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Monday, September 30, 2013


Rachel McAdams (left) and Domnhall Gleeson (right) in ABOUT TIME
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
2013, 123 minutes
 Rated R for language and some sexual content

Review by Joshua Handler

A heartfelt film from a very talented director, About Time was written and directed by Richard Curtis (writer/director of Love Actually, writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) and tells the story of a young man, Tim (Domnhall Gleeson), whose father (Bill Nighy) reveals to him that the men in his family can travel back in time.  Tim soon falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams) and tries to figure out how best to use his new gift.  

I will say this right here: the film is manipulative and the time travel rules aren't very strict.  That being said, this is a wonderful film whose flaws are easily forgivable due to Curtis' obvious passion for the material and the strong performances from the entire cast.  

While About Time has a time travel-based story, it is not the focus of the film as a whole.  It is an instrument used to help the characters learn about themselves and how to live their lives - a very smart decision by Curtis.  The schmaltziness of About Time results from Curtis' obvious love of his material, and while the film veers into tearjerking drama in the final third, it never feels forced.  A particular scene late in the film's third act between Gleeson and Nighy is very powerful and clever and elicited an emotional response in my theater.  Curtis cares about his characters and his important message and it always shows, no matter how sentimental the film gets.

Domnhall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams are truly fantastic in their respective roles.  Gleeson brings a youthful innocence to Tim in the first half of the film and an impressive maturity in the second half.  McAdams hasn't been this good in years.  After countless thankless roles in which her talented is wasted, this is a big return to form for her.  As Mary, McAdams is charming and irresistible.  She made me fall completely in love with her.  This is a really good role for McAdams, as it allows her to be a real, likable person unlike her other one-dimensional bitchy roles in films like Midnight in Paris.  Bill Nighy is wonderful as Tim's father.  There's not much more to say.  Nighy is consistently strong in every one of his films and About Time is no exception.  He brings a warmth and love to this role that really allows him to shine.

Overall, About Time is a charming and moving romantic dramedy with laughs, tears, and everything in between.  If you loved Curtis' other films, you'll love this one.  If not, stay far away.  I completely fell for this one and appreciated the lesson that this film left me with. 



Tom Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."
Photo by Jasin Boland
©2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2013, 134 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence including bloody images, and for substance abuse

Review by Joshua Handler

Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips is an astounding piece of filmmaking that features a career-best performance from Tom Hanks and a humane screenplay by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games).  The film tells the true story of Richard Phillips, the captain of a ship who was taken hostage after his ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

Everything in Captain Phillips works.  Paul Greengrass is known for directing intense fact-based films such as United 93 and superb adrenaline-rush thrillers such as The Bourne Ultimatum.  With Captain Phillips, he marries these two kinds of films together to create a movie that always feels real, while still serving as an excellent piece of entertainment.  Like Kathryn Bigelow's incredible Zero Dark Thirty and Greengrass' 2006 film United 93, we all know the ending of Captain Phillips, but somehow Greengrass, like Bigelow, manages to make his film nerve-jangling and doesn't waste a minute of screen time.  Greengrass' films never feel too "Hollywoody" due to their extensive use of handheld camera and lack of sentimentality and cliché.  Greengrass understates the drama and allows the film to end on a quiet, triumphant note instead of a fanfare-laden patriotic one.

Tom Hanks adds another layer of realism to the film as the eponymous Captain Phillips.  There are any number of clips that could be shown that would show Hanks' mastery of this role, but it is the quiet final scene of the film where Hanks shines brightest, bringing the emotional arc of the film home.  The line between Hanks and Phillips disappears and the two become one.  Hanks' performance is not showy; it is an subtle piece of acting that gives us a look into the core of a man who is pushed to his breaking point.  Hanks has made an excellent career of playing ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances, and Phillips is one such kind of man.  It is obvious that Hanks cares so deeply about his character and because of this, he becomes an instantly sympathetic person.  By the film's climax, we have been through so much with Hanks that whenever something terrible happens to his character, it pains us.  Even something simple like a punch to his body hurts to watch.  This is a testament to Hanks' mastery of his material.

Billy Ray's screenplay is brilliant.  Ray's dialogue is almost always realistic and every scene (save for the cheesy first one) is in the film for a reason.  Ray doesn't make this yet another extraordinary true-life drama.  He makes it one about character and emotion.  The Somali pirates are even developed, which gives the film moral complexity.

Barry Ackroyd's (The Hurt Locker, United 93) cinematography is as handheld and shaky as ever, but his style gives the film an authentic look and feel, and also much of the intensity needed to keep it going.

Overall, Captain Phillips is a near-masterpiece of action filmmaking that serves as a reminder that big-budget filmmaking isn't dead yet.  So few films from major studios look like their directors put as much care and effort into them as Captain Phillips.  This a breathtaking and emotional journey that left me stunned.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

What To See At NYFF51

The 51st Annual New York Film Festival has finally arrived.  Tomorrow night, Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips will have its world premiere.  This will launch two weeks of cinemania up at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's movie theaters.  This edition of the festival has a record number of films on its main slate and is heavy with films that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.  Below are brief overviews of films I've already viewed.  

Courtesy of Music Box Films
LE WEEK-END (Dir. Roger Michell) - Roger Michell's (VenusNotting Hill) exquisite new dramedy, Le Week-End, has so much to recommend from the performances to the wise screenplay by Hanif Kureishi (Venus, My Beautiful Laundrette).  The film follows a British couple (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) who decides to vacation in Paris for their 30th anniversary to give their marriage a boost.  Broadbent, Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum give some of this year's warmest and most entertaining performances, and Kureishi's screenplay is full of nuance and depth.  Music Box Films will be releasing the film in February, so see it now at NYFF, especially because there will be Q&As with cast and crew.

Courtesy of Strand Releasing
THE MISSING PICTURE (Dir. Rithy Panh) - Winner of this year's Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Rithy Panh's The Missing Picture is a haunting documentary that tells the story of his experiences during the Cambodian Genocide.  The film is told almost entirely through archival footage and stationary clay figures.  The Missing Picture is a fascinating movie that features brilliant sound design and cinematography and tells a unique story in a unique way.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
ABOUT TIME (Dir. Richard Curtis) - Richard Curtis' (Love Actually) wonderful About Time stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, and Lindsay Duncan and tells the story of a young man whose father tells him that he can travel back in time.  While the film has some plot holes, it is so heartfelt, funny, and moving (not to mention beautifully-acted by all) that the plot holes are made up for.  This is a great piece of entertainment that should prove to be a wonderful diversion for festival-goers tired of dark dramas and documentaries.

Courtesy of Rada Film Group
AMERICAN PROMISE (Dir. Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson) - A documentary 14 years in the making, American Promise follows Brewster and Stephenson's son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, and their experiences in school from kindergarten through high school graduation.  The film examines race and how it factored into the kids experiences in school.  The film is is definitely worth viewing, as it is an interesting social document and a very moving human story.  This is one of the most ambitious films of the year, and one that nearly everyone can relate to in one way or another.

Throughout the course of the festival, I'll be reviewing A TOUCH OF SIN, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, HER, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, THE WIND RISES, TIM'S VERMEER, ABUSE OF WEAKNESS, the films above, and possibly a few others.  Look out for them and happy viewing!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Dr. Warren Hern at his Boulder, Colorado clinic.  From Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's AFTER TILLER, a documentary about the last four doctors in the US who provide third‐trimester abortions.
Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

2013, 87 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving abortion, and brief strong language

Review by Joshua Handler

After Tiller is one brave documentary.  The film tackles the extremely controversial topic of third-trimester abortion in America after the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed third-trimester abortions.  It also sheds new light on the topic through interviews with the last four doctors in American who can legally perform third-trimester abortions.  What makes After Tiller so remarkable is its ability to be as unbiased as possible.  While the film certainly leans towards pro-choice, the filmmakers do nothing to exploit the material and let the interviewees do the talking.

After Tiller is an emotional film.  It looks straight into the heart of the issue of third-trimester abortion and provides personal accounts of patients and the doctors.  The film explores why women decide to have a third-trimester abortion.  The reasons presented will cause many to reevaluate their position on the issue, as deciding whether to have a late abortion or not sometimes comes down to choosing between the lesser of two evils.

The decision to have an abortion, particularly a third-trimester one, is not a decision made in a split second.  Rather, it is a decision that requires much thought.  In one particularly powerful case presented in the film, a mother comes to one of the clinics and wants an abortion.  The reason she wants one is because she found out that her child, when born, would be severely crippled for life and will have poor quality of life.  So, to save the child the misery, she wanted an abortion.  It is tricky moral decisions like this that directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson explore in the film.

The abortion debate tends to lose humanity.  After Tiller brings the humanity back.  The interviews with the doctors show them as people, not some cruel monsters who want to kill babies.  The doctors themselves even have moral qualms about some cases.  In After Tiller, everyone is human.

The only complaint I have with After Tiller is the occasionally manipulative score.  That being said, the score hardly dilutes the impact of After Tiller's emotionally-charged material.

Overall, After Tiller is a landmark documentary that should be viewed by everyone - and I mean EVERYONE.  As a piece of filmmaking, After Tiller is solid, but as a social document, it is invaluable.  This is moving, humane filmmaking at its finest.



Photo: Anouchka de Williencourt

2013, 95 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language

Review by Joshua Handler

Christian Vincent’s Haute Cuisine is one of the most genuinely pleasurable films I have had the good fortune to have seen in recent memory.  The film tells the true story of Danièle Delpeuch, the private chef for former French President François Mitterrand, through the character of Hortense Laborie, played with wit and heart by Catherine Frot (The Dinner Game).

While Haute Cuisine has little substance, it is so incredibly entertaining, well-acted, and beautifully-made that the lack of substance is completely forgivable.  Frot’s performance is superb and drives the film.  She brings a homey kind of warmth to her performance that makes her instantly relatable and sympathetic.  Frot commands the screen with her charm and largely makes this film as effective as it is.

The screenplay, written by Vincent and Etienne Comar, is witty and never boring.  A film about a chef could have been horrifyingly boring, but Vincent and Comar’s script keeps things moving at a quick pace.  The conversations are sharp and funny, and the story is consistently compelling.

It is wise to go into Haute Cuisine on a full stomach, as the foods presented in the film are mouthwatering and gorgeously presented; they will make you hungry on an empty stomach.  Much of Haute Cuisine’s running time is devoted to scenes depicting the creation of these dishes and this makes the film that much more pleasurable to watch.

Overall, Haute Cuisine is a true delight that should please audiences old and young.  Frot is fantastic and the film’s down-to-earth tone makes it an easy watch.  Let’s face it – who doesn’t love comedy and food? 



HUGH JACKMAN as Kellen Dover in Alcon Entertainment's dramatic thriller "PRISONERS," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo credit: Wilson Webb

2013, 146 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout

Review by Joshua Handler

Hands-down the bleakest and most disturbing thriller of the year – and the longest – Oscar-nominee Denis Villeneuve’s (Incendies) Prisoners is a realistic look at what happens to a family when a child is kidnapped.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is the father of two kids.  One day, while Dover and his wife (Maria Bello) are at their friends’ (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) house for Thanksgiving, his young daughter and the friends’ young daughter go missing.  With a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) on the case and the rest of the police taking too much time, Keller decides to take matters into his own hands.

Many directors do not transition well to Hollywood, but with Prisoners, Villeneuve shows that his mastery of filmmaking and the emotional force he brought to Incendies transferred quite well.  Villeneuve brought an uncompromising and uncomfortable vision to Incendies in 2011.  There are scenes from that film burned in my mind due to their emotional impact.  With Prisoners, Villeneuve brings the same uncompromising bleakness and brutality to the front and creates a truly riveting work.

Many directors do not transition well to Hollywood, but with Prisoners, Villeneuve shows that his mastery of filmmaking and the brute force of his craft transferred quite well.  Villeneuve brought an uncompromising and uncomfortable vision to Incendies in 2011.  There are scenes from that film burned in my mind due to their emotional impact.  With Prisoners, Villeneuve brings the same uncompromising bleakness and brutality to the front and creates a truly riveting work.

At 146 minutes long, Prisoners grows tiring, but that is precisely the point – Villeneuve made his film long so that we would feel what Dover is going through.  Everything begins to get tedious, just as the search does. 

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal turn in career-best performances.  Jackman is a powerhouse, showing moments of rage, pain, and sadness sometimes in the course of a single scene.  Gyllenhaal, though, is the standout.  As the detective trying to find the two missing girls, Gyllenhaal shows a complete commitment to his role.  The frustration and commitment that he shows as Detective Loki makes this his most powerful performance to date.  Paul Dano is frighteningly convincing in his role and Terrence Howard is the strongest he has been in years.

Master cinematographer Roger Deakins’ (True Grit, Skyfall) cinematography is magnificent.  It is simple and elegant.  However, during a tense climactic sequence, he really shows off his mastery of shooting action.  That scene alone should get him his eleventh Oscar nomination.

The screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) is solid, but is the weakest part of the film due to a bit of messiness and an unoriginal reveal.  For the first 110-120 minutes, Prisoners is tightly structured and full of intriguing scenes.  However, once the final reveal is revealed, it is disappointing, as it is not original, shocking, or satisfying.  Prisoners has so many subplots that when everything is revealed, everything is tied up, but not tightly enough.  The final scene is brilliant.

Overall, Prisoners is an impressively made thriller that will catch most audiences off guard.  Few will be prepared for the brutal torture scenes and bleak tone of the film, but those willing to stick with Prisoners will be amply rewarded.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Criterion Blu-ray Review

Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
1978, 96 minutes
Rated R

Review by Joshua Handler

This past Tuesday, The Criterion Collection released Edouard Molinaro's classic comedy La Cage Aux Folles on Blu-ray and DVD.  The film was remade into the 1996 Mike Nichols-directed hit, The Birdcage, and while The Birdcage is good in its own right, La Cage Aux Folles will forever be the better film for many reasons, and Criterion's Blu-ray makes it look better than ever.

La Cage Aux Folles was a massive international success when released and was nominated for three Oscars including Best Director and Adapted Screenplay.  It was, as writer Laurence Senelick says in an interview on the disc, a groundbreaking film because it showed homosexuals as people who had families and relationships like any other heterosexual couple.  Without La Cage to pave the way, a film like Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right would never have been made.

The film tells the story of a man, Renato Baldi (Ugo Tognazzi), who lives with his partner, Albin (Michel Serrault), a drag queen who performs in the nightclub that they run.  The two are forced to play it straight, though, when Renato's son announces that he is engaged and that his conservative future in-laws will be coming over for dinner.

La Cage Aux Folles gets so much right, but what distinguishes it most from The Birdcage is the humanity put into the characters.  The Birdcage is a very funny film, but not much more.  The characters are caricatures and, while likable, don't have much humanity to them.  Albin is the more feminine and outrageous person in his and Renato's relationship and could easily fall into caricature, but Moliaro is far too smart to allow Albin to simply be outrageous.  In a wonderful new interview with Molinaro on the disc, Molinaro says that Michel Sarrault was very conservative and thought of playing Albin like playing a clown while on stage.  Molinaro told Sarrault that he wanted to have Albin be more realistic.  It worked, as Albin is in-your-face, but is still a real person.  Take the scene where Albin comes out dressed as a man for the first time.  Sarrault shows the shame and hurt that Albin feels.  He is so hurt because he feels as if he is being forced to being someone he's not.  This a scene that shows another dimension of Albin and humanizes him and asks us to connect on a human level with him.

As Renato, Ugo Tognazzi turns in an equally impressive performance.  While definitely effeminate, Tognazzi plays Renato with a bit of machismo that adds to his charm.  But, most importantly of all, he shows real heart.  In one scene, Albin leaves and is sitting at the train station.  Renato catches up to him to try to get him back.  After telling Albin that he's hard to live with, Renato tells him that he's still with him because he makes him laugh.  This moment must be viewed in the film for maximum impact, but this is a moment that cuts to the core of Albin and Renato's relationship that is also perfectly played by Tognazzi.  His slick façade has faded away and his humanity emerges.

In the interview with Molinaro on the disc, he says that Tognazzi did not want to do the film.  He refused to speak in French and say his lines.  Instead, he spoke in Italian, which made the writers rewrite much of the dialogue to match his mouth movements.  They subsequently dubbed him (an excellent dubbing job I might add).

Molinaro makes sure that each shot exists for maximum emotional and comedic effect, which makes this a masterful blend of comedic farce and power.   The film threatens to turn into a ridiculous farce at many turns, but Molinaro manages to pull back and allow for the humanity to seep through to keep the film in check and the audience engaged in the characters, not just the comedy of the situation.

Oddly enough, Molinaro said in the interview on the disc that he didn't want to make this film.  He had just directed a comedy that disappointed and made La Cage Aux Folles for the money.  When Molinaro first saw La Cage, he thought he had made a bad film and was ashamed.  However, the film ended up being a massive international success and garnered him two Oscar nominations.

Criterion's release of this film looks absolutely fantastic.  The last time I saw La Cage Aux Folles was years ago on a dubbed VHS.  Seeing this new restoration was like watching a different movie.  The supplements include a fascinating interview with Molinaro, an interview with Laurence Senelick, author of The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre, theatrical trailers, and footage of Michel Sarrault and Jean Poiret, writer and star of the original production of La Cage Aux Folles.  The footage of Sarrault and Poiret performing La Cage Aux Folles on stage is very interesting, as it is interesting to compare the show's tone to that of the film.  Additionally, there is a booklet inside the case which contains a piece by writer David Ehrenstein.  While the special features are somewhat lacking, this is a must-own for fans of La Cage Aux Folles.  This edition is another triumph for Criterion.

Film: 3.5/4
Blu-ray quality: 4/4
Supplements: 3/4

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Courtesy of Kino Lorber
2002, 96 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

I have never, ever, seen anything like Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark, a landmark film and masterpiece of cinema.  It's impressive enough that the film features 3 onscreen orchestras, 2000 actors, and covers 300 years of Russian history.  Even more impressive is that the entire film consists of one take.  The jaw-dropping nature of Sokurov and cinematographer Tilman Büttner's achievement cannot be underestimated; they not only pulled off an entire film in one take, but somehow made it completely compelling.  

The film does not have a traditional narrative structure.  It is told from the first person perspective of an unnamed, unseen person who follows an unnamed man, "The European", around The Hermitage through 300 years of Russian history.  Each room represents a different period, but the periods aren't in chronological order.  

It is not necessary to be familiar with the history presented to be mesmerized by Russian Ark.  All that's necessary is a love of film or history.  Watching a film like Russian Ark is the closest to watching a dream put on film that I have ever seen.  Because the film is told in one take with a constantly moving camera, it begins to form a rhythm that has a hypnotic pull.  The camera moves so smoothly and the action is so well-choreographed that everything becomes surreal.  

Russian Ark is like watching a dance or a circus show.  Everything feels so natural, yet unnatural.  Everyone moves naturally, but everything is so well-choreographed that it feels unnatural.  "The European" becomes like the ringmaster of the circus or the dance leader.  He is Sokurov on screen.  At certain points he looks back at the camera as if he is making sure we are paying attention to the spectacular achievement that we are watching - showing off in a way.  

While the film is one take, there are individual sequences that are particularly stunning.  At one point, "The European" decides to follow two people outside.  A man tries to prevent a woman from leaving the building and going out into the snow, but she insists on going out and the camera follows them into a snowy passageway.  The camera follows them a good portion of the way down the passage before they escape.  This sequence is dream-like and illustrates the elusiveness of the history unfolding on screen.  Each figure or period only stays in the film for a small period of time before vanishing or ending.  Good dreams are teases - pieces of fantasy that last only for small periods of time before vanishing.  Each scene in Russian Ark is like one of those dreams, making the audience crave more.

Everything mentioned before make Russian Ark great, but it is Sokurov's ambition and willingness to challenge himself at every step that take this film above and beyond.  The film moves between rooms and floors, inside and outside completely effortlessly and watching a director consistently challenging himself scene to scene is entertainment in itself.  The climactic ballroom scene has the camera gliding from behind the orchestra to the middle of the dance and out the doors.  It is a scene that is dazzlingly choreographed and caps off a near-perfect film.  

Overall, Russian Ark is one of the greatest technical achievements in film history and simply one of the best films I have had the fortune to view.  A movie has never put me into as deep a dream-like state as Russian Ark did.  It is truly a film-lovers dream and a movie that deserves to be viewed straight through on the biggest screen you can find.  A review cannot do this movie justice.  It needs to be seen to be believed.

Film Forum in NYC is showing Russian Ark through September 12.  Tickets for the film can be purchased here.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why is SHORT TERM 12 the American Indie of 2013 (thus far)?

John Gallagher Jr., left, and Brie Larson, right in SHORT TERM 12
Courtesy of Cinedigm

Another Look at SHORT TERM 12

by Joshua Handler

I have already reviewed Short Term 12 (you can read the review here) so I won't review it again.  Instead, I will go a bit more in depth as to why this film distinguishes itself among the dozens or even hundreds of indies that have been released this year.  


Still reading?  Good.  I hope you loved the film as much as I did.  So what exactly makes Short Term 12 so moving and so complex?  First and foremost, the script.  Destin Daniel Cretton wrote the screenplay for Short Term 12 and it is notable for its incredible honesty.  A fellow critic noted that each and every character is a person, not a stereotype.  In films about troubled teens, the teens typically have some case of mental illness and are never treated like real people by their directors.  Short Term 12's characters are as real as they get.  Take Jayden, for example.  She's a teen with an abusive father who cuts - classic case.  Instead of simply showing Jayden as a pity case, Cretton develops her.  We don't even know that she's abused until well into the film.  We find out information as Grace finds it out.  We care about Jayden because we connect to her on a human level, as she is like many people that we all know.  When Jayden's dad doesn't come to pick her up, we're crushed because we all know how painful abandonment is and how painful it is for her especially.  Cretton allows the audience to empathize, not pity Jayden, and this is a great strength of the movie.

Even Sammy, one of the minor characters in the film, has a heartbreaking story and is developed.  Sammy's sister has died and he keeps her toys with him along with a photo.  Nothing else is told about Sammy, but already we care.  Again, this is not a pity case, as Sammy is developed enough that he emerges as a person, not a caricature. Cretton occasionally cuts back to Sammy lying in his room, curled up in a ball on his bed, just to remind us that he is still there; he is still a person.

Grace was abused by her father.  She sent him to jail and has had to live with the memories of abuse for years without treatment.  She is emotionally closed-off to her fiancée, Mason, because of her experiences.  The emotions that should go to him are channeled into the teens that she cares for.  As John Gallagher Jr. noted in the Q&A after the screening I attended, Mason was a foster kid himself and is the person that he is today because he was loved by his foster parents.  Mason and Grace have the same goal and motivation, just opposite situations.  They want to help the teens at the foster care facility because of their pasts.  Mason wants the kids to have the same experience he had and Grace wants them to have a different, better one than she had.  She wants those kids to know that someone loves them.  They both want the kids to know that someone loves them - a powerful goal and one that we, as the audience, can sympathize with.

Small moments add depth to the film, such as the moment when Nate finds Sammy's toy.  Realizing that he is about to make a huge difference in Sammy's life, he takes and brings it to him.  When Sammy sees it, he moves for the first time in a while and takes it slowly in his fingers.  Moments like these show humanity and provide hope for the shattered characters.  This one thing isn't going to make Sammy okay again, but is something that will help him on his road to recovery.  A moment like this is poignant and powerful, especially because there are no words to manipulate the audience.  Most other films would make a big deal out of this event, but Cretton simply lets it speak for itself.

Short Term 12 features some of the finest and most courageous performances of the year, but Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. stand out.  Their performances are consistently excellent, but they each have a single scene that brings home their respective performances.  For Larson, that scene is the one in the hospital parking lot.  Grace leaves the hospital after Marcus' suicide attempt.  Everything has built and built and she cannot take it anymore.  As she and Mason get to the parking lot, he tells Grace to tell him what's going on.  "Mason, you have no idea what I'm going through right now," responds Grace.  "Then tell me," begs Mason. "That's how this works: you talk to me about it, so that I can take your hand and f*ckin walk through this sh*t with you.  That is what I signed up for, okay?  But I cannot do that if you won't let me in."  Mason's plea to Grace fails, as she stares at him, looking like a broken young girl, overwhelmed by her life.  As Mason continues to plead, Grace breaks down more and more.  Never has a broken soul looked so simultaneously sympathetic and maddening.  And remarkably, Larson says very little during this scene.  Her expressive face says it all.

For Gallagher, his performance peaks at his foster parents' anniversary party.  Looking around at all of the people whose lives his foster parents changed, he makes a toast to them.  "Everything good in my life is because of you," he says.  In this brief speech, all of the gratitude and love that Mason feels for his foster parents is evident, as is the impact that they had on him.  This is a revelatory moment that shines above all others in Gallagher's warm, caring performance due to his sincerity and the bare emotion he shows.

Short Term 12 is a masterpiece of storytelling, acting, and direction that deserves attention from cinephiles and general audiences alike.  It is a humanistic piece of filmmaking that emphasizes the importance of trust in life.  For my money, this is the best independent film in years.