this short. Domee Shi serves up a poignant ode to overprotective parents that’s unmistakably Asian – especially to Chinese families – & delivers on Pixar’s knack of making you cry in the theater in the span of 8 minutes.

Black Panther

Diminishing Black Panther‘s cultural cachet as a result of political correctness simplifies everything that makes it great & anyone who assumes this is very likely an asshole. Sure, it is unapologetically black & deeply aware of the horrors brought by colonialism, slavery, & racism, but it’s also an entertaining Marvel superhero movie in the form of a political family drama, full of sarcastic one-liners, ruminations on what means to be good, & war rhinos. This is Marvel at its most thoughtful & delightful.

Blockers

Updating old, harmful tropes is a tricky task, but it’s one that Blockers pulls off with ease. It’s another film about parents freaking out that their daughters are interested in sex like actual human beings, but instead of propagating harmful ideas about parental codependency & female sexuality, this filthy, hilarious comedy subverts it to deliver a warm, touching story about loosening one’s grip on your child, & the terrors of butt-chugging.

Citizen Jake

As Mike de Leon’s swan song, Citizen Jake is didactic, clunky, half-baked, & surprisingly amateurish from one of the best Filipino directors, but the audacity & anger pulsing through this personal, experimental film warrants your attention. Even if his attempts to hash out vendettas left & right whether they deserve it or not – I understand his deep anger for the Marcoses but what the hell is up with that random Ambeth Ocampo aside – results in a messy, self-indulgent movie, this is still an ambitious, compelling portrait of privilege & one’s complicity within a corrupt system.

Dirty Computer

God bless Janelle Monae. Not only did she dropped one of the best albums of 2018, she accompanied it with an “emotion picture” that is as rich & diverse as its source material. It adapts the songs from Dirty Computer – which are more personal & political than she’s done before – into visually astounding music videos & frames almost all of them as her memories which are deleted one by one, in a dystopian world that tagged her as “subversive” for being different. It’s far from a downer though, as it’s a joyous defiance against a ruthless, heteronormative society that may take its cues from the current state of our world, but one that’s hopeful for the future.

Ghost Stories

The Ghost Stories in the title refer to the three unsolved paranormal cases investigated by a famous skeptic, brought to him by the skeptic he idolizes. These stories offer traditional scares, but executed with effortless skill & sophistication, resulting in an anthology film without a single clunker in its lineup. But another mystery slowly unravels amidst his investigation, and drags the audience headfirst into a twisted tale of a man whose guilt manifests itself in surprising ways.

Hereditary

A24 continues its trend of distributing innovative horror films by producing one of their own. This feature-length debut from Ari Aster is a harrowing drama about grief, mental illness & the inevitability of family trauma built on top of an unnerving, oppressive horror film, where every scene drips with unescapeable tension & a simple cluck can horrify an audience. It also has one of the best acting ensembles of 2018, led by Toni Collette as a woman trying to keep herself from falling apart under unusual, horrible circunstances & failing to doing so.

The Incredibles 2

I don’t think The Incredibles 2 was able to outdo its predecessor. How can you even top a masterpiece? That doesn’t mean it wasn’t close. It might be burdened by a ton of ideas about superheroism that make it messy, but the ambition to probe its own genre continues to be enthralling & at combining it with a grounded story about the hardships of coparenting makes it even sweeter. Not to mention Brad Bird’s knack for creating thrilling action sequences with wit & clarity is on full display here, as best exemplified by Elastigirl’s frentic chase narrowly twisting & turning into the metropolis to stop a runaway train while she rides a motorcycle that can split up in half to accomodate her powers.

Isle of Dogs

Accusations of cultural appropriation & its usage of a white savior aren’t completely unfounded, & yet to say that it completely tanks the film is misguided either. Wes Anderson creates one of the most frustrating films of the year, where he pushes his usual preoccupations to newer heights by telling a fable about creeping fascism & oppression through the eyes of his beloved animals in gorgeous detail that shows his deep love & reverence for Japanese arts & culture, while once again revealing his lack of cultural sensitivities with his shallow interpretation of Japan that often veers into noxious Japanese stereotypes without meaning to. This distracts, yet rarely detracts, one of Wes Anderson’s most entertaining films in recent years.

Journeyman Finds Home: The Simone Rota Story

This is the only feature-length entry I’ve seen in Sinag Maynila 2018, & I’m lucky it’s this one. This inspiring documentary details the life of Simone Rota, an orphan adopted by an Italian couple in the Philippines who raised him in their home country & how his love of football put him on track back to his homeland as a member of the Philippines’ national football team. Now that he’s here, he decides to search for his biological parents while giving back to the community. It’s a rousing sports doc that gently builds into a tale of gratitude & acceptance about one’s place in the world & how to better it in your own way.

Love, Simon

We should be thankful that Love, Simon was not only adapted into a movie, but also backed by a major Hollywood studio – farewell 20th Century Fox – and distributed all over the world. That’s because it focuses on a closeted gay teen trying not to be outed by his blackmailer in this heartfelt coming-of-age film. That may seems like something out of a thriller, and it often plays as such, but it’s also warm, compassionate look at the importance of “coming out” to members of the LGBTQIA+ community & the repercussions of doing so, whether good or bad. Hopefully, someone who hasn’t come out yet gets to watch it for a chance to exhale, if only for a bit.

Magbuwag Ta Kay (Let’s Break Up, Kay)

One of the biggest bummers of 2018, besides everything else, is Magbuwag Ta Kay disappearing in cinemas after one week of its limited release. It’s not even showing in microcinemas anymore. It’s a shame, because this delightful Cebuano romantic comedy about a couple deciding to break up when one of them is emmigrating overseas inverts the established tropes of the current romantic comedies obsessed with kilig & hugot, affirming that there’s more to life than romantic love.

Meet Me in St. Gallen

Irene Villamor directed her first film on her own with the critically acclaimed Camp Sawi (Camp for the Broken-hearted) in 2017 – which sadly I still haven’t caught yet – but this year proved she’s a voice worth following by releasing two films about bittersweet romances that invigorate the genre with only a few months apart. The first of these movies is Meet Me in St. Gallen, about a chance encounter between two dreamers who find solace in each other for one night that turns into a meditation on missed opportunities & the inevitability of regret caused by the compromises we made, regardless of whether we did out for our own good.

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz

The latest film from Sigrid Andrea Barretto (Lorna, Kita-Kita) came & left the theaters without any buzz. Unlike Magbuwag Ta Kay, few microcinemas & legal streaming sites have picked up the slack from dooming this lovely film to oblivion. Pairing a cishet man & woman who never met before together on a trip to a tourist destination to find themselves after heartbreak may not be as novel as it used to be a few years ago, but not only does Mr. & Mrs. Cruz demonstrate why it’s an effective trope with her sharp, witty dialogue & excellent performances from JC Santos & Ryza Cenon, it becomes a showcase for Barretto’s knack for balancing whimsy & heartbreak – resulting in two of the most memorable scenes of the year – and gradually pushing back against the formula until it offers its own take on what a happy ending looks like.

Never Not Love You

Antoinette Jadaone’s most mature & satisfying film finds her & JaDine entering new territory. Never Not Love You starts off normally enough, with the couple instantly hitting it off, before it thrusts us into one of the best takes on choosing between love & career, where it exhibits how a relationship is a constant negotiation between helping your partner or focusing on your own growth, and whether love can survive in the process.

Paddington 2

The first Paddington surprised everyone with its delightful mix of a heartwarming story of an immigrant who just happens to be a bear finding his place in London & its unmistakably British sense of humor. Just like every great sequel, Paddington 2 expands on everything that made the first one such a warm, lovely treat & adds Hugh Grant’s inspired performance as a vain, conniving failed actor stuck doing dog commercials. For almost two hours, it’s a funny, heartfelt treatise on empathy & kindness jam-packed with humor & emotion.

Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)

Irene Villamor’s second film this year differs from Meet Me in St. Gallen by creating a bittersweet romance out of an oft-ignored aspect in romantic comedies. A ridiculously rich stockbroker suffering from insomnia pays a plucky, hardworking woman with at least three jobs to accompany him during his sleepless nights. It sounds gimmicky, but it illustrates how the stark class divisions in the Philippines affect every aspect of our lives, including our relationships.

Sin Island

Star Cinema decided to bank on a sexually charged film as their film for Valentines’ Day & we’re treated to one of the dumbest & trashiest Filipino films in recent memory. That’s not an insult. Completely witless & predictable, Sin Island rises above these flaws for operating on pure id – admittedly built on toxic ideas about monogamy – and presenting it with the utmost style & sincerity even as it amps up the insanity, producing one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

This is America

Donald Glover’s latest single is a great song on its own, but what takes it to another level is its music video directed by Hiro Murai. Donald Glover tours us into a twisted, surreal funhouse mirror of America where he navigates us between multiple modes of blackness to reveal a nation loves to appropriate black culture while ignoring the plight of black people. It’s a compelling work that gains its power for simultaneously being confrontational & obtuse about its deeper meaning.

Unsane

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film is a grimy, violent exploitation film about exploitation. A mentally distressed woman seeks help in a behavioral center after memories of her stalker continue to haunt her. Instead, she’s once again taken into a system that doesn’t address her needs & takes advantage of her at every step of the way. Being shot with an iPhone 7 Plus amps up the claustrophobia, trapping us in the facility & her troubled mind.

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz & How We Define Happy Endings

Contains spoilers for Mr. & Mrs. Cruz. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, you can read it here.

Romantic comedies carry a lot of expectations about what kind of movies they’ll be. They will almost always feature two young, gorgeous people who, slowly but surely, will fall in love & get the happy ending they deserve; both of whom will presumably have a happy relationship once the credits roll. It’s a formula that works for a good reason: It’s fun, escapist, somewhat idealistic entertainment & there’s nothing wrong with that.

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz seems like it would be a traditional romantic comedy updated for current audiences. That’s not a problem, because it’s a masterful execution of the genre thanks to Sigrid Andrea Bernardo & the lovely performances from Ryza Cenon & JC Santos. But the movie has more in its mind, pushing beyond its initial premise that somehow makes it more human & fanciful at the same time.

Both Raffy (JC Santos) & Gela (Ryza Cenon) have valid reasons to get away from the city & take a tour of Palawan. Initially we’re only told that Raffy finds a letter from her fiance breaking off the engagement with the ring near it before the wedding, while Gela hugs her wedding dress, clearly dreading the idea of going through the wedding. But once they both start drinking at a bar after a day of bonding together, they finally share the reasons why they took their vacation. Raffy’s fiancee left him at the altar after being with him for three years, while Gela left his husband after they got married for three months; whom she’s been with for eight years. Raffy is still wounded by this, especially since he proposed to his fiancee on Palawan three years ago. Gela feels hurt & guilty for leaving her husband, who gave her everything she wanted when they were together for eight years; even if she needed to do so because she’s losing herself in their relationship.

Their drunken, hilarious, heart-to-heart talk helped them gain a mutual understanding on one’s heartbreak. Raffy now understands why her fiancee left, while he assures Gela that she did the right thing. This leads to the couple trying to make out while completely wasted on alcohol, which ends with Gela puking on Raffy, Gela trying to find Nemo of Finding Nemo in her vomit, & feeding some of it to Raffy, a disgusting but hilarious ending to their fun, heartfelt night.

After they’ve woken up & had a contentious misunderstanding about last night’s events, it’s clear that they’ve become even closer & more enamored of each other. They are freed from their issues thanks to one another. When they found out that the tour they joined left them, they decide to explore the sights of Palawan together. It even inspired Raffy to show Gela a video of his engagement from his ex-fiancee & delete it afterwards. Gela is shocked to find out that Gela & her ex-husband were also in Palawan back when they weren’t married when Raffy proposed to his ex-fiancee. She decides not to tell him, as they continue to enjoy each other’s company.

It’s at this point you’d expect the movie to end, with both of them presumably having a long, happy relationship after they leave the island. Why couldn’t it? They’re clearly in love, they comforted & supported each other, & the movie even implies that they’re destined to be together.

But Gela doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with Raffy. She thinks they’re both at different points in their life, & they need more time to find their place in the world. Even she finds their whole situation to be unreal, commenting that it’s something out of a romantic comedy. And she thinks they might see each other someday. Raffy asks her to reconsider & trade contact details, but she declines, leaving him alone in Palawan. After she left, Raffy finds her copy of Romeo & Juliet. He opens it & reads her parting message, with her incomplete cellphone number scribbled in the book’s first page. He also finds a picture of Gela, ripped from a photo taken by the newlywed couple who joined their tour.

It’s an ending that is at odds with itself, falling outside of the typical “happy ending” demanded by the genre while embracing the tropes of the genre. However, it makes complete sense. While their story has the makings of a fantastic romantic-comedy – and I’d agree because the movie is fantastic – they still have a lot to work on. Both of them still need to figure out what to do next; especially Gela, who’s trying to learn who she is after staying in a relationship for eight years. Staying together would worsen whatever hangups they have. Finding someone to love & reciprocates that feeling may be the usual conclusion we get in romantic comedies, but Mr. & Mrs. Cruz suggests that prioritizing our self-improvement is more important. Maybe after we find ourselves, it’ll be easier to find the “happy ending” we deserve.

Movie Review: Mr. & Mrs. Cruz is a Hilarious, Resonant Tale About Moving On

TL;DR: Mr. & Mrs. Cruz embraces the genre’s tropes & executes them masterfully, but it becomes more heartfelt once it leaves them behind.

It should be obvious from the trailers that Mr. & Mrs. Cruz is another hugot-infused “Before Sunrise” riff in a picturesque locale that’s sure to inspire lots of swooning romantics & broken-hearted cynics to go soul-searching on Palawan to find themselves. It’s a formula on the verge of becoming banal & repetitive, as numerous Filipino movies have used the template by the influential That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Destiny), but riffed on it in different ways. The latest movie from Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, the director of Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita (Anita’s Last Cha-Cha) & the highest-grossing Filipino indie Kita Kita (I See You), might lean closer to the formula compared to others, but it’s done brilliantly, while coming up with its own ideas.

Gela Cruz (Ryza Cenon) & Raffy Cruz (JC Santos) are two tourists who went to Palawan in order to find themselves on their own after both experienced a wedding-related snafu. Neither of them have met before, but people keep confusing them for a married couple thanks to their similar, yet ridiculously common surname; including an old couple celebrating their golden anniversary & newlywed couple who are grouped with them in the tour. At first, they try their best to stick to their plans of enjoying this trip alone, but they easily hit it off; even if they had a huge fight about the importance of marriage. What they slowly realize is they each have something to impart that will help them move past their heartbreak.

What makes Mr. & Mrs. Cruz stand out from the rest is how it sharpens the film’s elements at its most effective. The movie mostly sticks with Gela & Raffy for the rest of the movie talking to each other, & it never grinds to a complete halt. Bernardo has always had a great ear for memorable dialogue & that quality shines through. The conversations Gela & Raffy have range from the silly, mundane, & hugot-related, but it’s always witty & engaging. They’ll be riffing on the implications of eating El Nido soup, how Romeo & Juliet isn’t aspirational once you look at it during adulthood, & their heated exchange about the need for marriage. Even those outside Gela & Raffy are amusing & memorable, giving the main couple a chance to interact with others. It isn’t above indulging in scenes outside its grounded tone if it will lead to something remarkable, including a funny gag involving dry-fit shorts & moments of whimsy that’s one of Bernardo’s trademarks. All of it is stirkingly shot, capturing how Gela & Raffy are slowly becoming closer to each other from the exquisite beaches of Palawan to its clean hotel rooms.

But the movie wouldn’t work without Ryza Cenon & JC Santos at its center. Their initial awkwardness quickly give way to a comfortable looseness they easily exude. It’s so enthralling to carry themselves well to Bernardo’s snappy dialogue. JC Santos is more aggressive & slightly reckless as Raffy, while Ryza Cenon is more composed as Gela, but willing to banter or fight back at Raffy’s repartee.

But starting from the night Raffy & Gela get drunk at a bar, it becomes clear Ryza Cenon is the instant standout. She becomes an emotional trainwreck as Raffy & Gela dig deeper about their issues. Cenon switches from laughing, drinking, crying, & laugh-crying while drinking, turning into a manifestation of a heartbroken id who drowns her sorrow with alcohol, but no matter how hard she tries, her broken heart always wins out; so she might as well have fun. JC Santos plays the much needed equally heartbroken, but more levelheaded drunken straight man, reacting to Gela’s ramblings while trying to make sure she’s safe. As they return to their hotel room, they reciprocate each others feelings in clumsy, awkward yet romantic fashion that inevitably turns into a literal mess.

Its heavy use of tropes appears to be purposeful though. Bernardo keeps propelling the narrative to something more emotionally true, even as it includes a twist that seems out of place. It’s a neat trick that makes it even more insightful & human. At the end, Mr. & Mrs. Cruz reveals what it truly is: a story of two people making sense of each other’s pain & sorrow.