LOS ANGELES — Ron Howard has carved out an eclectic career behind the camera over the past 30-plus years, from political dramas and historical thrillers to romances and fantasies and everything in between. Many of his films are good — and some of them are even great.
This week, he returns to the genre he made his name in, comedy, with "The Dilemma," starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. So here's a look at the five best films Howard has directed:
— "Frost/Nixon" (2008): Howard's finest film is one of his most recent. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are excellent in reprising the roles they originated in Peter Morgan's Tony Award-winning stage production, but you never feel like you're watching a play on film. In depicting the 1977 interview sessions between British TV personality David Frost and former President Richard Nixon, Howard has taken Morgan's script and opened it up organically. "Frost/Nixon" is talky and weighty as it digs into the details of Vietnam and Watergate, but it moves with a fluidity that keeps it constantly engaging. Morgan's script also contains a healthy amount of dark humor, which is a good thing, because the tension starts percolating early and only grows. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture.
— "A Beautiful Mind" (2001): A four-time Oscar winner, including best picture and best director. Here, Howard achieves the balance that had eluded him for years in directing sappy, feel-good movies such as "Cocoon" and "Parenthood." He manages to evoke genuine emotion from the audience without schmaltz. It also features one of Russell Crowe's strongest performances; it's a great indicator of his versatility. As tortured math genius John Forbes Nash Jr., Crowe's transformation is stunning — reminiscent of the one he pulled off two years earlier in "The Insider," but even more effective because Nash's story is so much more personal.
— "Apollo 13" (1995): An all-star cast led by Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris tells the gripping tale of the doomed 1970 Apollo moon mission, which nearly left three astronauts stranded in space when an oxygen tank exploded. Mission Control must find a way to save them from thousands of miles away. There's a sense of nostalgia for the long-ago idea of heroism that existed then, but beyond exploring grandiose ideas, Howard's film offers a riveting attention to detail. Nominated for nine Oscars, it won two, for its film editing and sound.
— "Night Shift" (1982): One of Howard's earliest comedies still holds up beautifully today. Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton are an ideal odd couple as a neurotic morgue attendant and his new hotshot co-worker, respectively, who turn their place of business into a brothel. Hilarious and weird but ultimately sweet, this is a great showcase for Keaton's myriad strengths as a comedian: his energy, unpredictability and his likability, especially when he's doing something dangerous and slightly wrong. They're not pimps — they're love brokers.
— "Splash" (1984): It's about as high-concept as you can get: A guy falls in love with a mermaid — and the script actually earned an Oscar nomination for longtime TV comedy writers/producers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Hanks' first film with Howard was a real charmer, one of his earliest opportunities to establish the likable everyman persona he's now cemented. Hanks and Daryl Hannah are lovely together in this light, warm romantic comedy, which also features plenty of salty supporting stars (Eugene Levy, John Candy) to keep the proceedings from turning too gooey.
Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: twitter.com/christylemire.