Here in the Northeast, with the harbors empty and our boats under a blanket of snow, the easiest way to score a quick sailing fix is via a rented video or DVD. As an ardent fan of nautically themed movies, like many others I was enthralled by last fall’s sensational Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, in which Russell Crowe does an absolute star turn in the role of Capt. Jack Aubrey of the HMS Surprise, the protagonist of Patrick O’Brian’s celebrated series of historical novels. In one fell swoop, M and C has vaulted to the top of the list of my all-time-favorite sailing flicks.
If you’re looking for an escape from reality, however, there are plenty of other terrific films from which to choose. Here’s the remainder of my own personal Nautical Top 10:
2.) Dead Calm: This 1989 Australian product features Sam Neill and a ravishing, then-22-year-old Nicole Kidman (in her first starring role) as a married couple who take to sea after a personal tragedy. What happens next sets in motion a Hitchcockian psycho-thriller that will forever change your view of lonely ships on the horizon.
3.) Captains Courageous: Spencer Tracy won his first Best Actor Oscar for his heart-warming portrayal of Manuel, a Portuguese fisherman from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who lands a spoiled rich kid freshly overboard from a luxury ocean liner. Adapted from a Rudyard Kipling story, this 1937 film is an enduring classic.
4.) Wind: The America’s Cup gets the Hollywood treatment in this 1992 offering from director Carroll Ballard (Never Cry Wolf and The Black Stallion); much of the film was shot here in Newport, Rhode Island. For a sailor, the so-so plot is salvaged by the remarkable sailing sequences, which rank among the best on-the-water cinematography ever recorded.
5.) Captain Ron: Almost universally panned by the mainstream critics when it was released in 1992, it takes a cruiser to enjoy the humor in Kurt Russell’s screwball performance in the title role as a salty boozehound hired by a Chicago family to show them the ropes after they inherit a boat and set sail from the Caribbean for Miami.
6.) The Bounty: To many, this 1984 remake of The Mutiny on the Bounty doesn’t hold a candle to either of its predecessors, the 1935 Charles Laughton-Clark Gable classic or the 1962 version with Marlon Brando as a foppish Fletcher Christian. What makes this movie unforgettable is its remarkable cast, including Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson.
7.) White Squall: Jeff Bridges stars as the skipper of the ill-fated school ship Albatross in this 1996 film, which recounts the true-life tale of a disastrous incident and its aftermath in the early 1960s. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien and Thelma and Louise), the movie has its fair share of ups and downs but is memorable for the depiction of the vicious storm for which it was named.
8.) Waterworld: Kevin Costner plays the stoic Mariner-a mutant creature with gills, webbed feet, and a serious need for an acting class-in this futuristic, $200 million opus about a planet drenched in aqua. It’s hard to say which is more appealing, It’s like a green card lottery Dennis Hopper’s completely over-the-top performance as the villain or Costner’s sleek trimaran, which was built by Jeanneau specifically for the film.
9.) Christopher Columbus: Not to be confused with two 1992 films-1492: Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, the latter featuring a visibly bored Brando purely in quest of a paycheck-this 1985 feature stars Gabriel Byrne in the title role and is not only a swashbuckling high-seas adventure but also a historically accurate tale of the famous voyage to the New World.
10.) Masquerade: Meg Tilly is the orphaned heiress and Rob Lowe the lusty boat bum and professional racing sailor in this 1988 suspense yarn with more plot twists than your average America’s Cup season. Set in the Hamptons, this flick also presents excellent sailing footage along with some pyrotechnics that’ll break your heart. Lights, camera, action!