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Parsing the Top 250 Filipino Films List on Letterboxd

By Philbert Dy
October 06, 2021

Letterboxd is a film-focused social media platform. Users can log the movies they watch, rate them, and write reviews. They can also make lists, and user Jay put together a ranking of the top 250 Filipino films based on their ratings on the site. The list is regularly updated as ratings come in, and it provides some insight into how Filipino cinema is perceived.

To be eligible for the list, a film must have been logged at least ninety times on the site. It may seems like a high barrier, but this requirement excludes classics like Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, or Bernal’s Salawahan. Surprisingly, it also keeps out more recent movies that garnered a lot of buzz during their time in the festival circuit. Jay also put together a separate list of those films, and it really highlights the general lack of access to our own cinema. Go through that list, and you’ll find several films that won prizes at Cinemalaya or Cinema One Originals, but have since more or less disappeared.

But on to the main list itself, which is pretty fascinating. Jun Lana’s Barber’s Tales tops the list, which might be a surprise to some people. The 2013 film is certainly well regarded, but it didn’t really make waves locally. But it’s consistently been rated highly on the site: it has long been the highest rated film on Letterboxd with fewer than 2,500 views. As of this writing, it is sitting at just 882 views, but the reviews for the film itself are effusive and passionate, with viewers lauding the film for its female-centric story and its strong stance against Marcos and historical revisionism.

It feels like an outlier in the top ten, which mainly includes classics (Kisapmata, Himala, Moral, Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, and Oro Plata Mata), or more recent, buzzy indie hits, (Cleaners, Oda sa Wala, and John Denver Trending). The longevity of the film’s popularity on the site is curious, and it might be worth looking into giving it a proper re-release. There are certainly plenty of Letterboxd users around the world who are now curious about the film and want to see it.

The other outlier in the top ten is Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, which is a very interesting case in itself. It is probably reasonable to say that few Filipinos have actually seen the nearly eleven hour film. But it is among the most widely seen of the films on the list, because Lav Diaz’s body of work has been made accessible through international streaming site Mubi. And while the Letterboxd userbase has been expanding and diversifying during the pandemic, it has always attracted exactly the kind of cinephiles that would most appreciate the cinema of Lav Diaz. In fact, Diaz has the most films on this list, with 14 of his works showing up.

More than half of the list is made up of films from the 2010s. Letterboxd users skew young, and are far more likely to have seen Heneral Luna than Jose Rizal. But it’s notable how many classics still show up, probably owing to recent restoration efforts. It feels like there’s just more interest in the history of Filipino cinema than ever before. Ten years ago, few young Filipinos might have even known about the existence of Manuel Silos’ Biyaya ng Lupa. Now it is number twenty on a user generated list of best Filipino films on a social media site.

The list is, of course, a very imperfect snapshot of Filipino cinema. Recency bias is probably a big factor in it, and it’s all weighted heavily by what people actually have access to. But it’s useful nonetheless. At the very least, it’s just a good list of films, and it might be a good place to go to look for a recommendation. But it’s also useful as this rough sketch of what it is that gets people excited. That might be what Letterboxd does best: gauging the film world’s general enthusiasm for certain pictures. And though the sample sizes aren’t always enough to draw real conclusions, there’s always value in trying to understand what elicits passion from audiences.

Read more: Top 250 Narrative, Feature-length Filipino Films

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