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Rewind 2018: Have you watched the Best Tamil Films of last year yet?

The year 2018 saw many experimental attempts in Tamil filmdom as audiences showed they are ready to embrace different content.

Karthik Kumar

Last year was fabulous for small and mid-level Tamil films with strong content. It was heartening to see these films find audiences as well, giving filmmakers the courage to go against the grain and pander less to the set norms of commercial cinema.

Vis-à-vis 2017, last year saw many experimental attempts in Tamil filmdom, including such gems as Ratsasan and '96, which proved that audiences are increasingly willing to embrace different content.

Here, then, is our list of top ten Tamil films of 2018, in ascending order. How many of these have you watched?

10. Kanaa

Kanaa was Tamil cinema’s big and confident leap into the sports film genre and that is one reason why it can’t be taken lightly, despite glaring flaws such as an overindulgent core.

Kanaa is a praiseworthy sports drama that gets most things right in its portrayal of an underdog’s journey to dream big and win against all odds.

The film marked the directorial debut of Arunraja Kamaraj, who has not only made a moving sports film about a young girl's cricketing dream, but also shed light along the way on the importance of farming and the miserable lives of most farmers.

Kanaa review: Moving sports drama with a melodramatic core idea

9. Seethakathi

Vijay Sethupathi’s Seethakathi, directed by Balaji Tharaneetharan, paid rich tribute to the life on stage of a theatre veteran. The film is both a satire and an endearing drama on art and how it is losing its prominence at a time when cinema has become the popular choice of entertainment.

Seethakathi, in the most moving, yet entertaining fashion, reminds us that it is still possible to respect and celebrate art through cinema without degrading the former.

Built on a quirky conundrum, Seethakathi deserves to be celebrated even if it takes time — a good 40 minutes — to warm up and really make sense of the meta angle. The film makes up for its terribly slow start with a rip-roaring dark comedy segment that brings down the roof on many occasions.

Seethakathi review: Moving yet entertaining metafilm on art and artistes

8. Pyaar Prema Kaadhal

First-timer Elan’s Pyaar Prema Kaadhal is one of the most straightforward and relatable romantic comedies of our times. Centred on the relationship between a young man from a lower strata of society and a woman from the upper, the film gets a lot of things right with respect to the genre, making it one of the boldest attempts in the space. Never has a Tamil film so openly discussed premarital sex and one-night stands.

As the lead pair, Harish Kalyan and Raiza Wilson shone while Yuvan Shankar Raja’s music made it one of the more satisfying albums of the year.

Pyaar, Prema, Kaadhal review: Refreshing romantic entertainer that must not be missed

7. Kolamaavu Kokila

If Breaking Bad had been set in Kodambakkam, you would get Nayanthara’s Kolamaavu Kokila, an excellent dark comedy about a hapless young woman who agrees to peddle drugs to save her family. An interesting aspect of the film is that it is an out-and-out star vehicle that gives us its share of whistle-worthy moments, yet it manages to stay true to its genre. The film is both quirky and ridiculous at times and that’s what makes it stand out.

Kolamaavu Kokila review: Nayanthara, Yogi Babu shine in engaging black comedy

6. Kaala

Superstar Rajinikanth’s Kaala may not have set the box office on fire, but it definitely stood out as a film with a unique voice.

The film works as a powerful, rooted and relevant story that shines the spotlight on the oppressed and their fight for identity, while echoing the same sentiments that powered last year's jallikattu and Sterlite protests.

It is a joy to watch Rajinikanth’s rage-filled performance as a slumlord turned messiah. He owns some of the scenes with the kind of charisma that is rare to see. Nana Patekar as the antagonist makes his presence felt through a powerful role that was surely one of the best negative characters of the year.

Kaala review: Brilliant film where the story reigns supreme

5. Ratsasan

Vishnu Vishal’s no-holds-barred psychological thriller Ratsasan set a new benchmark as per Tamil cinema standards. Unlike most thrillers that get predictable at some point, Ratsasan largely worked owing to the fact that it retains the suspense till the very end, delivering twists and turns to keep the viewer hooked throughout.

It was amazing of director Ramkumar, who made his directorial debut with the highly experimental comedy Mundasupatti (2014), to shift gears and make something as gutsy and offbeat as Ratsasan as his sophomore film.

4. '96

Prem Kumar’s '96 is undeniably one of the more heartwarming romantic stories of our times and it achieves this by crushing so many clichés associated with the genre.

It is amazing how the film, through its lead characters — played without a single misstep by Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha — conveys so much about love without actually saying it on screen.

In a refreshing departure from her recent slate of lousy films, Trisha shines in one of the more memorable characters of her career while Vijay Sethupathi plays his part with unparalleled sensitivity and warmth.

However, the real star of '96 was its composer Govind Vasantha, who proved why music is the soul of romantic stories.

'96 review: A throwback to a simpler time, of gentler men and true love

3. Vada Chennai

In their third collaboration, Dhanush and Vetrimaaran — a pair that only seems to be getting better with each outing — take us on a terrific journey into the dark underbelly of rowdyism and politics in North Chennai.

Tamil cinema has had its share of gangster films, but there hasn't been a more authentic and rooted gangster film than Vada Chennai, and Vetrimaaran and his team deserve all the credit for it.

It does take a lot of patience, however, to sit through the film and if you are not used to its slow-burning mood, you might find it hard to invest yourself in this 166-minute tale of an accidental gangster and his rise.

Vada Chennai review: Vetrimaaran's film is a deeply layered, intense action thriller

2. Pariyerum Perumal

At a time when most filmmakers use the Dalit card to just grab the attention of the masses, filmmaker Pa Ranjith is the most genuine, and lone, voice when it comes to truly addressing the subject of caste discrimination in mainstream Tamil cinema.

In his maiden production, Pariyerum Perumal, the voice of the oppressed gets heard in the most hard-hitting fashion in what could easily be described as one of the more moving stories of uprising in recent times.

Mari Selvaraj makes a gutsy directorial debut with a film which truly deserved all the laurels that came its way.

Pariyerum Perumal review: A masterpiece that cannot be missed!

1. Merku Thodarchi Malai

If there was one Tamil film last year that took audiences by surprise, it was Merku Thodarchi Malai, a moving drama about man, land, politics and power.

Produced by Vijay Sethupathi, the film quietly gives us a glimpse into the lives of the working class people living along the Western Ghats without needlessly making the portrayal melodramatic. It is also probably the only Tamil film that doesn’t glorify a farmer as the son of the soil.

It is a film that takes its time to make its point — how development also leads to the destruction of a way of life and a community — but if you give it the time, you are rewarded with a solid punch in the gut.

Merku Thodarchi Malai review: Nothing short of a masterpiece

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