My top twenty: 2015

Posted on December 26, 2015


Recalling the Tamil films of 2015 that, even if not great in the overall sense, stood out for some reason(s). Here, in alphabetical order.

  1. 144: At first, I found the narrative a rhythmless mess, too “quirky” for its own good. But slowly, I tuned into the film’s vibe, and just thinking about the bits now — a gangster named ‘Feelings’ Ravi, the bemused cop who keeps saying “kandippa” — is making me smile.
  2. Baahubali: The year’s most spectacular film isn’t just about grandeur in visuals. It’s about grandeur in ideas. It’s proof that a talented, imaginative filmmaker can take a masala story as old as the hills and make us feel we’ve never seen anything like it. It’s why wolf whistles were invented.
  3. Bench Talkies: This collection of short films was a disappointingly mixed bag. But the fact that something this offbeat – with varied subjects, from an existentialist take on two men who lie bleeding on a hillside to Karthik Subbaraj’s tragic drama about fishermen in dangerous waters – made it to theatres makes me want to cheer a bit.
  4. CSK – Charles Shafiq Karthiga: A beautifully written thriller woven around the events of a single night. The making, hampered by obvious constraints (budgetary and otherwise), doesn’t match the writing, but that’s easy to overlook. Once the plot kicks in, the focus is laser-sharp.
  5. Indru Netru Naalai: Sci-fi isn’t easy to pull off in the Tamil mainstream, and there is a lot of spoon-feeding in this yarn about a time machine. But it all goes down smoothly, even if this is more of a comedy than the thriller it wants to be.
  6. Kaaka Muttai: Two children who live in a slum want to taste pizza. From this premise, we get something so entertaining — part crowd-pleasing art film, part arty crowd-pleaser — that it’s easy to forget how sad the undercurrents are. Stunningly made and performed.
  7. Kirumi: This story of a microscopic man who wants to become a big shot is a superb, low-key character study masquerading as a thriller. One-of-a-piece, free of false notes – and there’s attitude from start to finish.
  8. Kuttram Kadithal: This biting drama set in and around the school system (and the System) is about a number of things: Communism, Maxim Gorky, motherhood, religion, humanity… and a call for revolution. Very fine filmmaking, which immerses us in its world.
  9. Moone Moonu Varthai: This is on my list simply because it’s a reminder that we don’t get many easy-watch romantic comedies. Too low-key for some tastes, but it’s pleasantly nuts and full of little surprises – plus, there’s a nice little high concept tucked in.
  10. Naanum Rowdy Dhaan: A Kill Bill-like premise about a woman out to avenge herself on a gangster becomes an entertainingly silly comedy about an anti-rowdy. A welcome return to form for Vijay Sethupathi, who’s surrounded by a crack team of comics, including Parthiban in glorious form.
  11. O Kadhal Kanmani: The classiest romance of the year. I wish there had been a little more conflict in this story of a couple in a live-in relationship, but the leads are delightful and Mani Ratnam keeps you smiling through their ups and downs in the way only he can.
  12. Orange Mittai: A road movie. A drama about fathers and sons. And a moving exploration of loneliness in one’s advanced years. The title may refer to candy but the film is a quiet ode to the bittersweet life.
  13. Papanasam: The best of Kamal Haasan’s three releases this year. The thriller may have worked better for those unfamiliar with the Malayalam original, but the attraction for Tamil viewers was the opportunity to watch the rare common-man performance from the actor, who pitches his histrionics at the exact “cinematic” level the cinema-crazy character demands. He’s terrific.
  14. Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai: Despite some grippingly cinematic portions in his films, SP Jhananathan still comes off less a filmmaker than a pamphleteer. But the points he brings up are incendiary. One of the pleasures of this entertaining prison-escape drama is that it also makes you think.
  15. Rajathanthiram: A solid thriller about small-time crooks planning a big-time heist. It’s been a good year for first-time filmmakers, and director AG Amid, refreshingly, appears to be operating out of a love for cinema rather than fear of the box office.
  16. Thamizhukku Enn Ondrai Azhuthavum: While our big-name filmmakers refuse to budge from formula, it’s the newcomers, like Ramprakash Rayappa, who keep taking us someplace… well, new. The film isn’t quite the ticking-clock thriller the premise suggests, but with so many laughs, why complain?
  17. Thani Oruvan: Overlong and a tad preachy – but this is a pretty smart, pulpy thriller, a sustained cat-and-mouse game between hero and villain. And with far more style than you expect in a… Mohan Raja movie. Just what has he been having for breakfast?
  18. Thilagar: One way to regard this insightful, empathetic rural drama is as a rehash of Thevar Magan targeted at the C-centre audience. A pacifist is forced to take to violence when his brother is killed. Lots of action, and some bravura filmmaking, but the film is more about the emotional cost of violence.
  19. Trisha Illana Nayanthara: The year’s most honest movie. Director Adhik Ravichandran promised a cheerfully crude entertainer made with hormonal teens in mind, and he delivered exactly that. I wish he’d pushed the ‘A’ rating further, gotten his hands dirtier, but give the film credit for making the “virgin” hero the butt of all its jokes.
  20. Yennai Arindhaal: Despite the fine craftsmanship, somewhat disappointing as a Gautham Menon movie. But a first-rate Ajith outing, the rare star vehicle that showcases the leading man as not just a masala god but also a fairly ordinary human being.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil