It’s Christmas season, and for the local film industry, it’s also the season for the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), one of the top award-giving bodies in the country. In its close to six decade of existence (first, as the Manila Film Festival), the festival has seen the worst of controversies, but the best part was the recognition of the artistic excellence of various actors and actresses who graced the silver screen.
“And the best actor award goes to” is a line that always puts the audience at the edge of their seat in every acting competition. As the Philippines holds the 49th edition of the MMFF this holiday season, let’s look back on some of the Best Actor and Best Actress winners the festival has awarded over the years.
As people say, the first one is always memorable. Before Joseph Estrada ‘Erap’ became the 13th president of the Philippines and the 26th mayor of Maynila, he first gained popularity as a film actor after playing lead roles in several films for some three decades.
Estrada’s stint in the acting industry was quite memorable, given that he was the one who founded the first Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in 1975 alongside Guillermo de Vega. The same year, he was also awarded the first Best Actor in the festival’s history for the film ‘Diligan Mo ng Hamog ang Uhaw na Lupa’.
Before the establishment of MMFF, Estrada’s first initiative for the film industry was the creation of the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund), which aims to help filmmakers through financial reimbursements, for instance, medical, alternative income opportunities, housing, etc. Since its inception, the foundation has produced some of the most skilled and respected producers, filmmakers, writers, and performers in both the independent and mainstream sectors of the industry.
At the age of 87, Estrada is currently the oldest living former Philippine president. In 2007, he witnessed his son Jinggoy Estrada bagging the Best Actor award for the film ‘Katas ng Saudi’ in the 33rd edition of MMFF.
Christopher de Leon
With eight wins between the years 1976 and 2008, Christopher de Leon currently holds the record for the most number of Best Actor awards in MMFF history. He first secured the title and became the second-best actor after Joseph Estrada for the film ‘Ganito Kami Noon… Paano Kayo Ngayon? ’ in 1976. The film was selected as the Philippine entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 49th Academy Awards (Oscars) but was not accepted as a nominee.
Aside from de Leon taking home the Best Actor award that year, the film won big during the night after nabbing six awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Music, and Best Art Direction. Given the value that the film holds, ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab restored the version in 2013 so the current generations would be able to see the film, which took 2,479 manual hours in restoring and 80 hours for color grading.
Other than the mentioned film, de Leon bagged his other Best Actor award for the films Haplos (1982), Imortal (1989), and Nasaan ang Puso. (1997) Bulaklak ng Maynila (1999) Mano Po 3: My Love (2004) Magkaibigan (2008).
Now for the 2023 MMFF, de Leon has an entry with former loveteam Vilma Santos titled ‘When I Met You in Tokyo,’ and it marks their reunion project after starring in around more than 20 films together.
Dingdong Dantes is one of the frontrunners in the MMFF Best Actor category after winning the award in two consecutive years for the films Segunda Mano (2011) and One More Try (2012). Now, with his current entry for MMFF 2023, critics are saying that Dantes is en route to his third.
The MMFF Best Actor is Dantes’ first ever major award in acting for a film. His ‘One More Try’ was a blockbuster hit after it was hailed as the second-top grosser of the 2012 MMFF. Aside from the actor’s triumph, the film earned six awards at the 38th MMFF, including Best Picture, Best Child Performer, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and the Fernando Poe Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence.
Dantes’ 2023 MMFF entry ‘Rewind’ is a reunion project with his onscreen and real-life wife Marian Rivera after 13 years.
In 2016, Paolo Ballesteros made history as the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to win the Best Actor award for the LGBTQ+ film ‘Die Beautiful.’ Aside from this award, the film took home the Best Supporting Actor, Best Float, and MMFF Most Favorite Film.
The film did not only emerge victorious in MMFF, but it also received international nods at the Tokyo International Film Festival, as Ballesteros was named the festival’s Best Actor and the film won the Audience Choice Award, with a total of 16 films competing.
‘Die Beautiful’ received numerous accolades from different awarding bodies, but its significance lies in its initiative to showcase a trans woman’s struggles in modern Filipino society. Many have related to the film, but most have commended the efforts to represent the underrepresented in the industry.
During the 46th edition of MMFF, Paulo Avelino and his film ‘Fan Girl’ became the talk of the town, not only because of the actor’s memorable performance as he won the Best Actor, but mainly because of the exhibition of Avelino’s frontal scene in the film.
In 2020, the film’s cast had to defend that the movie had more depth than what others claimed it to be, as they all said that the actor’s nude scene was just a small part of the film.
“I feel bad about what happened to Pau. I just hope people will see that the film is more than that controversy and that it actually makes sense. I’m thankful to those who have seen the film legally and to those who stayed to watch because they liked the story. The movie has so much more to offer than just Paulo’s frontal nudity scene,” said Avelino’s co-star Charlie Dizon.
Despite the controversy and the online piracy it faced, ‘Fan Girl’ won big during the award’s night of the film festival that year. It took home nine awards, including best picture. Antoinette Jadaone bagged the best director and best screenplay awards, while Neil Daza got the best cinematography trophy. The best editing award was given to Benjamin Tolentino, and the best sound award went to Vincent Villa. It also won the best float (virtual parade, third place) award.
It’s undeniable that Nora Aunor is one of the best living actresses in the Philippines. She is the equivalent of Meryl Streep being the most awarded Best Actress in the Oscars, as Aunor is the most awarded MMFF Best Actress in the festival’s history, holding the title “Queen of Metro Manila Film Festival.” Aside from being the Best Actress for so many years, she holds the top grossing films during the entire run of the festival and the unprecedented Best Performer award, which was only given once.
‘Himala’ is not the first film that gave Aunor her Best Actress award, but it is the film that became the most memorable for the audience as the actress gave a performance of a lifetime in the film, earning her more than just global recognition. This film is widely considered to be one of the greatest Filipino films of all time.
The film was also the first Filipino film to be included in the competition section of the Berlin International Film Festival. In 2008, ‘Himala’ won the Viewer’s Choice Award for the Best Film of All Time from the Asia-Pacific Region in the CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards, beating nine other films voted for by thousands of film fans around the world.
Aunor has cemented her legacy in the Philippine television and film industry, which will surely stand the test of time.
Maricel Soriano comes in second in the most awarded MMFF Best Actress category, with trophies for films “Nasaan ang Puso,” “Filipinas,” “Bahay Kubo,” “Yesterday Today Tomorrow,” and “Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy” on her belt. Soriano is regarded as the “Diamond Star” and “Drama Anthology Queen” for achieving both commercial and critical acclaim in both the television and film industries.
With more than just MMFF accolades under her name, she has been an influential figure in the Philippine entertainment industry. She’s also been referred to as a “gay icon” for her support of the community, her drag, and her distinct campiness in films and television. Jujiin Samonte of Mega Magazine stated her lasting impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, saying, “Her work and allyship have made a lasting impact on our queer culture.
The local festivals, including the MMFF, started the acting competition between Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor. Despite being magnificent on their own, the media got involved in putting the two great actresses against each other. In 1977, Santos took home the Best Actress award against Aunor for the film ‘Burlesk Queen.’ According to the critics, it was the movie that first showcased the versatility of Santos.
‘Burlesk Queen’ became the top grosser in that year and won eight awards out of ten. Santos’ MMFF record may not be as stellar as her URIAN or FAMAS awards, but it is undoubtedly notable in its own right.
After an eight-year hiatus on the big screen due to her foray into politics, “Star For All Seasons” is set to make a comeback for a 2023 MMFF entry, “When I Met You in Tokyo,” with Christopher de Leon. The last time the two were paired was for the MMFF movie “’Mano Po III: My Love,” which was proclaimed by the festival jurors Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively.
Gloria Romero’s stellar record from her family drama film “Tanging Yaman” (2000) and the LGBTQ+-themed movie “Rainbow’s Sunset” (2018), which both won big in their respective years, bagging 8 and 11 awards from the MMFF competition, respectively, including for Best Actress.
With a career spanning more than 70 years and over 250 acting credits, Romero is considered the “First Lady of Philippine Cinema.” She is known for her sophisticated and demure image, making her the Grace Kelly of the Philippines. Romero remains one of the major stars of Philippine cinema’s Golden Age and is one of the longest-working Filipino actresses in Philippine entertainment.
In celebration of her 90th birthday, Romero made her first public appearance since the global pandemic in 2020, which was attended by legendary icons in the acting industry such as Barbara Perez, Celia Rodriguez, Helen Gamboa, Liza Lorena, and Gina Alajar, among others.
Judy Ann Santos
Since beginning her career as a child actress, Judy Ann Santos has been regarded as one of the most talented and accomplished Filipino actresses of her generation, having appeared in more than 50 films and numerous television series. Santos received her first MMFF Best Actress trophy with the film Kasal, Kasali, and Kasalo, which she starred in alongside her real-life husband Ryan Agoncillo.
Kasal, Kasali, and Kasalo had a two-week gross of ₱139.9 million, becoming the highest-grossing film of the 32nd MMFF. It also emerged as the big winner of that year’s MMFF, with a total of nine awards. It earned around ₱187 million, making it the 4th highest-grossing Philippine-produced movie of all time.
Meanwhile, Santos’ Mindanao, which gave her her second Best Actress award, was selected as the Philippine entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.