Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith StanfieldI saw 90 movies in 2013… if you’ve read any of the previous 9 entries in this Cinematic 2013 series (which you absolutely should have), you’ve heard this whole spiel already.

Read #80-90#70-79#60-69#50-59#40-49#30-39,  #20-29, #11-19 and The Top Ten.

After 90, I figured “that should pretty well cover it” and finalized my rankings. I shouldn’t have. Now, springtime 2014 has sprung, and I’ve only just seen a movie that would have easily made my top 5- Short Term 12.

This little indie about young people running a foster care facility- despite winning its fair share of awards- slipped completely under my radar. It was on my list to watch eventually because I will follow stars Brie Larson (United States of Tara, The Spectacular Now) and John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom, Spring Awakening) anywhere, but I somehow never managed to see it until now. So, instead of attempting to squeeze it into a set of rankings that have long been locked, I’m just going to give it its own article- My Cinematic 2013, Part X. Though, for the record, it probably fits somewhere in my top five films of the year, likely between Her and Frozen.

Short Term 12 is an insanely beautiful film about people trying to get by and be decent. That’s about it. Larson plays Grace (brilliantly, with all the nuanced heart and soul in the world), a tough, kind, flawed young woman with a dark past, a bright but scary future, a small saviour complex, and a ton of baggage. The film follows her as she forces the responsibility for her happiness back onto her own shoulders after her badguy father took it away many years ago. Gallagher Jr. is her boyfriend, a charming, frustrated foster care success story desperately trying to break down Grace’s walls. The facility they run is populated by complicated, struggling kids like Lakeith Lee Stanfield’s entrancing near-adult Marcus whose slowly unspun backstory and quiet sorrow are among the highest achievements in a film full of extraordinary, subtle storytelling.

Hawaiian writer/director Destin Cretton captures the mundane, frustrated, better-than-alternatives tone of the foster facility perfectly, balancing dark comedy with optimism and charm to offset the tragedy that bubbles in the bloodstreams of his sturdy, capable characters. Here are people with every excuse to fall apart; the glory of Short Term 12 lies in their determination not to.

It’s an emotionally riveting, intellectually engaging, enjoyable but startling film that you absolutely need to see.