Including made-for-TV movies, Ron Howard has directed 26 features. Two of them are brand new: the true Formula One rivalry drama Rush opened this weekend; and his first ever documentary, a Jay-Z concert film titled Made in America, premieres on Showtime on October 11. These are two very different movies, but that's not strange for the former child and teen actor of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days fame.
Since he made his feature debut behind the camera for the Roger Corman-produced Grand Theft Auto 36 years ago, he has dipped his lens into movies as varied as a Tolkien-esque fantasy, a geriatric E.T., two kidnapping dramas (one of them a Western), a boxing film, a children's movie that raped your childhood and a Best Picture-winning movie about a mathematician, for which he also picked up his only Best Directing Oscar. Also, a movie about a single TV interview, which garnered Best Picture and Best Directot nominations.
He probably directed at least one movie you didn't know he directed, like the terrible 2011 comedy The Dilemma. Or Willow. Or Ransom. Or Gung Ho, one of his early collaborations with Michael Keaton that really should be better remembered than it. That was the movie where Howard really started to show promise as a serious and relevant filmmaker.
Of course, he wound up being the guy we think of as being good without ever really being great, someone who could at least be depended on to get great performances (including Academy Awards for actors in Cocoon and A Beautiful Mind and nominations for actors in Cinderella Man, Parenthood, Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon) and someone who could occasionally deliver total junk like The Da Vinci Code and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Before naming my favorite movies directed by the guy who'll never make a movie as significant as American Graffiti, let me confess to never seeing the following: The Missing, Backdraft, EdTV, The Da Vinci Code or its sequel, Apollo 13, Grand Theft Auto or Rush.
Here are my top three Ron Howard-directed movies:
An ensemble family dramedy that works mainly because of writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Howard regulars through the '80s) being at their peak here and because there's not a bad adult or child performance among the bunch. It's hilarious and heartfelt and very smart, especially with the Wiest/Phoenix/Plimpton/Reeves storylines. It's the one Howard movie I revisit now and again just to see how it's newly relevant to my own life. It's so much different when you're a parent than when you're a dumb teen than when you're a little kid. Maybe one day I'll get to watch it from the vantage point of Jason Robards' character.
2. Far and Away
I know it's not a good movie, but I love it anyway. I love the story, I love Nicole Kidman's hair lit by the glowing snowfall outside in that one scene and I love the Oklahoma Land Rush sequence, which makes me tear up every time (especially for the horses). I probably love the movie thanks to cinematographer Mikael Salomon more than Howard, but that's fine.
A modern fairy tale that will always feel fresh no matter how far away we get from the 1980s. It's one of the great New York tourism films of the Koch era and one of the few mixes of fantasy and comedy that actually works perfectly. Also, casting Tom Hanks and John Candy as brothers was genius.
Your Picks (the top three being Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and Backdraft):
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