Okay, full disclosure: Making a “Best Movies of the Decade” list that can pander to everyone alike, is as about as hard as making a movie that can pander to everyone. As the 2010s come to a close, we’ve been agonizing over this list; mostly, because it’s quite overwhelming to summarize this decade of Malayalam Cinema. To think that many of the key players we have in the industry right now hadn’t even started their careers back then.
And then there’s the notion of resonance and what movie has a lasting impact. What was too late or too early for its time.
In many ways, 2010 was a much simpler time. Suraj Venjaramood was only a comedian. Fahadh Faasil was just doing cameos in Cocktail. Vineeth Sreenivasan was known more for his singing abilities. And of course, nobody cared about LJP or Aashiq Abu. In fact, the only thing that stayed consistent throughout the decade are the Big Ms.
Such is life, with lots of hard, sometimes bitter choices to be made. Impact aside, and weighing many different factors such as their cultural influences, what’s enjoyable about making a Best Of Decade list is looking at the films that last and whose resonance possesses meaningfulness in their timbre and echo.
It’s not science, nor consensus, but a straight-from-the-heart snapshot of the 2010s of Malayalam Cinema and what we and many of us believe are the greatest movies of the last 10 years.
The start of the decade was a confusing time for Malayalam cinegoers. On one hand, there were commercial outings like Pokkiriraja that seemed to continue capitalising on superstars’ markets: extrapolation of the industry’s survival kit of the 2000s. On the other hand, there was an interesting rise in low-to-medium budget movies with urban settings and bolder themes. Cocktail and Apoorvaragam were part of this movement, and these films seemed to work with the metropolitan audiences.
Best film: Pranjiyettan and the Saint. Despite having a superstar at the helm of it, the script really was king in this case. A well-made film by Ranjith that gave us the flawed yet lovable ‘Ari Pranji’.
Most Impactful film: Looking back, it’s probably Malarvadi Arts Club. Directed by ‘debutant director’ Vineeth Sreenivasan and featuring a host of newcomers including Nivin Pauly and Aju Varghese, the film tells a simple tale of friendship that worked well with the masses. The success of Malarvadi was indicative of the people’s willingness to accept novelty.
This year was a splendid, defining year for Mollywood. Commercially, it was the year of the multistarrer. A section of veteran filmmakers like Joshiy, Rafi-Mecartin and Shafi made purely commercial films that sold to people based on the bonafide big names in the cast (Christian Brothers, Chinatown and Makeup Man respectively). These films did rake in the numbers, but public appreciation seemed to go elsewhere.
The ripple of the “small good films” that had formed in 2010 got bigger and more mainstream, with films like Traffic, Salt N Pepper, Chaappa Kurishu and Beautiful. These films did not have great star value, comedy tracks, picturesque songs, and many other commercial tropes. What they did have, however, was never-before-seen execution of content. Asif Ali became an important face of this change (his later choice of films would defy this hypothesis though :/).
Best film: Traffic. The late Rajesh Pillai could be given credit for banging the gavel on the table and letting the audience know that this “Different Kind of Cinema” is here to stay. The film, with its superb screenplay, managed to convey its complex multilinear story with the help of an ensemble cast to the layman viewer.
Most Impactful film: Chaappa Kurishu. The drama which dealt with the accidental outbreak of an MMS clip against the backdrop of class contrast seemed to draw quite a lot of flak back then, especially for a two-minute-long kissing sequence. But over the years people have realised that the scene wasn’t a titillating gimmick but a major plot point on which the rest of the film rides. The film gave many the courage to experiment in the years to follow.
Honourable mentions: Urumi for attempting that kind of scale at a time when getting profitable returns was highly implausible.
The year had its share of memorable films and performances. It marked the arrival of many a who’s who of the decade, from actors (Nivin Pauly, Dulquer Salman, Fahad Faasil) to technicians (Vineeth Sreenivasan, Murali Gopy, Vijay Babu, Anwar Rasheed, Anjali Menon, Shaan Rahman). Anoop Menon, while receiving the trendsetter award that year, cited the biggest trend as “people finally watching films which didn’t have Mohanlal or Mammooty in them”.
Best film and the Most Impactful film: Ustad Hotel. Anjali Menon and Anwar Rasheed effectively bridged the gap between parallel cinema and commercial cinema and showed everyone that if a film has a heart, it can be gift-wrapped with a little commercial confetti (in this case, use of situational humour as well as Gopi Sunder’s fantastic soundtrack) and made tastier for the general public.
Honourable mentions: Thattathin Marayathu, as the film managed to gain a cult following for its fresh treatment of the age-old concept of inter-religion romance; 22 Female Kottayam because a bold film, that too with a woman protagonist, drawing in large audiences was a refreshing change; Notably, Lal Jose also gave us two memorable dramas with Diamond Necklace and Ayalum Njanum Thammil.
The year 2013 continued the previous year’s tendency to explore the unexplored. Themes ranged from political (Left Right Left) to sexual (Mumbai Police). The number of ‘hits’ were less as compared to the previous year, but that was probably because experimentation was in vogue, and not every experiment (read Up&Down, Kili Poyi, Arikil Oraal, Thira) made noise. The star of the year was Fahad Faasil who struck gold with each release: Annayum Rasoolum, Amen, Artist, North 24 Kaatham and Oru Indian Pranayakadha.
Best film: Mumbai Police. The Prithviraj film, essentially a murder investigation thriller, takes a brutally unprecedented turn at the climax and gave Malayalam cinema one of the smartest written films of the decade.
Most Impactful film: Drishyam. This industry hit not only ushered in a new genre by the name of Family Thriller; it was also Mohanlal’s way of saying that he was open to new ideas and not just formulaic safe bets.
Honourable Mentions: Amen for giving the romantic comedy genre a twist with musical and fantasy elements; Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanma Bhoomi for the out-and-out road movie experience; Memories and Neram for their super-tight screenplays.
A relatively dry year in terms of fresh content, 2014 primarily saw the rise of Nivin Pauly as the face of the feel-good genre through back-to-back successes 1983, Om Shanti Oshana and Bangalore Days.
Best film: Munnariyippu. This critically acclaimed, highly misleading thriller was Mammootty’s roaring comeback as a performer.
Most Impactful film: Bangalore Days. There was a universality in the content of this film (especially in the way relationships were portrayed) that transcended borders. This film increased the popularity of subtitled Malayalam cinema, and hence opened doors to newer markets outside of Kerala.
Honourable mentions: Fahad Faasil’s Iyobinte Pusthakam, directed by Amal Neerad, was a well-executed period drama which should have catered to a pan Indian audience.
The year 2015 could be called the year of Prithviraj (Anarkali, Ennu Ninde Moideen, Amar Akbar Antony) and Parvathy (Ennu Ninde Moideen, Charlie), with both of them being part of highly successful films.
Best film: Charlie was a poetic, charismatic boho film that had many memorable moments and performances (Dulquer, Parvathy and Nedumudi Venu) and another exquisite soundtrack from Gopi Sundar.
Most Impactful film: Premam. Apart from the crazy impact this film had on commerce and pop culture, there are a few technicalities that it brought along. Dialogues were written in a less dramatic tone than usual, and this added to the slice-of-life aspect of the film. One can see a marked difference in the way dialogues – especially those involving humour – have been written for films post-Premam. This along with the vibrant editing and camerawork gave a product completely different from, say an “Autograph” (Tamil film) which had a pretty similar plot.
Honourable mentions: Aadu Oru Bheekara Jeeviyaanu for showing the power of social media and meme marketing. Despite tanking at the box office for its quirky content, the characters gained cult status and it eventually became a franchise by Friday Film House. Chandrettan Evideya. This comedy-drama which has an illicit relationship as the core conflict, had Dileep play a middle-class husband without the usual antics that is associated with his body of work. In a decade’s filmography ridden with forgettable slapstick comedies, this Sidharth Bharathan directorial stands out for its subtlety.
The year had awesome variety in terms of scale, from low-budget gems like Guppy to big-budget high-concept films like Pulimurugan. The year also incited quite some talk around masculinity. There were vulnerable men (Maheshinte Pratikaaram), rough-but-righteous men (Action Hero Biju) and irreverent men (Kasaba). Maybe it was because of the contrast, but it was after Kasaba that people realized how, over the years, their favourite “mass heroes” often said the most chauvinistic things to thunderous applause in the theatres!
Best film: Maheshinte Pratikaaram was probably the first film in a series of films that deconstructed the idea of masculinity. The Dileesh Pothen film, inspired by a real incident in Cherthala, is centred on a man’s vow to take revenge. Over the course of the film, the viewer is made to realise how trivial the conflict of the film actually is – and broadly, how trivial most stimuli to male ego actually are. This film also deftly implements the butterfly effect, which ultimately culminates in the so-called conflict pre-interval.
Most Impactful film: Pulimurugan was the first Malayalam film to touch 100 crores at the box office. The film centred on a wild hunter broke the perception of Mollywood as a small industry producing small cute films. Pulimurugan’s Goliath theatrical run gave Mohanlal the leverage to headline bigger, more ambitious projects in the following years (Odiyan, the Lucifer series, Marakkar: Arabikkadalinte Simham, Barroz – most of them are currently in production*).
Honourable mentions: Action Hero Biju for being probably the best possible version of a real-life police journal brought to celluloid; Anuraga Karikkin Vellam for its realistic take on relationships; Kammattipadam for Rajeev Ravi’s gritty portrayal of the underbellies of Kochi.
The year is right up there in terms of quality content. Dileesh Pothen, Ashiq Abu and Lijo Jose Pellisery became the three most celebrated directors of the current crop, by delivering three cult hits in the same year.
Best film: Mayanadhi flows with an intensity that’s rarely seen in our films. Like most good romances, this film too rides primarily on the characterisation of the lead pair. Here, Aashiq Abu takes the viewer into the on-and-off equation Maathan shares with Appu. He makes you empathize with Maathan, however flawed he is: probably why the climax leaves the viewer with a bitter, numbing aftertaste.
Most Impactful film: Angamaly Diaries was the film where Lijo Jose Pellisery truly arrived. This gangster drama had quite a lot of factors going for it; it had 80 new faces in the cast, an 11-minute single take climax, superb situational humour peppered throughout the runtime and a “katta local” score by Prashant Pillai (his best work till date). Someone called it Kerala’s answer to Goodfellas, and then Anurag Kashyap endorsed it on social media, and suddenly everyone just sat up and took notice. To cater to the insane demand across the country, it was released on Netflix.
Honourable mentions: Take-Off for Parvathy’s knockout performance as a captive mother, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum for pushing the limits of realism in mainstream filmmaking.
2018 was a relatively mediocre year for Malayalam cinema, with few films truly hitting a peak and being unanimously called a winner.
Best film: Sudani From Nigeria. A heartwarming tale of unconditional love, this film is now a gold standard for feel-good films. What stood out for me in this Soubin Shahir starrer was the touching portrayal of the relationship between Sudu and the two motherly figures in the house.
Most Impactful film: Odiyan. (Don’t react yet, wait..) Because it taught everyone that there is an optimal level at which every film should be marketed, based on the scope of the film content-wise and budget-wise. Odiyan was hypermarketed beyond the scope of its feeble content, so most people who bought the pre-release hype had a pretty underwhelming viewing experience.
Honourable mentions: Ee.Ma.Yau for garnering crowds to watch in theatres what would have been labelled an “arthouse film” ten years ago; Koode for being the most grounded relationships-drama from Anjali Menon; Varathan for the purposely excruciating buildup and cathartic climax.
Everything seemed to come together this year, and Mollywood couldn’t have ended the decade with a bigger bang. The small indie films that started out in 2010 have now become a defining sub-section of the industry, spearheaded by a school of actors and technicians. Meanwhile, the success of Lucifer suggests that big-ticket films are here to stay, but the failure of Mikhael also reinstates that only the well-written ones may survive. The year particularly took forward the concept of masculinity and came up with several interesting films. The big draws of the year were Asif Ali (Uyare, Virus, Kettyolaanente Maalakha) and Suraj Venjaramood (Android Kunjappan, Vikrithi, Finals, Driving License) whose performances stood out in every film they were a part of.
Best film: Virus by Ashiq Abu was a case of good screenplay elevating an already good script. With a huge ensemble cast and a top-class technical crew, the film dealt with the various medical as well as socio-political aspects of the Nipah outbreak. Special mentions to Sushin Shyam’s chilling background score and Saiju Sreedharan’s slick editing.
Most Impactful film: Kumbalangi Nights is one of those contemporary classics that will be a reference point in the timeline of our films. It’s clear jibes at toxic masculinity, coupled with the stirring tale of a dysfunctional family mending its way back to normalcy, proved to strike a chord with audiences nation-wide.
Honourable mentions: Moothon for giving us the most beautiful love story of the year; Unda for making Mammooty play a real, vulnerable character after a string of disappointing alpha-male outings.
That was our list. Tell us yours in the comments section.