It's de rigueur among movie lovers to pooh-pooh the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the professional honorary organization that gives out the Oscars. Not without reason: though sometimes the picks are good, at other times the Awards seem designed purely to give Hollywood another occasion to pat itself on the back while the rest of us watch all the glitz at home.
But if Short Term 12 is any indication, then the Academy is up to some good. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton, a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene and San Diego State, was nominated for a 2009 Student Academy Award for a short film by the same name. It didn't win, but Cretton received the Academy's Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting, and this film is the result. (In the interim, he also made last year's I Am Not a Hipster, which received solid reviews from critics and played at Sundance and in limited theatrical release.) And this feature-length version won the narrative feature Audience Award this March at SXSW.
In short: I don't expect to see a better film this year than Short Term 12. It reminded of what makes the small, independent feature great. It also (in ways that oddly mimic The Wire) makes a subtle statement about the limits, and goodness, of the law.
The film tells the deeply affecting story of Grace (The Spectacular Now's Brie Larson), supervisor at a foster care group home for troubled teenagers, as she navigates both their difficulties and her own, especially her relationship with her coworker and boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher Jr., from The Newsroom). The teenagers in the home are reeling from a variety of the worst sorts of problems: sexual and emotional abuse, criminal pasts, deaths in the family, ...