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The 10 Best Ryan Gosling Movie Performances

13 November 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Charlie Watson

best Ryan Gosling movies

Ryan Gosling is well known for carefully selecting his projects so it was a surprise to see him come out with two subpar efforts in 2013 before he announced a break from acting for fear of people being “sick of him” and because in his own words he had “lost all perspective” of what he was doing. Thankfully, it didn’t stick all that long and he’s got two films listed as pre-production for 2015 and 2016 respectively. The even better news is that the last time he returned from a break from acting, he delivered the best performances of his career.

Gosling started his career as part of the Mickey Mouse Club where he forged a strong friendship with a certain Justin Timberlake. He had roles in children’s entertainment shows including Goosebumps and Young Hercules before breaking onto the big screen. After a bit part role in Remember the Titans, he secured what would be his breakout role as Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer which lead him into a major role in Murder by Numbers with Sandra Bullock in 2002.

He returned to more indie fare though until The Notebook rocked up in 2004, which catapulted him into the limelight as the film accrued him six Teen Choice awards and an MTV award but instead of taking that success into any old Hollywood film, he once again looked back into smaller films. A decision that would pay of in 2006 as he gained an Academy Award nomination for his star role in Half Nelson and a Golden Globe nomination for Lars and the Real Girl in 2007.

After a three year break, he returned in 2010 and gained three more Golden Globe nominations in the space of two years for his parts in Blue Valentine in 2010, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Ides of March in 2011, as well as gaining many plaudits for the critically acclaimed Drive. 2013 saw three more releases before he announced his second break.


10. All Good Things (2010)

All Good Things (2010)

Whilst All Good Things might have been classed as his only substandard film since his return in 2010 if he had not done Gangster Squad or Only God Forgives, his performance alone in it merits a watch.

In All Good Things, he plays David Marks and the tragic tale is based on a true story. Marks is the heir to a real estate fortune whilst Kirsten Dunst plays his working class love interest, a reversal in roles for him compared to The Notebook. It all goes wrong for them when they are forced to return to the city, though and David slowly twists into a dangerous shadow of his former self.

Gosling is in fine form playing what are essentially three different characters. He succeeds in the young man in love, scintillates as that man is eroded into a dark mysterious character and then excellent in the third act too, where the character takes a surprising turn as the film takes a time jump.


9. The Believer (2001)

The Believer (2001)

The role that set him on his course. Daniel Balint is a Jewish neo-Nazi and the smart young yet thuggish man is played expertly by a then 20 year old Ryan Gosling. He captures the internal conflict of Balint and is electric throughout. The other characters that surround Danny almost suffer from the sheer amount of focus that is given to him throughout the film but thankfully Gosling manages to hold whatever scene he happens to be in so that it is not noticeable until upon later reflection after the credits roll.

Goslings portrayal of Daniel Balint is a performance of such understanding that it belies his years and was a certain indication of the reliably brilliant actor he would become. The scene in the diner where Daniel tries to explain his beliefs to Guy the journalist is simply outstanding to watch and the definite highlight of The Believer.


8. The Notebook (2004)


The Notebook, much like its stars, did not get on all that well in the first place but developed a loving base after its home release. Considering what has been revealed since, in that Gosling and Rachel McAdams could not stand each other on set, their attraction and love in the film is a remarkable achievement. Of course, they later dated in real life so perhaps there was actually something there after all. The chemistry between them for the kiss, which is likely to persist on many top kiss lists for years to come is undeniable.

However, though their relationship is believable and adorable to watch in its fledgling state, the tale between Noah and Allie is largely derivative and despite the introduction of a rival love interest, it provides little tensions as scenes in the future hint too heavily as to who the elderly people are and so removing any worry that they do not end up together.

Whilst Gosling is commendable in the romantic lead role, this is not a film to recommend as a showcase for his talents as the film is stolen by the present day versions (James Garner and Gina Rowlands) of the characters and that absolutely heart wrenching finale which will have you reaching for the tissue box alone is the real driving force behind recommending the film and its place on this list..


7. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

The Place Beyond the Pines saw Ryan Gosling reunite with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance. He plays a motorcycle stuntman associated with a touring fair when he is approached by a woman (his real life partner Eva Mendes) he had been with the last time the fair had been in Altamont, New York. She announces that he is actually a father and with that news he drops out of the carnival in an attempt to be a part of his son’s life.

Cianfrance’s second work with Gosling is set up much like Shakespeare’s plays of old. The Place Beyond the Pines is divided into three clear acts. The first focuses on Luke Glanton (Gosling) and his struggle to provide enough for his son. He cannot manage on his minimum wage job alone and so when his colleague reveals he used to be a bank robber, they forge a partnership which works for a while until Luke ends up on the wrong side of the law for an unrelated charge.

Luke’s spiral out of control after that point is captured effortlessly by Gosling, almost too effortlessly at times, but just as importantly when it comes to a head at the changeover into Act II, Bradley Cooper puts in a career defining performance of his own.

There are two reasons The Place Beyond the Pines is this far down the list, though. The first is simply that the film is somewhat bloated, especially in the third act, the running time is a little unnecessarily long. Secondly, it is mostly down to the fact that Gosling is just that good of an actor that even though he is still in the relatively early stages of his career, even a performance like this and a film this good finds itself surpassed by six other efforts of his.


6. The Ides of March (2011)

The Ides of March (2011)

This Academy Award nominated screenplay by George Clooney also featured Clooney as a runner for the Democratic presidential candidate. In this film, Gosling plays the junior campaign manager for Mike Morris’ (Clooney) run at the candidacy.

When a film has George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright along with Evan Rachel Wood (whose talent has been wasted since being in this film), it’s safe to say one would have to be putting in one stormer of a performance to not be obscured by the insane amount of talent on offer. Naturally, Gosling rose to the challenge and that’s why it secures a place on this list. The Ides of March won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying that it isn’t a well acted film.

Whilst corrupt and morally ambiguous politics is hardly a rarely mined topic, a fact even more apparent when considering The Ides of March is an adaptation of the 2008 play, Farragut North, but that saturation of the genre only makes it harder to create a truly engaging and genuinely dramatic thriller now and The Ides of March manages to pull it off due to a great script and an overabundance of acting talent.

The twists and turns of an ever darkening plot and host of characters are plotted out finely and the pacing of the film never tries to rush but avoids the even more dangerous hole that many of the genre fall into, which is that it never crawls along too slowly either. The Ides of March is a superb entry to both the genre and cinema altogether.



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  • Terry Shannon

    Well, I’m going to have to piss some people off and state that I think Drive is overrated and Gosling is a bit overrated as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hater. He’s a good actor and I really respect the choices he makes in the roles he takes, but I just haven’t seen in him what others seem to see.

  • No love for Only God Forgives?

    • Charlie Watson

      10th place was a difficult one. Only God Forgives is stylistically great but there’s a number of films that could have sneaked in, in all honesty. Fracture is probably a better film overall, and I actually enjoy Gangster Squad too. Ultimately prioritised the one with Gosling’s best performance out of the options, which is All Good Things. Only God Forgives is only subpar by Gosling’s standards and loses out mostly because it was a disappointment (teaming up with Refn again) rather than it being a bad film.

      • David Kosmak

        Gimme a break. Crazy Stupid Love and The Notebook deserve to make it in before Only God Forgives??

        • Jack Napier

          Well I’d agree OGF is a much better film that CSL or The Notebook but in terms of his performance in each one of these films… Well Gosling just didn’t need to do much in OGF. He was excellent for what his role was but his role was a mostly silent and emotionless character. Gosling himself has said preparing for CSL was much harder and without a doubt if it weren’t for Gosling’s acting charm The Notebook would be recognised as the shit it is.

      • Pial2010

        Half Nelson , Ides of march , Lars and real girl tremendously good movies , Ryan deserve praised , Only god forgive less good , good list indeed, those who praising that one should need watch his these movie to judge

    • The Man Who Wasn’t There

      I’m a big fan of both Refn and Gosling, but except visuals, that movie is just plain bad.

      • I disagree. I think it’s a very misunderstood film because it’s a film about death and how one accepts death over the sins carried by another. Plus, the reason it got bashed because there were those who hadn’t seen Refn’s films other than Drive were expecting Drive 2.

  • Ted Wolf

    I’m surprised by the absence of United States of Leland

  • José Matias Sepulveda Andrade

    United States of Leland!!!

  • TheFutureEmbrace

    Murder By Numbers should be on here just for his teaming up with Michael Pitt. They are both superb actors in my opinion and the movie plays out quite smartly for what could have been a predictable borefest.

    Oh and the omission of Only God Forgives is a travesty.

  • Patrick Hill

    Ryan Gosling is an actor unlike any other for me. I like him, he brings tons of honesty to his roles, really not of an over-actor, and his silence speaks louder than most do with their voices. I’ve enjoyed all of his films, but yet, I can’t get myself to really like the role, as if he’s always just that far from your understanding, and sometimes it drives me (pun, yes) nuts, like I’d like a bit more please. And that is a sign of a very talented actor

  • Giuseppe Napoli

    I’d mention Stay too. Maybe not a masterpiece, but very interesting and quite challenging to watch. Honestly Crazy stupid love is not very representative of Mr. Gosling’s career

  • Ruchit Negotia

    bet you la la land will be on a ryan gosling list soon.

  • Reckoner

    Until i see La La Land im going to watch most of his stuff. After Drive he became one of my favourite actors. Ive seen the first five in your list. Ooh and notebook also.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Blue Valentine is the best, he is also terrific in Half Nelson