A look at one of our best director's best movies

September 29, 2013 

It's almost a cliché that child stars are unhappy kids, controlled by abusive guardians and bosses, who grow up to be troubled adults, addicted and convicted, left penniless after their kiddie cuteness fades. You've got your Leif Garretts, your Mackenzie Phillipses, that little girl who played Princess on "Father's Knows Best."

There are tons of exceptions, of course. There's Shirley Temple Black, maybe the ultimate child star, who kept acting into middle age and then became a U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

But Ron Howard trumps even Shirley Temple as perhaps the most well-adjusted former child star ever. From his ineffably adorable early roles in "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Music Man," he made a smooth transition into adolescent roles in "American Graffiti" and on "Happy Days."

Then, of course, he became a film director and very quietly and steadily became one of the country's preeminent filmmakers. He makes intelligent, wonderfully crafted films full of meticulous storytelling. And although he's had a few duds along the way, there's probably not another director whose films are more consistently fulfilling. There's no surer investment for your cinema dollar than a film made by the guy Eddie Murphy used to call "little Opie Cunningham."

Perhaps no film in Howard's career has been awarded such rave reviews as "Rush," his auto racing-based action biography which opened in theaters Friday.

Here are some suggestions for great Howard-directed films you can treat yourself as well.

"Frost/Nixon": The backstory about an unusually long television interview that happened 40 years ago wouldn't seem to make for a watchable movie, but Howard, aided by shatteringly real performances by Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, made it riveting.

"Apollo 13": It gets a boost if you're old enough to remember the era and the incident, but Howard's sense of story and his ability to sustain dramatic tension makes this fascinating for any age group.

"A Beautiful Mind": A layered look at genius and mental illness that keeps you unsure of what is real and what is not, but still keeps the narrative unmuddled.

"Parenthood": Not

one of his better-known films, and maybe not objectively one of his best, but still a wonderful character-driven story about an extended family. Jason Robards, Tom Hulce and Dianne Wiest all give great performances, which is not surprising, and so does Keanu Reeves, which kinda is.

"Cocoon": Another one that's better if you're a little older, and of course if you know St. Petersburg and recognize the locations. But it's a pretty smart and very warm film, and it's a load of fun to see great old actors -- Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley, et al. -- having such a great time and acing like kids. Makes you wonder why Steve Guttenberg used to get so many great roles, though.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.

Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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