In January 2009, things were going well for Destin Daniel Cretton. He was close to earning his master's degree from SDSU's School of Theatre, Television and Film and his thesis project, a 20-minute film called Short Term 12, loosely based on Cretton's own experiences working at a residential facility for troubled teens, had been accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to win the Jury Prize for Best U.S. Short Film, putting Cretton on the map. He recently completed a feature-length version of Short Term 12, which has undergone some major structural changes from the short version; it premiered at South by Southwest last week.
I spoke to him this past weekend. He was still groggy, having been up late the night before. But can you blame him? He was still in Austin, after all, and just days before, Short Term 12 won the Grand Jury Prize.
"I didn't see it coming, at all," he said. "Honestly, it was special, the screenings we've been having—really, really wonderful. I can't ask for more than that."
South by Southwest was the first time the new movie played to a large crowd, and watching it in a packed theater was an entirely new thing for Cretton. "It almost seemed like I was watching the movie for the first time," he said. "It almost felt like it was somebody else's movie. It was a very strange and wonderful experience."
I haven't seen the feature-length version, but I'm familiar with almost all of Cretton's other work. What you need to know about him is this: He's self-effacing and, thankfully, extremely humble, quick to share the glory with his collaborators. He's also the sort of filmmaker who continues to evolve—as a person and an artist.
"The feature is even more personal to me than the short," he said. "When I first started, I tried to write it as an extension of the short. But I couldn't do it. The short was not meant to be turned into a feature. It didn't feel fresh. One of the main reasons I changed the main character from a guy to a girl was that I'd never written from a girl's perspective before and I knew it'd be a big challenge for me. Once I did that, the story just opened up, popped open again, and it felt like I was writing something new."
Admission: Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer who could blow her career by accepting a student who just might be the kid she gave up for adoption 18 years ago.
The Croods: Animated caveman movie featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone.
Ginger & Rosa: Sally Potter's new film is about two teenage girls, played by Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, growing up in London's swingin' '60s, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Harvest of Empire: Documentary about the many times the U.S. has flexed its muscles in Latin America and how that has impacted the current immigration crisis.
InAPPropriate Comedy: A tablet computer full of the world's most offensive sketches, starring the likes of Adrien Brody, Rob Schneider, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan, unleashes its content upon the world.
Murph: The Protector: Documentary about Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL who was awarded the Medal of Honor after his death in 2005.
Olympus Has Fallen: Terrorists take over the White House and take the president hostage before being killed by disgraced Secret Service agent Gerard Butler. It's ludicrous, for sure, but pretty enjoyable as R-rated action films go.
On the Road: Long-shelved version of Kerouac's definitive beat novel stars Sam Riley as the writer's alter ego, as well as Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart as Dean Moriarty and his girlfriend.
The Silence: In this German thriller, a 13-year-old girl goes missing, and her bike is found where another girl was murdered more than two decades earlier. Screens for one week only at the Ken Cinema.
Spring Breakers: Harmony Korine takes on the Girls Gone Wild spring break mythos with this violent, exploitative, oddly insightful art film. See our review on Page 22.
Upside Down: Jim Sturgess and Kristen Dunst fell in love as teenagers. Standing in their way is the fact that they live in two different worlds, where gravity works in opposite directions.
One time only
Least Among Saints: This documentary, about the challenges veterans face when they return home from war, is presented by The Children's School and benefits Operation Homefront. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at Digiplex Mission Valley.
Caravaggio: The San Diego Italian Film Festival presents this biopic about the famous artist and his boisterous times in Renaissance Rome. Screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick's dystopian masterpiece made Malcolm McDowell a star and is just as freaky today. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at ArcLight La Jolla.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson goes back to Middle Earth and takes Martin Freeman, who plays the young Bilbo, with him. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Blood Runs Cold: This Swedish slasher flick kicks off Bloody Disgusting Presents, a monthly film series that'll run at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp. This one screens at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23.
Foreign Letters: Set in the 1980s, this one is about a young Jewish immigrant in the U.S. who becomes friends with a girl from Vietnam who's also finding her way in a new country. Screens at noon, Saturday, March 23, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Hitchcock marathon: FilmOut presents four of the master's best: Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds and Psycho, followed by Stanley Kubrick's creepshow, The Shining. It all starts at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at Birch North Park Theatre.
Banff Mountain Film Festival: The traveling extreme-sports festival returns, screening at 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday, March 24 and 25, at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
The Other Son: An Israeli and a Palestinian must come to terms with learning that they were switched at birth. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 25, at the Central Library, Downtown.
The African Queen: Uptight Katharine Hepburn and slovenly Humphrey Bogart team up to take on the Germans during World War I. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 25, at ArcLight La Jolla.
The Black Scorpion: The Public Library's Schlockfest, curated by Horrible Imaginings mogul Miguel Rodriguez, presents this stinger from America's past. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Garden State: Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in this well-loved cult film about a young man who returns to New Jersey for his mother's funeral. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Mindless Behavior: All Around the World: The hip-hop boy band gets its first behind-the-scenes documentary!
Beyond the Hills: The new film from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, who directed the superb 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, is about two women who grew up in the same orphanage. One now lives in Germany and is desperate to get her friend to move there with her. Ends March 21 at La Jolla Village Cinemas.
The Call: Halle Berry is a 911 operator who takes a call from a girl who's been kidnapped by a serial killer.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: Steve Carell is a fading spray-tanned Vegas magician whose popularity is being usurped by a David Blaine-esque upstart (played here by Jim Carrey). Can the power of illusion help him sort out why he fell in love with magic in the first place? Um, yes.
Like Someone in Love: Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's new film is about a young Japanese escort who ends up in an emotional relationship with the older academic widower who gives her a call. Ends March 21 at the Ken Cinema.
Running the Sahara: Matt Damon narrates this documentary about three men—an American, a Canadian and a Taiwanese—who attempt to run across the Sahara desert, a feat never before accomplished. Screens at Digiplex Mission Valley.
Stoker: The first English-language film from Korean auteur Park Chan-wook is a gothic tale about a young girl (Mia Wasikowska) who learns she has a creepy uncle (Matthew Goode) who shows up after her dad dies mysteriously.
Barbara: Terrifically acted German film set in the 1980s, about an East German doctor consigned to a small-town clinic who desperately hopes to defect to be with her West German lover.
Dead Man Down: Colin Farrell is mobster Terrence Howard's right hand man, until he falls under the spell of a woman (Noomi Rapace) who wants a shot at his boss.
ney: This doc was the opening-night movie of last year's San Diego Asian Film Festival. It's about Arnel Pineda, the Filipino singer whom the band Journey found on YouTube and eventually hired as its frontman.
Emperor: Matthew Fox plays a U.S. general in Japan after that country's World War II surrender, trying to determine if the emperor should be hanged as a war criminal. Tommy Lee Jones swings by as Douglas MacArthur.
Greedy Lying Bastards: Longtime environmental activist Daryl Hannah executive-produced this doc, which looks at the greedy lying bastards who do their best to convince us that climate change isn't real.
Oz: The Great and Powerful: Sam Raimi directs this big-budget prequel. James Franco, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis are all off to see the wizard.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
21 & Over: Straight-laced honors student gets crunky the night before his big medical-school exam. You won't be surprised to hear that it's written by the same guys who penned The Hangover.
The Gatekeepers: Dror Moreh's Oscar-nominated documentary features interviews with all of the living former heads of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet. And you'll be surprised by some of the opinions they hold.
Jack the Giant Slayer: The first feature from Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) in five years is about a young farmhand who takes the war between humans and giants straight to the giants.
The Last Exorcism Part II: Um, kind of an oxymoronic title, right?
No: Gael García Bernal is a young advertising executive who leads a campaign designed to take on Augusto Pinochet, the longtime Chilean dictator.
Bless Me, Ultima: During World War II, a young man teams up with an elderly medicine woman to sort out the problems in his small New Mexico town.
Dark Skies: A young family, led by Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton, learn that some nasty supernatural beasties want to get their mitts on them.
Snitch: Dwayne Johnson goes undercover for the DEA after his son is busted during a drug sting.
Beautiful Creatures: After the success of Twilight, you know there are plenty of young-adult supernatural franchises to come. This one is about witches!
Escape From Planet Earth: Brendan Fraser voices Scorch, an astronaut who needs the help of his little brother (Rob Cordrry) when he lands on an inhospitable planet full of unspeakable dangers. Hint: It's Earth.
A Good Day to Die Hard: Bruce Willis goes to Moscow, meets up with his son (Jai Courtney) and shoots a bunch of guys.
Safe Haven: The latest Nicholas Sparks romance stars Julianne Hough as a mysterious woman who takes up with a hunky widower (Josh Duhamel).
Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation: Sure, they're better known for their sick-and-twisted stuff, but this 30th-anniversary family-friendly greatest-hits set of films from the past four decades has some great stuff. Screens through March at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
Identity Thief: Jason Bateman hits the road to find out who stole his identity. Not a spoiler: It's Melissa McCarthy.
Side Effects: This thriller is rumored to be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release. If so, he's going out on top with this one, about a woman (Rooney Mara) whose shrink (Jude Law) prescribes her anti-depressants that end up plunging both of them down a rabbit hole.
Warm Bodies: In a world populated by both zombies and humans, one member of the walking dead (Nicholas Hoult) starts to have feelings for a real girl (Teresa Palmer).
Quartet: It's surprising that it took Dustin Hoffman this long to direct a movie. Quartet, about what happens when a faded opera singer (Maggie Smith) is forced to move into a home for retired musicians, including the rest of the quartet she left behind, is slight, but enjoyable.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters: Sure. Why not?
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Impossible: Biopic about a family, led by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, caught up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.
Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's movie, about the 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden, is a masterwork of filmmaking, and the fact that it's inspiring debate about torture should be more tangential than anything else.
Django Unchained: Tarantino takes on yet another genre—the western—and blows it up and makes it fun again. Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, off to rescue wife Kerry Washington from plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.
Les Miserables: Fans of the legendary musical will get their fix from this big-screen adaptation by King's Speech director Tom Hooper, who relies heavily on close-ups and, sadly, Russell Crowe, who isn't a trained singer. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, dreams a nice dream as Fantine.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy, a tiger and a lifeboat is this year's movie that you simply must see on a big screen and in 3-D. Really.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Lincoln: It might as well have been called The 13th Amendment. Despite another spellbinding performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln's biopic is really about getting legislation through Congress.
Argo: Ben Affleck directs and stars in this take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, and believe it or not, it's gonna be a Best Picture contender.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.