5 great movies set on the water
But as you know, we like to be glass-half-full around here. And speaking of liquids, we're using the opportunity to focus on five great films set on the water -- an ocean, lake, river, whatever. "Jaws" definitely would have made the cut if I hadn't used it for last week's list about ultimate summer movies. And the subject is so huge, you'll notice I didn't even get to any Busby Berkeley productions or anything with the word "Gidget" in the title.
Still, you've got to dive in somewhere...
-- 'The African Queen' (1952): Humphrey Bogart won his one and only Oscar, if you can believe that, for his indelible portrayal of Charlie Allnut, the drunk, coarse captain of a rickety steamer who's stuck on a river with Katharine Hepburn's prim, rigid missionary, Rose Sayer, during World War I. They're both playing types but they play them with great timing and zest. Snappy banter and -- eventually, improbably -- love ensue. The filming of John Huston's comic adventure, which took place on location in Africa, was famously difficult but the results are lush and vivid. You can feel the heat and the grime and the muck while you're watching it.
-- 'Apocalypse Now' (1979): Speaking of difficult shoots, this one was so legendary for nearly destroying Francis Ford Coppola that there's an entirely separate documentary ('Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse') detailing the troubles. Still, the results are legendary in their own right. It's hard to think of the phrase "going upriver" without thinking of Martin Sheen's long, harrowing trek to track down and "terminate with extreme prejudice" Marlon Brando's rebellious and revered Col. Kurtz in the Cambodian jungle. Here, the water leads Sheen's Willard and his crew toward a territory so frightening, it must be hell itself. But as Robert Duvall's surfing Lt. Col. Kilgore finds, water can also provide an escape.
-- 'Dead Calm' (1989): One of the earliest films Nicole Kidman starred in, this thriller allowed her to showcase both her steely, cold strength as well as her fiery, formidable presence. Kidman and Sam Neill star as a married couple who take a trip on their yacht to heal after the death of their son. Billy Zane is creepy and unhinged as the stranded passenger from a nearby vessel who climbs aboard and, naturally, turns out to be a homicidal maniac. The combination of claustrophobia in such a contained space and isolation on the high seas makes Phillip Noyce's film intensely suspenseful.
-- 'Titanic' (1997): Although I'll go so far as to say that the 3-D re-do James Cameron released this year is actually preferable. I don't really have to explain why this one's on the list, do I? Big boat, supposedly unsinkable, hits an iceberg and slowly -- slooooowly -- fills up with water. Until then, it was all fun and games for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who'd fallen in love despite the socioeconomic chasm that divides them. Now they're swimming and splashing and dashing across chaotic decks and increasingly cramped spaces in hopes of surviving. It's very easy to make fun of "Titanic." But it's still a pretty spectacular spectacle to behold.
-- 'Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World' (2003): Director Peter Weir tells a huge, sweeping story that's also intimate and human. Russell Crowe again proves he can fill any role with authority and emotional resonance as a British captain pushing his ship and his crew beyond their limits in pursuit of a bigger, faster French vessel during the Napoleonic Wars, and he has great chemistry with Paul Bettany as the ship's doctor. Flawlessly staged and beautifully shot, it's just a good, old-fashioned epic. Nominated for 10 Oscars including best picture, it won two: for cinematography and sound editing. Every creak and groan makes you feel as if you're on board, too.
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