January for UK cinemagoers is prestige season, when our cinemas are finally flooded with all the acclaimed, awards-baiting titles our American friends have been yammering on about for months. For breadth, beauty and brain food, however, few of these films can compete with a 22-minute marvel newly uploaded to Vimeo for streaming. Iconoclastic animator Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts is a major work in minor form, a wry and wrenching requiem for innocence and memory that you’d be tempted to call one of a kind – if it weren’t a sequel to Hertzfeldt’s similarly luminous, Oscar-nominated World of Tomorrow.
As in that film, a wealth of intellectual and psychological questioning is filtered through the guileless perspective of preschooler Emily (voiced once more, with disarming naturalism, by Hertzfeldt’s niece Winona Mae) visited at play by her future-generation adult clone – a technically malfunctioning backup copy seeking to trawl young Emily’s consciousness for missing memories. In Hertzfeldt’s blend of plain speech and poetic logic, the outlandish premise makes soulful sense, as the girl and her own disintegrating replicant skitter through time in pursuit of knowledge that one can’t remember and the other can’t yet understand, getting waylaid in the uncanny comforts of nostalgia without recollection.
It’s dense, heady material, but a purity of feeling – of sorrow for what adulthood corrupts or subtracts from the human brain – underpins its mental gymnastics, just as the naive simplicity of Hertzfeldt’s animated stick figures grounds the swirling, coruscating digital mindscapes behind them. Bring on Episode Three, once we’ve wrapped our heads around this one.
Over to the DVD shelf, where fraternal auteurs Benny and Josh Safdie’s ticking, febrile heist thriller Good Time (Curzon Artificial Eye, 15) makes a second play for the audience it didn’t quite find on its criminally tiny cinema release. This one, I think, may expand over time as some kind of classic. Led by a rivetingly itchy, agitated Robert Pattinson, hitting a career high as a rash bank robber unravelling even faster than his own botched job, it’s tightly wound, siren-stark and would dazzle as a simple genre piece even if it didn’t have such a complex, throbbing human undertow. The film situates itself entirely in the lesser-lit, socially disenfranchised fringes of New York City, populated with the racially, economically and mentally oppressed, in which Pattinson’s running-scared trajectory is just one thread of the frayed fabric.
I wish Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit (eOne, 15) ran quite as deep. Poundingly vivid in the moment, and assembled with her consummately kinetic visual and sonic flair, this revisiting of Detroit’s 1967 12th Street riot recreates that tinderbox racial conflict with tactile, punishing impact, ensuring the timely Black Lives Matter parallels can’t go unfelt. Yet the film lacks human dimension beneath its strong historical conscience. Particularly on a repeat viewing, I missed a more searching, interior view of black identity amid the blazing crisis.
Seethingly internalised trauma, meanwhile, is the flammable fuel on which Benedict Andrews’ Una (Thunderbird, 15) runs. A surprisingly tingly, resourceful redesign of David Harrower’s play Blackbird, the film is sparked by brilliant, knotted work from Rooney Mara as a young woman sifting through the ashes of a sexual affair from her early teens, and Ben Mendelsohn as her raddled adult exploiter. It’s an anxious, undervalued work, the sting of which lands a little more sharply in the discomfiting midst of the #MeToo movement.