Use levels/shadow/highlight but don't use anything AUTO, because it AUTOmatically destroys what you want to achieve.
I think if you want the best possible result then you should continue using any one of the effects you feel comfortable with and continue to keyframe it.
Any auto function etc will inevitably fail or mal adjust to your disliking at some stage.
I'm a-ok with manually keyframing an effect to fix my shot (almost find this enjoyable!).
You wanna come work for me? I hate manually keyframing effects...
I find that with any variables in the Clip, Auto Levels, or Highlight & Shadow left on Auto will introduce "strobbing," or "pulsing."
The manual Keyframing is how I handle such issues.
For Effects that cannot be Keyframed, or cannot be Keyframed accurately, I just go through the Clip, Cutting where there is a change in the adjustment, and apply the non-Keyframeable Effects to those Clip Segments, then just add a Cross-Dissolve between those.