Does Ron Howard Have a Top Five?

There's been a lot of hoopla swirling around Ron Howard's bald head of late. People really want that Arrested Development movie. Why not? The canceled show deserves one last hurrah, I say. Also, there's this Frost/Nixon flick, which is kind of like a less-violent, dove-free Face/Off. It's thought to be a real Oscar contender and I'm looking forward to its impending release. Many think it to be the best work of Ron Howard's career. As a result, the movie gods are basically on their hands and knees, begging, pleading for a "Top Five Ron Howard Movies" list. Who am I to deny them?

Still, as I was compiling my list of Ron Howard's five best films, I realized he doesn't really have a top five. He's got a lot of decent stuff on his plate, to be sure. But it's like he's got these juicy ribs, this tasty sweet corn and then this nasty, nasty coleslaw on the side. Basically, Howard made three really good A-grade movies and then a good number of solid ones. But the fact remains, he's made a slew of flawed movies that have come close to making the leap, but never quite got there. He's had more than his share of guilty pleasures (Oh, Splash, how I enjoy thee).

Sometimes his directing is really sharp (see: Ransom), but the overall outcome is merely good, not great (see: Ransom). Sometimes he does some of the best work of his career in a movie, but the darn thing still turns out to be a mess (see: the not ironically titled The Missing). And other times, he's just out to have goofy fun turning Japanese with Michael Keaton (who doesn't love Gung Ho?).

If I had to put a fourth movie on the list, I'd maybe put The Paper, which always makes me feel like I live in the city again, reading those giant headlines of the NY Daily News while eating a hand-torn chunk of Italian bread from the Korean grocer down the corner.

I'm nostalgic, but not that nostalgic. The way I see it these three movies are the ones that stand above the rest of the pack:

Cinderella Man

1. Cinderella Man

I'm amazed by how many people I come across who haven't seen this movie. It's one of the best boxing films ever made. It's a great, true (enough) fairy tale. Russell Crowe is fantastic in it. Paul Giamatti steals scenes left and right. Renee Zellweger isn't annoying. And Ron Howard earns all the emotional punches. Crowe goes berserk with some wise-ass hotel clerk and everyone decides to stay home? This movie should have been a much bigger hit.

A Beautiful Mind

2. A Beautiful Mind

This has become a popular movie to bash for no good reason, but I still admire Akiva Goldsman's clever screenplay. I knew nothing about the life of John Nash going into this baby and the route Goldsman and Howard took to tell us his story (or at least the movie version of his story) was pretty inventive. For a while, it plays with the audience like a paranoid thriller and then becomes this heart-wrenching story of a brilliant, though very ill, man. Once again, I must sing the praises of Crowe who delivers another knockout performance that -- in my mind -- should have nabbed an Oscar. Sorry, Zel.



Apollo 13

3. Apollo 13

Ron Howard gained industry respect with his stellar, suspenseful account of the infamous, failed Apollo mission. There are strong performances here all around; in particular, Ed Harris is outstanding. This movie is spandex-tight in its storytelling. Even though you know how it ends, you're still on the edge of your seat. It's an all-around winner that earned Howard a Best Director nod from the DGA. This movie was so successful, in fact, I'm shocked we never saw Apollo 14. Bill Paxton

was the guy holding out, I bet. Friggin' Paxton.