Word of mouth about Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 is a sign that the film will likely feature prominently in this year’s awards race, either on the indie level or all the way upwards of Oscar. If the screenplay is nominated, it might be the first winner from the Nicholl Screenwriting Contest to be nominated. The Nicholl is run by the Academy so this would be, at any rate, a sign of success. Winning is often reward enough as it makes many careers. But Short Term 12 feels a little different from the usual Nicholl fare, which selects good screenwriters for hire but doesn’t necessarily make big filmmaking stars. The film comes at a good time – with so many effects-driven films and obscure indies that make no sense, Short Term 12 stands out. David Edelstein calls the film “the Most Wrenching Drama I’ve Seen This Year,” writing: The finest and most wrenching American (fictional) movie so far this year is Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12, which also features a breakout performance by the actress Brie Larson. She plays Grace, a counselor at a supposedly short-term resident foster facility for abused and/or very unstable kids. Every day, Grace rides to work on a bicycle, and the moment she enters the squat facility, she begins a series of fraught negotiations with her charges — some of whom will occasionally make a break for the fences. The aim is to talk through their traumas and teach them to handle their wayward emotions — and tongues. When they swear and mouth off, she says things like, “Your attitude is not helping either one of us.” For some reason, that reaches them. I know, it sounds like one of those earnest inspirational good-hygiene movies. On one level, it is. But the exchanges are electric. Many films from kids’ perspectives make fun of therapy-speak. Short Term 12 shows how a good therapist, through trial and error, can evolve to the point where what she or he says is instinctive rather than robotic. Grace has enough empathy to transform therapy-speak into something at very least appropriate and at very best profound. Maybe she has too much empathy. When she bikes home to her boyfriend — a fellow counselor named Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) — she regresses. She becomes a victim of her own abuse again, a child not so different from the kids in Short Term 12. I didn’t recognize Larson from her role as the protagonist’s savvy ex-girlfriend in The Spectacular Now — which I’d seen a mere two days earlier. Her transparency makes you forget that she has ever been or done anything else onscreen. In all ways, she’s touched by grace. Christy Lemire on Rogerebert.com: The film’s originality begins with the setting: a foster-care center for at-risk teens whose troubles run the gamut from depression to substance abuse to self-mutilation. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton based “Short Term 12″ partly on his own experiences working at such a center, and previously made a short film on the subject. In drawing the story out to feature length, Cretton takes an abidingly naturalistic, conversational approach to both the complicated issues these kids face and the no-nonsense way their counselors try to help them. Chief among them is Brie Larson as the twentysomething Grace, a formerly troubled teen herself who now hopes to serve as a guide for others. Just as the extent of Grace’s painful past is revealed to us in deliberate pieces, Larson’s performance itself is a revelation. It’s a welcome and long-overdue lead role for the actress who’s been so engaging in supporting parts in films like “The Spectacular Now” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and the Showtime series “The United States of Tara.” There’s a directness about her that’s appealing, even here where she’s meant to look a little mousy and low-key. Kenneth Turan: “Short Term 12″ is a small wonder, a film of exceptional naturalness and empathy that takes material about troubled teenagers and young adults that could have been generic and turns it into something moving and intimate. Named for the foster care group home for children under 18 where it’s set, “Short Term 12″ is anchored by the generous and persuasive acting of Brie Larson as a staff supervisor, a performance that recently won the actress award at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival. Much to the credit of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose two years of post-college work in a similar facility is key to the film’s verisimilitude, “Short Term 12″ also took the audience award at both the L.A. Film Festival and South by Southwest, where it received the narrative feature prize as well. This is an accessible film that honestly earns every bit of its emotional impact.