2016 in review

Posted on December 24, 2016

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Recalling the year’s Tamil films – the best ones (in order of release), as well as those that stood out for some reason(s).

Irudhi Suttru: Sudha Kongara spruces up a predictable underdog sports story (Ritika Singh is marvellous) with fresh, funny, lived-in situations. The resulting film is a wonderfully old-fashioned heart-warmer.

Visaranai: Vetri Maaran’s drama about how the System toys with us is powerful and unflinching, and it doesn’t need an Oscar to validate its greatness. The sound design is chilling. You feel the welts on your back.

Sethupathi: A routine cop movie, but with a “sariyaana psycho” at its centre. In the midst of the hero-versus-villain showdowns, SU Arun Kumar’s film is as much a chronicle of a husband and father grappling with a very dangerous job.

Vetrivel: Very little is really new in Vasanthamani’s rural drama, but the writing is solid, and the characters are fleshed out so well that even the smaller parts have well-rounded arcs. Sometimes, that’s enough.

24: Suriya gets his mojo back in Vikram Kumar’s expensive, out-of-the-box time-travel thriller. I can’t remember the last time a star vehicle was so meticulously, so inventively written.

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Uriyadi: Vijay Kumar’s gritty (and refreshingly grown-up) little film about four collegers who clash with the underlings of a political party. The action scenes are superbly choreographed.

Iraivi: Another of Karthik Subbaraj’s films that comes together better in the head than in the heart, but one that deepens the more you think about it (and the more you watch it). A refreshing “feminist” film, seen entirely though masculine eyes.

Oru Naal Koothu: Nelson Venkatesan’s drama centred on three couples is the rare Tamil film that portrays human relationships as necessary, yet complicated. The dialogues – low-key, measured, casual, conversational – are especially lovely. A small film with a big heart.

Joker: I didn’t care much for Raju Murugan’s earlier film, the overwrought Cuckoo, but some preachiness apart, his follow-up is a beauty, with a wonderful romance at its centre. Guru Somasundaram is fantastic in the title role, and Sean Roldan’s music is magnificent.

Kutrame Thandanai: Manikandan’s existential thriller tells us that crimes result in punishments, but without the moralistic finger-wagging we’ve come to expect from Tamil cinema. The “tunnel vision” conceit is marvellously utilised.

Aandavan Kattalai: Manikandan again, and this time with the year’s best film, a comedy of desperation about an honest man whose dire situation drives him to dishonesty. Entertainment that is about something, that says something – it’s the elusive grail Tamil filmmakers keep chasing. Only Manikandan seems to have found it.

Ammani: Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s textured drama is a portrait of people who aren’t necessarily bad. They’re just human. The proceedings are bracingly matter-of-fact, and even dreams of death are alive with humour.

Kodi: RS Durai Senthilkumar’s political action-drama is the kind of “commercial movie” we wish more of our stars would make. And when was the last time we saw a mass-film heroine with so much ambition, and such a colossal character arc?

In addition, the following films merit a mention:

Bangalore Naatkal, for being a faithful, warm, fun remake. Kanithan, for being, for the most part, a punchy thriller. Pichaikaaran, for its terrific premise. Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, for being a love story that’s actually an anti-romance, with lovely little non-dialoguey half-thoughts. Aviyal, for raising the bar on short films (especially the one titled Eli). Pugazh, for livening up a hackneyed angry-young-man plot with grit, texture.

Thozha, for making us laugh, cry, feel warm-fuzzy. Ko 2, for being a gentler variation on the macho vigilante movies we usually get. Marudhu, for Velraj’s wonderfully sunburnt images. Manithan, for Tamil-ising Jolly LLB without hero-ising it. Velainnu Vanthutta Vellakaaran, for Robo Shankar’s show-stopping, laugh-till-you-cry comedy stretch of the year. Amma Kanakku, for its atmosphere, flavour, nuance, gentle humour. Kabali, for bringing back at least a semblance of the older Rajinikanth.

Dharmadurai, for a solid story that hints at the clash between modern ideals and backward traditions. Rekka, for being so preposterously entertaining (or entertainingly preposterous). Thaarai Thappattai, for its Bala-isms and Ilayaraja’s rousingly red-blooded score. Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada, for an interesting take on the “structure” of a masala movie. Chennai 600028 – II, for its generous laughs. Jil Jung Juk and Jackson Durai, for exuding genuine coolth.

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Posted in: Cinema: Tamil