by Daley Wilhelm, Sarah James, Conner Tighe, Michael Robb, Emily Reuben, Ryan Fine and Jeremy Rogers
Every year produces a relentless heaping of blockbuster films that sell fantastically, but how many of them are actually good is another question entirely. Though the major circuit may have been a little bit short on masterpieces this year, it was by no means empty. We got another great Pixar movie, a beautiful shoutout to The Room, and the best M. Night Shyamalan film in a long time. We also caught a whole host of independent films at Heartland Film Festival this year, some of which were made in our own backyard. So as it turns out, the year of The Disaster Artist wasn’t such a disaster after all.
2017 showed that M. Night Shyamalan is back to being a master at the plot twist after his past critical stumbles with After Earth and The Visit. While visually and aurally enthralling, it’s really the acting that makes Split one of 2017’s most memorable. James McAvoy plays Kevin, whose dissociative identity disorder has splintered him into 24 unique personalities, and his embodiment of these individual identities is nothing short of impressively terrifying. There’s a subtle physical shift as each personality emerges that is not always inherently creepy, but there’s just something unsettling about the ease in which McAvoy can switch from a gruff germaphobe with a Jersey accent, to a manipulative matron with plush cardigans, to a young British Eminem-wannabe named Hedwig.
McAvoy’s performance does not eclipse the satisfying writing of the film. It’s a horror film without the frustration of characters that lack common sense. The kidnapped girls at the center of the narrative are smart, sharp and apt to survive. Whether or not they do would be spoilers, but there’s no telling what might happen in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Split was no exception, and was a refreshingly original concept in a year filled with sequels and remakes. – Daley Wilhelm
Perhaps the best movie to be released in 2017, Get Out is an excellent film full of great writing, superb acting and a plot that is sure to keep viewers at the edge of their seats. This film still boasts a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s pretty easy to see why; comic icon Jordan Peele did not disappoint with his directorial debut. Get Out is full of subtle details, and begs to be watched again and again. With excellent pacing and a fantastic cast, Get Out is a film that stands out in an oversaturated horror genre, tackling racism in an inventive and thought-provoking way. – Sarah James
Ending Wolverine’s story on a high note, Logan introduced a different take on the claw-wielding hero. The film is the darkest of the series, featuring its first-ever R rating. It has been nominated for Best Action Movie at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, with Patrick Stewart also picking up a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film has already claimed Best Music at the Golden Trailer Awards and Best Duo between Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen at the MTV Movie and TV Awards. Wolverine fans will enjoy the familiar action and adrenaline flow Logan has to offer. – Conner Tighe
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Marvel kicked off the summer of 2017 with its long-awaited sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy. Full of bright colors and the same quippy characters from the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 has a lot of what made the first film great, even though it ultimately falls short to its predecessor due to its heavy-handedness. It’s true that Vol. 2 is very funny, and has plenty of quality jokes as well as another kicking soundtrack, but in the end, some of the jokes were a little too ham-fisted and took away from the more dramatic plot elements. Still, overall it’s definitely a fun movie, and if you were a fan of the first one, then you’ll enjoy this adventure as the Guardians save the galaxy once again. – Sarah James
Out of all the Marvel movies released this year, Spider-Man: Homecoming was one the greatest. For the first time on the big screen, Spidey was convincingly shown the way he was supposed to be: a young kid trying to find his place in this world, both as a student and a hero. Tom Holland does an incredible job of capturing the quirkiness of Peter’s personality, and his performance has cemented him as the face of Spider-Man for many movies to come.
This film stands head and shoulders above other Marvel films due in large part to Michael Keaton’s character, the Vulture. Other than Loki, no villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had really stood out in any memorable way, but the twist that occurs in the middle of the film – and the tense conversation between him and Peter shortly after – cement Vulture as one of the top villains in the MCU. Let’s hope Thanos can keep this trend going into Infinity War. – Michael Robb
The Best of Heartland Film Festival
This year Byte had the wonderful privilege of covering Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis for the first time. Several of our writers were in attendance at the nearly two-week event, meeting with various casts and crews and covering a dozen great films in a short span of time.
Life Itself isn’t one of this year’s new releases, however it remains exceedingly powerful and emotionally rewarding years following its release. The story of film critic Roger Ebert’s life is filled with ups and downs, but ultimately this documentary is an incredibly uplifting experience. Showcasing Ebert’s immense love of cinema and remarkable writing skills amongst his ailing health, Life Itself offers a very sincere, human look into a man who simply loved going to the movies. – Emily Reuben
Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies
Usually when raving about the success of a film, all we hear about are the efforts of the directors and cast. Producers are largely background figures operating outside of the spotlight. This is definitely true for Alan Ladd Jr., though he has garnered fame for his involvement in getting Star Wars off the ground. Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies gives some insight into Ladd’s movie career and the movie industry as a whole. Anyone remotely interested in cinema should know Ladd’s name and should certainly see this film! – Emily Reuben
The Best of All Worlds
Die beste aller Welten (The Best of All Worlds) is a stunning debut from fledgling Austrian director Adrian Goiginger. Almost completely autobiographical in nature, the film documents the daily life of 7-year-old Adrian, who in general has a fantastic childhood. The only thing that may put a damper on it is his mother Helga’s drug addiction and her like-minded friends who frequently hang out around their house. The premise of watching Helga’s internal battle between her dependency and her unconditional love for Adrian alone makes this a story worth watching. The intermittent, perfectly shot fantasy-adventure scenes that appear throughout the movie are incorporated delicately and with a stroke of genius, taking the experience to a new level entirely. – Ryan Fine
Luke Korem’s energetic documentary feature Dealt is a magic trick in and of itself. Following renowned card magician (or rather, card mechanic) Richard Turner through performances across the country and around the globe, the primary conflict of Dealt is that of Turner’s hardline no-weakness philosophy versus his unavoidable identity as a blind man. With its stellar representation of all sides of a complicated issue and ASMR-like card shuffling imagery, it’s no wonder this film ended up on Heartland Film Festival’s documentary finalist shortlist. – Ryan Fine
The New Fire
The New Fire is a captivating documentary that does just about everything right. It tackles an issue that is taboo at worst and fringe at best with stunning clarity and good humor. It’s hard to imagine a profession with more technical skill and higher stakes than a nuclear physicist; however, The New Fire succinctly makes its case for embracing a new generation of entrepreneurs who are trying to reinvent how we interact with nuclear energy in the United States. Not content with having an opinion, the documentary crew showcase the opinions of world renowned climatologists and other scientists to demonstrate just how out of touch the common perception is from the scientific reality of nuclear power. The presentation in the documentary is simple and clear but never in a condescending way; the audience is never talked down to while learning about complex subjects. Clear visuals and snappy editing make understanding the complicated subject matter easy and enjoyable.
Unlike other environmental or true crime documentaries that captivate an audience through a feeling of despair, shock, and awe, The New Fire oozes a warm, thoroughly grounded optimism. This is one of the documentary’s greatest strengths. It takes what could have easily been a film full of despair and angry hand wringing, and instead crafts a narrative line about hope, innovation, and opportunity. It even manages to work in a surprise musical number into the mix. The New Fire shows that decades of prejudice and an indifferent political climate cannot stop the millennial generation from solving complex societal issues and lighting the way for the rest of the world with the new, nuclear fire of progress. – Jeremy Rogers