Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher, Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Stephanie Beatriz, Kevin Hernandez, Rami Malek

Short Term 12 flirts with several forms of hokeyness, from the white savior movie to the troubled-teen after school special. And in the hands of an inferior filmmaker, either one of those would have surely happened. But indie writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton is too gifted for that.

With a remarkable knack for character development and storytelling, Cretton crafts a film that's got more in common with Half Nelson than Hardball. Except that Short Term 12 is better than Half Nelson.

Carrying most of the emotional weight is breakout actress Brie Larson (21 Jump Street), playing Grace, a supervisor at a California group home who has deep, troubling issues of her own. Through one kid in particular, a female newbie with serious daddy issues (played by Kaitlyn Dever), Grace is forced to confront her inner demons, and, yes, Short Term 12 then heads into some rather dark places, but it's never morose. Cretton loves his characters too much to send them into the abyss—by Short Term 12's beautifully optimistic end, all's not right in their world, but it's certainly hopeful. Just like in real life.