UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) (1956, Winston Jones) [r]
* Hilarious “documentary” revolving around supposed UFO sightings is a fun antique; the entertainment value is hampered only by the knowledge that so many people still believe this junk.
Ugetsu (1953, Kenji Mizoguchi) [hr]
Ravishing, dreamlike monument from Mizoguchi about a man’s greedy abandonment of his wife and son during a time of war and his subsequent cavorting in the spirit world, sourced from fable-like stories by Ueda Akinari, has the deeply rooted, elemental feel of folklore being passed down directly to us. The film is pulled in many directions simultaneously, ironically given its schematic structure. Every part of it is sensorially arresting, however, and the feeling of redemption and grace at the finale, as bleak as the actual events depicted really are, is so persuasive in its maturity about love and death that it could save your life.
UHF (1989, Jay Levey) [NO]
* Aside from a good opening sequence parodying Raiders of the Lost Ark, Weird Al’s debut film is what you’d expect: unfunny and dismal.
Umberto D. (1952, Vittorio de Sica) [r]
Irresistibly sad neorealist film about an unlucky retired man unable to make ends meet on his pension and about to be evicted by a self-obsessed landlord. His only allies are a terminally dispirited maid and an impossibly cute doggie. Lyrically examines divisions and unity among young and old, rich and poor, human and animal, man and woman. De Sica undeniably stacks the decks so high it feels downright absurd, regardless of how true to life it clearly is — the characters mostly feel so faintly sketched-in that the tale comes off as simultaneously ageless and strangely obvious, even a bit sentimental, though I do prefer it muchly to Bicycle Thieves.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy)
Colorful musical — celebrated as a classic of world cinema — has some sublime moments but mostly is an irritation, with every line sung, to the point of foolishness and monotony. Many people are floored by it, so take a look.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) [NO]
There’s very little I can say about this that won’t make me sound disrespectful, and it’s so out of my league as a movie watcher that really my opinion can’t be of much help to anyone, but leave it at this: it includes a woman fucking a catfish, but some people really love it.
Unbreakable (2000, M. Night Shyamalan) [hr]
Shyamalan makes good on the promise of The Sixth Sense with an even more impressive story about a man who seemingly cannot be injured… and the meaning of his ailment. Expertly staged in sometimes oppressive darkness, again with Bruce Willis superbly anchoring the film, this vision of a hellish modern world is not to be missed. I would tell you it’s one of the best _____ movies ever made, but to even give you the actual genre would be a spoiler.
Uncle Buck (1989, John Hughes) [hr]
* Hughes’ best film is a sincerely funny and perceptive glance at what happens when a relative who is not well-liked goes to watch his brother’s kids for a week. John Candy seizes the opportunity to take a part well-suited for him and perform it with conviction. For once, Hughes doesn’t stoop to condescension or excessive sentimentality, while also studiously avoiding slapstick when necessary. One only wishes he could have pulled himself together more often.
Uncut Gems (2019, Josh & Benny Safdie) [r]
The Safdies’ assaultive follow-up to Good Time demonstrates the same morbid fascination with total fuckups, this time one played by a more likable star, Adam Sandler, whose Howard is a locally famous jeweler in well-captured 2012 NYC with a dozen balls in the air, most importantly a priceless opal covertly shipped to him hidden in a box of fish. In his periphery are an obsequious mistress, Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett, a wife who has fucking had it, sex playlist staple the Weeknd and a gaggle of morons and gangsters. The film is a little too manic to sell the Wages of Fear-like tension it aims for, though its payoff is admittedly tremendous.
Under Capricorn (1949, Alfred Hitchcock) [hr]
Ingrid Bergman has a cross to bear in 1800s Australia. Hitchcock’s only Hollywood costume drama is not the uncharacteristic project some critics have suggested; rather, it’s a fascinating amalgam of Rope, Notorious, Rebecca and Marnie. It’s not quite a thriller but is nevertheless fully absorbing and quite fascinating, with the performances all exquisite, and Hume Cronyn’s script appropriately understated. Watch for some of the most impressive long takes in movie history, but don’t forget that there’s a lot more to it than the technical wizardry.
Under the Roofs of Paris (1930, René Clair) [r]
Engaging but underwhelming silent-sound hybrid has Clair experimenting with narrative, slipping periodically into pantomime, but the occasionally lyrical comedy about missing keys, suspicious bags and love triangles suffers from too many characters and too much plot at the expense of the ebullient, slightly melancholy feeling he conjures up in the opening and closing shots. As early talkies go it’s technically impressive and certainly vibrant, but I miss the sheer elegance of Clair’s later work as well as the surrealism of his silent shorts.
Under the Silver Lake (2018, David Robert Mitchell)
Undeniably original, out-on-a-limb but unbearably smug fake noir in which Andrew Garfield slowly goes off his rocker hunting for a neighbor who disappeared; along the way we get a whole lot of edgelordy digressions in which the director of the anti-premarital sex PSA It Follows pretends to scold us but finally just demonstrates his own utter emptiness.
Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
Scarlett Johansson lures unsuspecting men to a gooey, solemn death for reasons that are never made entirely clear. As a sci-fi abstraction, Glazer’s third film is agreeable — with some wildly striking imagery and brilliant music and sound design — but as it bows to its story obligations in the second hour, it becomes disappointingly literal.
Underworld (1927, Josef von Sternberg) [hr]
The original gangster film, a haunting and shadowy orgasm of darkness and shadow, hinging upon classic tropes of revenge, betrayal and the criminal code — all just as gripping as when hordes of people lined up around the block to see it, shocking both Paramount and the outraged moral guardians who couldn’t begin to imagine where this phenomenon would lead.
Unfaithfully Yours (1948, Preston Sturges) [r]
Sturges’ lyrical, extremely dark comedy about a well-to-do musical conductor (Rex Harrison) who discovers that his wife may be cheating and, during a concert, indulges in fantasies about humiliating and killing her is surprisingly sadistic; given how out of character it is for Sturges, it seems like a case of actor mismatched to material. Harrison has little feel for comedy, lumbering through a tone-deaf performance as a complete asshole, so the primary effect of the violent scenarios he concocts — ingeniously scored to classical music, implying that deep down Sturges really wanted to make a thriller — is just shifty discomfort.
Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
It’s the Screen’s Ultimate Meditation on Violence more or less because that’s what Eastwood said it was. Ignore the shallow reaching for a deeper message and you have a thematically potent film noir set in the Old West, if lurid, clumsy and rambling (like nearly all of the director’s films).
United 93 (2006, Paul Greengrass) [r]
Few movies put the inducement of dread into their audience agenda, but this first Hollywood investigation of the 9/11 attacks aims for pit-of-stomach horror. Greengrass fitted an enclosed set and cut the film together from endless runthroughs by low-key actors of the events onboard Flight 93 but the most fascinating parts of the movie are in the elegantly handled scenes on the ground at NORAD and at air traffic control, perhaps because a feeling of reality permeates them in a way that we can’t have from the scenes in the air, no matter how well-researched. The film, intensely compelling and at times quite deeply affecting, purports itself as an extremely straightforward faux-documentary, and the lack of embellishment with chracter and message is what saves it from patriotic self-congratulation, but it’s also what keeps it from that offering much you can’t get from a newspaper.
The Unknown (1927, Tod Browning) [hr]
Startling — and splendidly perverse — silent thriller about a murderer in hiding with designs on a frightened woman unaware he is not the amputee he pretends to be. After his impulsive rage leads to her father’s death, he takes drastic measures (to say the least) to ensure she never finds out the truth. Full of nightmarish appendage-ripping imagery but also deliriously fun, thanks largely to Lon Chaney’s brilliant and terrifying lead performance.
An Unmarried Woman (1978, Paul Mazursky) [r]
Pleasingly naturalist drama about a woman whose world is rattled by the sudden departure of her husband and the subsequent immersion in female friendships, new lovers and a total reframing of day to day life. Jill Clayburgh’s astonishing performance more than makes up for the minor shortcomings of Mazursky’s script, and the New York found here is rich and lived-in, conveying how much every story like this takes its place in a much broader sweep of time, place, memory. Despite the larger feminist point about a woman molding her own life, it’s telling that the film does not strain to impose structure upon a confused, uncertain moment of real life.
The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) [r]
Kevin Costner is an unfortunate choice to lead this crafty take on the popular TV series about FBI agent Eliot Ness attempting to take on Chicago during the ’20s. Still: slick entertainment highlighted by several enthusiastically delivered setpieces, an irresistible performance by Sean Connery as Ness’ partner, and a lovely Ennio Morricone score.
Up (2009, Pete Docter) [hr]
An elderly man with a floating house gets roped into a crazed caper against his will by a well-meaning cub scout, and there are also dogs who can sort of talk. Pixar’s gleeful fusion of Capra sentimentality with Hawksian daring and adventure strikes the right notes as both a children’s film and as grandiose, sweeping entertainment, its sideswiping comedy, atypical depth of emotion, and overwhelming sincerity serving to remind us that Hollywood bellowing does occasionally amount to emotional connection. The opening twenty minutes are as heartbreaking as CG animation has managed to get thus far.
Up in the Air (2009, Jason Reitman) [hr]
Reitman’s followup to Juno is a mature and lovably sad chronicle of an obsessively functional downsizer (George Clooney) whose world gets bumped askew by a tech-minded new coworker and his increasing attachment to the latest in a long line of fuck buddies (Vera Farmiga, brilliant), who may be the person to finally convince him to let go of his jet-set detachment from life and family. A splendidly melancholy story offsets any romantic-comedy clichés you may fear, while the background of the U.S. economic downturn renders the whole film exquisitely poignant.
Upstream Color (2013, Shane Carruth)
Twisted, vague sci-fi with kidnappings, piglets, extracted hallucinogens and psychic connections, shot and edited like a latter-day Malick movie. If this sounds great to you, have at it; if not, you have been cautioned.
Urban Cowboy (1980, James Bridges) [NO]
* Pretty horrid stuff, with white trash John Travolta trying to fit in with miniature wild west inside a bar. The acting is horrible, the point of the story impossible to figure, lost in the translation from printed word to screen. Has camp value for some.
Urban Legend (1998, Jamie Banks) [NO]
* The usual dumbass slasher film, exactly the same as all the others that flooded the market in the late ’90s.
Us (2019, Jordan Peele) [r]
A more ambitious horror story from Peele than Get Out, this phenomenally directed story about a family suddenly at the mercy of a mysterious and familiar-looking clan shadowing them isn’t as elegant as its predecessor but makes up for it with genuine creepiness and wicked excitement — wringing a great deal out of sheer imagination, a disorienting wardrobe choice and some great actors doing weird voices.
Used Cars (1980, Robert Zemeckis) [hr]
Zemeckis’ outrageous second film (again cowritten by Bob Gale) is a wild black comedy about rival used car salesmen — both played by Jack Warden — dipping themselves deeper and deeper into bad taste, led on one side by enterprising American con artist Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell, at career peak). It’s more inconsistent than I Wanna Hold Your Hand, but portions of this audacious film are as funny as anything ever seen in an American comedy.
The Usual Suspects (1995, Bryan Singer) [hr]
Like a fine airport pulp novel, this film rivets and shocks in style up to its clever ending, though it may overdo it a bit (in the style of Hitchcock’s Stage Fright). The movie is so entertaining and well-made that it stands up to repeat viewings even with its calculated nature.
Utamaro and His Five Women (1946, Kenji Mizoguchi) [r]
Made early in the American occupation of Japan, this is a reverent but largely fictional exploration of 18th century Japanese artist and woodblock printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro, whose titular “five women” aren’t actually “his” but are just various models and acquaintances swirling around him, and the story is so dominated by the community of hangers-on in Utamaro’s orbit that there are only a few scenes dedicated to his work and methodology, yet plenty of time for bickering over tangentially related sex lives. It’s a more lustful narrative than usual for Mizoguchi, which isn’t a problem, but the overwhelming number of characters and subplots is.
U2: Rattle and Hum (1988, Phil Joanou)
* Joanou doesn’t seem to have known what exactly he wanted to do with this documentary. It’s got excellent performance footage of U2 on their Joshua Tree tour, some enjoyable and at times very funny footage of the band off stage, but there’s not enough of either to make it work, and the switches from black & white to color are pointless and hurt the film visually. For a good example of how to do something like this properly, see Depeche Mode’s direct-to-video 101.