10 Best Malayalam Movies of 2018

With the year almost coming to a close, it is time to look back and review how 2018 did in terms of Malayalam cinema. This year, Malayalam cinema has given us interesting a couple of films, a lot of which have the potential to be remembered fondly in the years to come. My main issue with the year so far is that it hasn’t been consistent in terms of quality. There were many releases, like Kayamkulam Kochunni for instance, that I had high hopes for given the names attached to the project as well as the budget backing it up, but which ended up disappointing me as they made the “creative” decision to forgo a good story with interesting characters and instead have a mess of occurrences directed to entertain the masses (with no other deeper value), and in the process, rake in the cash.

Gladly, a lot of my favorite filmmakers from the country hail from Kerala, and it always surprises me how innovative their storytelling is or directorial decisions are. With all that being said, here’s a look at the list of top 10 Malayalam films of 2018.

10. Ranam

‘Ranam’ is a film that I have more positives to say about than negatives, which is why I’ve included it in this list. The negatives are still strong, but the film propels a different kind of cinema in the industry, with raw energy driving its Hollywood-inspired yet strikingly original neo-noir filmmaking style. It is a compelling watch, though its plot feels mostly like a cluster of events from several movies of the same genre released before it, a lot of which is too clichéd to be referred to as just inspirations. The actors do their job well, and the film is competitively directed, but with the kind of promotion it had going, I expected a lot more. The film quite infamously under-performed at the box office this year, causing its cast to come out with some sad statements on social media. Everything else aside, this is probably the best directorial debut in Malayalam cinema this year.

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9. Sudani from Nigeria

‘Sudani from Nigeria’ was the surprise hit of the year. With a poor title that makes the film sound like a parody of itself, I didn’t have the highest of expectations going into the theatre. Thankfully, what I got was a sweet little heartwarming tale that left me happy for the most part. It isn’t perfect in its storytelling, the film has numerous faults to its name, starting with a cringe-worthy backstory tied into a story that really doesn’t need any, but despite all of that, it has its heart in the right place, and knows how to deliver its primary emotions. It isn’t showy and doesn’t make fun of its audience’s intelligence (unlike another film titled Njan Marykutty which came out this year and competed for the worst Malayalam film of all time), which is important in pictures like this that don’t necessarily have a groundbreaking plot or screenplay. It’s charming, and that is its biggest plus.

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8. Koode

The always inventive Anjali Menon, who directed this film, looks into one of her trademark themes (being sibling relationships) from a different perspective. The film is flawed in that it fails to balance its own subjects, giving the viewers little to nothing to latch on to by the end, but the plot in itself serves some wonderful ideas. Joshua returns home from Dubai after receiving a call informing him about the death of his sister. After spending a couple of days there, though, her spirit begins to haunt him, but in a ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost’-sort of way, in that it’s really adorable, forming the crux of this feel good film. While it is charming in a lot of ways, it falls whenever it tries to bring sub-plots that unnecessarily mess with the overall mood of the story.

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7. Oru Kuprasiddha Payyan

I had no expectations before walking into this film, to be frank. It did have a good cast, but nothing else about it pulled me into wanting to check it out. I still did at the interest of my family, and I got a decent flick. ‘Oru Kuprasiddha Payyan’ opens in an interesting way, introducing the audience to a locality less dissected by Malayalam cinema, but follows it up with uninteresting character writing, and a mystery that goes nowhere. All of tha tin the first act, though, because the second is far better than anything it showed prior, with a very interesting court case and appreciable performances from both Nimisha Sajayan and Nedumudi Venu. The film also has a couple of clever cameos, and keeps the audience guessing during the trial scenes that take up the majority of the third act.

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6. Lilli

‘Lilli’ is without a doubt the most unusual Malayalam film to have released this year. It follows a plot that is in line with several American B films from the ’70s and ’80s to do with revenge, while taking inspiration from bigger American productions like ‘mother!’ (2017) and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968). ‘Lilli’ tells the tale of a pregnant woman who is kidnapped by three men as she turns two weeks due. The film thus sparks a story of intrigue, mystery, and cold, brutal violence.

Though I am of the opinion that a lot of the picture relies on showing just for the sake of showing, it still retains a level of steady focus for the better part of its runtime. Samyuktha Menon is very good in her role, which she carries forward in a way that keeps it fresh in comparison to the other pregnancy portrayals in cinema (that I’ve seen). What I guess I loved most about this film, other than its uncompromising nature, is the understanding it has of its title character, which is unfortunately broken in the bits following up to the final act, in my opinion – somewhere during the revenge sequence – though not in an unwatchable way. It’s a film that deserves to be seen, though it hasn’t been very popular.

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5. Eeda

There’s an exercise in style carried out by many of the younger filmmakers of the Malayalam industry, whereby the atmosphere they capture feels realistic, and this authenticity is incorporated well into making their plots work. ‘Eeda’ speaks of a love story that takes place in the midst of heated political wars, and this concerns the couple since its counterparts are from two rival parties located in Northern Malarbar, KJP and KPM. The film is a clear satire, but it doesn’t waste its runtime spent critiquing, rather it blends the essence of the rivalry with the innocence and sweetness of the romance. Unlike many Malayalam films that have come out in recent memory, ‘Eeda’ does not refrain to hiding the wonder and sequence of events in the unfolding of the romantic tale, which is charming and relatable. The film, unfortunately, did not perform well at the box office, and most of Kerala has already forgotten it. I consider it an essential watch, because its one of the more intimate experiences I’ve had with an Indian film this year.

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4. Joseph

‘Joseph’ was a surprise release during the second half of 2018. I went in with some expectations since it had been advertised quite a bit in Kerala. The film sports a very interesting story, great character writing, and appreciable direction as well as performances. Many people have described ‘Joseph’ as an emotional thriller, but I think of it more as an investigative mystery, because despite it being more emotionally involving than most Malayalam releases of the year, the core of the film’s mastery lies in the way the title character, a retired police officer, goes about his life after getting involved in a criminal case, leading the audience to inquire more about the closed, introverted, and isolated mind that guides the course of the plot. It does have its flaws, as the film loses track nearing the final act, and though it doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t feel like it has a very fitting conclusion.

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3. Aami

Kamal, the director of ‘Aami’, is one of the most celebrated filmmakers from Kerala. Though not all of his films have entertained me equally, I’ve always respected the way he handles his material. What I find to be the best thing about his cinema is his depiction of the passage of time. This has allowed a lot of his biographical works to strike a chord in me, because the way he portrays the descent of age is usually heartbreaking.

‘Aami’ is about Kamala Das, a real life (internationally renowned) writer, known for her controversial subject materials and poetic writing style. It details her life from childhood to her passing in 2009. There are a lot of elements in ‘Aami’ that don’t work. The acting from most of the cast is average (with timely exceptions from Murali Gopi and Manju Warrier), the dialogue feels needlessly accentuated, and the story suffers from issues like repetition and exaggeration. That being said, it strikes a chord. Though I don’t believe Kamala Das’ shocking life is the right kind of theme for a filmmaker like Kamal, I appreciate his dedication, evident on the screen with his clear understanding of the protagonist and the people around her. The first half isn’t as effective as the second, and the second is quite emotionally striking. I found ‘Aami’ to be a saddening experience, though a lot of flawed craft proved to distract me from enjoying the film as a whole. One thing’s for sure though, the film has gotten me more interested in the life of its protagonist.

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2. Mayaanadhi

Though ‘Mayaanadhi’ was a December release of 2017, it rose to fame and became successful in early January 2018; and since I hadn’t included it in my list of favorites for the previous year, I’ve decided to give it due appreciation by talking about it here. This is a Malayalam film that isn’t like any other I’ve come across. Sporting great characters, an investing story, beautiful cinematography, and a believable romance intertwined into all of this, ‘Mayaanadhi’ feels fresh and experimental in style, and I find that very applaudable. Though there is a sub-plot involving police officers that wasn’t as well-explored as I would’ve liked it to have been, this is a new kind of love story that isn’t a rehashed version of anything we’ve seen from the industry before, which already makes it better than most Malayalam films of the decade. Think of it as a Chunking Express (1994)-sorta romance with gunshots and money laundering.

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1. Ee Ma Yau

Films that centre around the topic of death usually get personal with me, mostly because I associate its theme and story with the events and characters from my life. ‘Ee Ma Yau’ is more about the reaction to a death than anything else – what happens in a little village off the coast in the aftermath of a drunkard father’s unexpected passing. I really loved this movie. It has a well-observed, well-written, and tight screenplay as well as top-notch direction, plus it really got me thinking about a lot of stuff to do with the human end, and in that sense I found it disturbing. All the performances had me awestruck and the plot structure as well as the pace, I felt, were borderline perfect. Though the film deals with a sad event, it isn’t the kind of drama you would expect to get given the subject matter, with effective bits of comedy sprinkled throughout its runtime.

As good as this film is, I thought it suffered from a tonal imbalance that was quite uncalled for, and therefore, it was a little distracting to me. Other than that, this is a clear example of great Indian filmmaking. Quite easily my favorite film of the year.

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