10 Best 2023 Tamil Movies: In 2023, Tamil cinema has suffered from one major issue, which, in hindsight, seems to be perenially inbuilt into Tamil cinema, i.e., our filmmakers’ obsession with making an idea or subject ‘mainstream’ to the extent that their work becomes muddled and diluted. This year has had such a fair share of ‘intriguing-yet-lacklustre’ films On the other hand, some young filmmakers focus more on political correctness, ideology, and messaging that they forget to make a cinema. Naturally, these promising Tamil filmmakers are yet to learn that good intentions don’t make good cinema.

As usual, Tamil cinema’s massive stars are satisfied with mediocre outputs. Why shouldn’t they be complacent when such below-par cinema is wholly embraced at the box office? And we wish the filmmakers who direct these star vehicles spend more time sculpting the script than championing their film in the YouTube channel interviews. Nevertheless, we have some laudable works amidst all these exasperating trends in the 2023 Tamil cinema.

While Tamil directors have attempted to touch diverse genres in 2023, social dramas still remain the pivotal source of well-crafted Tamil cinema. Apart from the ten + two 2023 Tamil movies mentioned here, quite a few generally acclaimed films are left out solely because they didn’t work for me as much as the ones mentioned here. This includes Irugapatru (relationship drama), Bommai Nayagi (social drama), Parking (drama thriller), and Thalaikoothal (social drama). Although PS Vinoth’s brilliant debut, Koozhangal (Pebbles), had its OTT debut in 2023, I have considered it a 2021 film (also the year I watched it), and hence it’s not part of the list.

Honorable Mentions:

Yaathisai

Yaathisai_Tamil Movies 2023

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

There are very few historical fiction or period dramas in Tamil cinema, especially for a land that boasts of possessing thousands of years of history. Most of what we have also come across as veneration of old kingdoms or tales of oppression set during the British colonization. Therefore, Dharani Rasendran’s Yaathisai is a breath of fresh air because it tries to take you back to the 7th-Century Pandya Kingdom. It was the era when King Ranadheera Pandiyan reigned supreme after defeating the mighty Cholas and the Cheras.

Yaathisai follows a power-obsessed Kothi (Seyon), a young man from the exiled Einar Clan. He plans to assassinate Ranadheeran (Shakthi Mithran) and take his fort, situated in what used to be Chola heartlands. If Kothi’s plan succeeds, the scattered warriors of Cholas vow to come to his aid. The film is made with extremely limited resources, and the technical shortcomings definitely take you out of the narrative on many occasions. The characters aren’t fleshed out very well, and some acting performances are below average.

Yet the filmmaker efficiently guides us through the ancient era’s cultural and social set-up. Unlike the contemporary attempts to idealize the old Tamil kingdoms, Yaathisai lays bare the vicious nature of war and those seeking power and authority. Overall, the film is watchable for its sheer ambition and passion.

Where to watch: Prime Video


Related to 2023 Tamil Movies – 20 Best Historical Dramas


Ayothi

Ayothi_Tamil Movies 2023

Manthira Moorthy’s debut feature, Ayothi, follows the tragic journey of a family from Ayodhya to Rameswaram. The father (Yashpal Sharma) is a prejudiced and authoritative individual who decides to take his wife, young daughter (Preethi Asrani), and son on a pilgrimage. But an unfortunate incident (on their way to Rameshwaram from Madurai) deeply impacts the family, and a total stranger (Sasi Kumar) helps them through each of the ensuing obstacles. Ayothi deals with the familiar themes of humanity and compassion in an increasingly divided and apathetic world. The filmmaker does a good job of crafting the complexities surrounding the central conflict. The characters mostly look real, and the performance of Preethi Asrani complements the narrative. And it’s fun to watch Sasi Kumar play a role that’s tailor-made for him.

Ayothi’s flaws are something that often plagues well-intentioned Tamil dramas. One is the loud and contrived melodrama; the other is the infuriatingly bad background score. The film can easily generate engaging drama through the characters’ predicament itself. But the director batters us with unnecessary soap opera moments that almost make us not care about the characters.

Where to watch: Zee5

10. Por Thozhil 

Por Thozhil

Tamil cinema’s fascination with template serial killer thrillers continues with debutant director Vignesh Raja’s Por Thozhil. Set in 2010, the film revolves around a rookie cop (Ashok Selvan) and a senior police officer (Sarath Kumar) pursuing a serial killer with a distinct MO. Writers Alfred Raja & Vignesh Raja build up the narrative twists and turns in a fairly engaging manner. From a genre viewpoint, Por Thozhil is sharply focused without wasting time on unnecessary subplots. Viewers unversed in serial-killer thrillers will enjoy the cat-and-mouse game as new layers of mystery are unraveled every time the cops seem to be closing in on the suspect.

The performances are adequate enough, and Sarath Kumar is especially good in a restrained role. Por Thozhil does have a relatively better serial killer backstory than the awful one in Ram Kumar’s Ratsasan (2018). However, Ram Kumar’s film was superior in sustaining the thriller atmosphere. The chief issue with Tamil serial killer movies is that they don’t seem to have fully grasped the idea behind the origins of serial murderers, although in this case, there are even references to John Douglas and Criminal Psychology. Like the heavyhanded messaging in Mysskin’s Psycho (2020), Por Thozhil also annoys us with its mindless take on love, trauma, and nurture. And the dialogues are unbearably clunky when the film tries to make its point.

Where to watch: SonyLiv

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Also, Read: How the Depiction of Trauma Humanizes One Killer and Villainizes the Other in ‘Por Thozhil’?


9. Dada

Dada

Debutant director Ganesh K Babu’s Dada starts on a promising note. It was pretty well-staged, and the melodrama was kept in check. Final-year college students Manikandan (Kavin) and Sindhu’s (Aparna Das) romantic relationship is tested when Sindhu gets pregnant, and their respective families abandon them. The couple’s financial situation and Mani’s flawed nature cause a rift in the relationship, and Sindhu abruptly leaves him after giving birth to a boy. Mani raises his son, Adithya, and a few years later lands a decent job. Since it’s a romance drama, a series of coincidences put Sindhu in the same workplace. This is when the movie starts becoming too mainstream and silly.

Considering the title, I expected the main focus would be on single fatherhood – the myriad struggles Mani faces while raising Adithya in those four years. But the father-son bond is shown through a montage and a few superfluous scenes. The naturalistic tone in the first act is replaced with highly cinematic turns in the second act. However, what specifically irritates us is the stretch Ganesh Babu infuses juvenile humor through Mani and Sindhu’s colleagues. Even the subject of workplace sexual harassment becomes an ingredient for such absurdly staged comedy. The lead performances – from Kavin and Aparna – are pretty solid, and one could wish the filmmaker had stayed with their characters and chucked the flabby portions.

Where to watch: Prime Video


Related to 2023 Tamil Movies – The 5 Best Gautham Menon Movies


8. Farhana

Farhana

Nelson Venkatasan’s Farhana revolves around its titular character, played by Aishwarya Rajesh, who takes up a job at a call center due to her family’s financial difficulties. Though the credit-card selling job is tiring, Farhana enjoys the freedom of being out of her conservative household and meeting new people. Subsequently, Farhana’s burgeoning financial needs push her to shift departments and take a job that pays more. But there’s a catch, and the ensuing situation turns her life into a nightmare. Nelson has attempted to make an edge-of-the-seat thriller from the online stalker storyline. He has succeeded chiefly due to the solid characterizations and by keeping the villain mostly off-screen (Selvaraghavan’s performances are so one-note that it seems like a good decision).

Thankfully, Farhana isn’t too conservative in its messaging; it’s less of a mislaid cautionary tale and more of a woman empowerment drama. Moreover, Nelson Venkatasan breaks away from the awful Muslim stereotypes pervading Tamil cinema. Aishwarya Rajesh’s effortlessly brilliant performance makes us root for the character’s wellbeing. However, the staging on a few occasions (for instance, the dreadfully performed and shot opening sequence) and the very convenient final act stop the film from becoming a top-notch thriller drama.

Where to watch: SonyLiv

7. Ponniyin Selvan: Part II

Ponniyin Selvan: Part II

Based on Kalki’s popular five-part novel, Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan: Part II further follows the conspiracy against the Chola dynasty by enemy forces within and outside the empire. While Part I spent much of its overstuffed narrative establishing the characters and their conflicts, the second and concluding part has better pacing and more dramatic depth. Ravi Varman’s alluring cinematography, Mani Ratnam’s distinct staging techniques, and AR Rahman’s score are the chief highlights of this condensed adaptation of the source material. Of course, Mani Ratnam is never the right filmmaker to explore the complex political machinations of ancient kingdoms. Therefore, key takeaways from both parts are his lyrical storytelling and fascinating character moments.

The director’s focus in Part II is more on the doomed romance of Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) and Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) and justifiably removes the conflicts of the peripheral characters. Though Karikalan should have been played by an actor much younger than Vikram, the actor’s intense performance doesn’t offer much space to find fault. Ironically, the film falters as it tries to resolve the conflicts surrounding the titular Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi). Even the much anticipated Karikalan-Nandini face-off is anticlimactic. The last half-hour of Part II is terrible and rushed, and some of the characters’ decisions are baffling and unintentionally hilarious.

Though Mani Ratnam’s five-and-a-half-hour movie isn’t a wholly successful movie adaptation, the veteran director’s craftsmanship keeps us engaged.

Where to watch: Prime Video


Related to Best 2023 Tamil Movies: 10 Best Mani Ratnam Movies


6. Good Night 

Good Night_2023 Tamil Movies

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Vinayak Chandrasekaran’s debut feature, Good Night, is a delightful drama with ordinary, relatable middle-class characters. The narrative revolves around Mohan (Manikandan), an IT employee afflicted by a snoring problem, the reason behind his nickname, “Motor.” Mohan’s insecurities and fears only get worse when he marries Anu (Meetha Raghunath). Despite Anu’s compassion and reassuring nature, Mohan is preoccupied with finding a way to end his snoring and save the relationship. The biggest strength of Good Night is Vinayak’s light-hearted touch that balances the comedy and emotions.

The other commendable aspect of the film is the flawless casting. Manikandan, Ramesh Thilak, and Meetha bring genuine depth to the slice-of-life drama. Moreover, the relationship dynamics between Mohan’s sister, Maha (Raichal Rabecca), and her husband, Ramesh, are relentlessly fascinating, and a movie could be made with them as central characters. Sean Roldan’s music and background score blend well with the narrative rather than overemphasize the emotions. The film’s problem is the slackened screenplay in the second half. It mainly gets annoyingly contrived and stretched in the last half-hour. Nevertheless, for the most part, Good Night remains a refreshing and heartwarming family drama.

Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar

5. Maamannan

Maamannan

After making two hard-hitting dramas, Mari Selvaraj has become one of the vital Tamil filmmakers. Karnan (2021) notably showcased his talents for incorporating myths and metaphors through a distinct visual language. Mari Selvaraj’s third film was highly anticipated since it featured gifted comedian Vadivelu in a rarely seen restrained avatar. Unfortunately, the film was a disappointment in some ways, the chief being the too-conventional and cinematic nature of the film’s second half. Vadivelu plays the titular character, Maamannan, a ruling party MLA from the oppressed caste. The MLA and his estranged son, Athiveeran (Udayanidhi Stalin), are drawn into a bloody conflict with a privileged and casteist local party head, Rathnavel (Fahadh Faasil).

Maamannan efficiently portrays the unholy nexus between caste and politics and how the virulent caste system denies any social mobility for the Dalits. Mari Selvaraj also depicts the traumatic experiences that follow one’s life just because of their caste identity. Vadivelu is truly extraordinary as a vulnerable yet persevering father and politician. Nevertheless, the film starts losing its way as it tries to be a politically correct commercial entertainer. Even Selvaraj’s penchant for using animal imagery in fascinating ways feels clumsy here. There’s a considerable difference between low-key and lifeless performance; Udhayanidhi Stalin’s screen presence mostly falls in the latter category. Maamannan is kind of a sad slump for Mari Selvaraj. Yet it’s a fairly engaging drama that doesn’t reduce the Dalit characters to faceless victims like most Tamil movies.

Where to watch: Netflix


Related to Best 2023 Tamil Movies – 15 Great Tamil Movies You Can Stream on Netflix Right Now


4. Jigarthanda Double X

Jigarthanda Double X_2023 Tamil Movies

Karthik Subbaraj is a self-indulgent filmmaker whose homage to Quentin Tarantino, Spaghetti Westerns, and Rajnikanth sometimes impacts us more than his storylines. In fact, the writer/director’s last two films – Jagame Thandiram & Mahaan – suffered due to an underwhelming script that constantly swayed between amateurish and intriguing. Yet Mr. Subbaraj has always had a fine command over his directorial craft. With Jigarthanda Double X – a spiritual prequel to the 2011 Jigarthanda – he has wielded a more engaging script and streamlined his indulgences, which largely works. Set in 1975, Subbaraj once again pits a creator (filmmaker) against a destroyer (ruthless gangster).

In Double X, Raghava Lawrence plays the feared Madurai don, Alliyus Caesar, who is a self-avowed fan of Clint Eastwood. His wish to become a movie star makes him cross paths with filmmaker Ray Dasan (the ever-brilliant SJ Suryah),  who is actually a prisoner given the job to kill Caesar in exchange for a pardon. The beauty of cinema and nature, however, pushes them to introspect their choices in life. The brilliant cat-and-mouse games in the first half of Double X are very well staged, particularly the rousing pre-interval sequence involving a gun and an 8mm camera. Karthik Subbaraj also brings authenticity to the struggles of the tribal community in the later half, which touches on some of the actual events in the Tamil Nadu political sphere.

Yet, Double X falters towards the final act. The metamorphosis of the central characters seems too sudden and inorganic. Caesar’s epiphany and his speech are too theatrical even for a Karthik Subbaraj Padam. It’s followed with a bombastic twist and change of heart that further strains credulity. Nevertheless, Double X has quite a few bewitching big-screen moments to deserve the Martin Scorsese meme, ‘This Is Cinema.’

Where to watch: Netflix


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3. Maaveeran 

Maaveeran_2023 Tamil Movies

Madonne Ashwin’s debut feature, Mandela (2021), starring Yogi Babu, was one of the best political satires in Tamil cinema. But it’s always a concern when a promising debut filmmaker collaborates with a star actor for his next project. Thankfully, Maaveeran is this year’s Tamil cinema’s only sensible star vehicle that doesn’t entirely lose sight of its core themes. Sivakarthikeyan can try a little too much to cater to his young audiences, that his projects can be unforgivingly cringeworthy. In Maaveeran, Sivakarthikeyan truly embodies his character and offers a multi-faceted performance.

Indian cinema has often portrayed timid protagonists who transform into courageous superheroes in the latter half after a life-altering experience. Madonne Ashwin puts an innovative spin on this mass entertainer storyline, as the hero’s journey to manifest his strength happens through his personal storyteller – a voice only the hero, Sathya, hears. This superpower or anomaly is fascinating since our apprehensive protagonist is a comic strip illustrator. And the thing he creates starts transforming him. It’s a beautiful take on storytelling in general. Furthermore, Madonne Ashwin perfectly blends the social themes of gentrification and corruption into this ‘rise-of-a-warrior’ story. The director also excels in setting up the crowd-pleasing action set pieces.

Maaveeran does have a ‘second-half problem’ that has afflicted many 2023 Tamil movies. The highly relevant social commentary established in the early part of the film devolves into a simple hero vs. villain conflict. But still, the film has an interesting ending – despite the poor CGI in the climax –  and Ashwin’s pointed political observations never get preachy. Many undeserving, inane sequels are being made in Tamil cinema. But I hope Madonne Ashwin makes an equally engaging sequel for Maaveeran.

Where to watch: Prime Video

Viduthalai: Part I 

Viduthalai: Part I_2023 Tamil Movies

Vetrimaaran is one of the few filmmakers in Tamil cinema with a massive fan following. His films, though mostly unfold within the confines of the genre, visualize the struggles and agony of the downtrodden. Viduthalai: Part I, which tells the story of State-sanctioned violence and oppression, is yet another compelling work in Vetrimaaran’s filmography. Set in 1987, the film follows a humanistic rookie cop, Kumaresan (an unbelievably nuanced Soori), sent to a remote forest village to join the police force assigned to curb the rebellion of the locals against a mining company.

The People’s Army, headed by Perumal, aka Vaathiyar (Vijay Sethupathi), is accused of terrorist activities by the state machinery. Subsequently, the government set up a task force that brutally interrogates the Adivasi villagers suspected of aiding the People’s Army. Kumaresan undergoes an inner journey as he witnesses the abuse of power and the plight of the persecuted people. Viduthalai: Part I has the most disturbing visuals in the recent Tamil cinema and poses thought-provoking questions about the nature of power and governance.


Read More: Jai Bhim (2021) Review: A Loud Legal Drama that Iconizes its Protagonist at the Cost of Its Subjects


The problem with Viduthalai is that it doesn’t have a robust script like Vada Chennai (2018), and even the filmmaking style is sometimes all over the place. Moreover, we have only seen half the film, and it’s hard to judge the overall impact of the narrative. Loosely based on Jeyamohan’s short story, ‘Thunaivan.’ Viduthalai would have been a much more impactful, self-contained story had it deeply showcased the perspective of Kumerasan. But the film in its present form looks a bit discursive. Vetrimaaran, in the interviews and round-table discussions, seems to be overselling his struggles with making Viduthalai (as if it’s his own ‘Apocalypse Now’ or ‘Fitzcarraldo’). While we understand the challenges he faced, at least with Part II, I wish Vetrimaaran doesn’t follow every exciting idea he has and, in the process, make it a rhetoric rather than a film.

Where to watch: Zee5

1. Chithha 

Chithha_2023 Tamil Movies

While Tamil cinema is starting to deal with some mature, never-touched-before subjects, the film form often belies the filmmakers’ noble intentions. S.U. Arun Kumar’s Chithha, bolstered by a sensible filmmaking style, explores a profoundly painful scenario in the most graceful manner possible. One of the frustrating aspects of this year’s Tamil cinema is the dull characterizations, where characters seem to solely exist to serve the narrative progress. The biggest strength in Arun Kumar’s writing is that he brings a lived-in feel to the characters. Most importantly, we understand each character and the dynamics between them through their simple gestures or actions instead of burdening us with plainly expository dialogues.

Chithha revolves around Eshwaran (Siddharth), who works as a supervisor at the sanitation department of Palani municipality. He lives with his sister-in-law (Eshwaran’s elder brother has passed away) and his eight-year-old niece, Sundari, aka Settai. Their lives are torn apart when Sundari is kidnapped by a pedophile.  The film’s unsettling portions are remarkably suggestive, yet the chilling implications of the details and what we partially observe can traumatize us.


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Chithha does have its share of flaws. It isn’t always a smooth transition from being a drama to a thriller to providing a discourse on masculinity. Another major issue that afflicts not just this film but most of the good Tamil cinema is the unsubtle, spoon-feeding background score. I also didn’t like the implications of the epilogue, which is antithetical to the point the film resoundingly made a few moments before. Yet the earnest, grounded performances from Siddharth (also the film’s producer) and Nimisha Sajayan, alongside Arun’s deft handling of the socially relevant theme, make Chithha a highly impactful and best work among the 2023 Tamil movies. Finally, kudos to that scene involving the woman in the share-auto. The Tamil filmmakers obsessed with creating ‘goosebumps moments’ can learn something from that.

Where to watch: Disney+ Hotstar

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