5. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
A film about an introverted 20 something who starts a relationship with a life sized anatomically correct doll has no right being genuinely charming and funny but somehow Lars and the Real Girl manages just that. In the wrong hands, this film could have been an immature mess but this attempt by writer Nancy Oliver and director Craig Gillespie created the right vehicle for Ryan Gosling to shine as the shy Lars Lindstrom.
Bearing in mind that Lars came out only one year after Gosling’s Academy Award nomination for Half Nelson, if the film hadn’t avoided dipping into tawdry and lewd jokes so religiously, this might have been disastrous for Gosling’s career (though, Lars and the Real Girl happened to be the last film of his before his three year break from acting anyway).
There’s a real telling moment early on in the film when a colleague shows Lars the website RealDoll.com and makes some suggestive comments and Lars just turns the other cheek, which is exactly what the film itself does and received and Original Screenplay nomination at the following Academy Awards and Gosling’s portrayal earned him a Golden Globe nomination too.
Gosling is the mustachioed Lars Lindstrom who moved back into his family home with his brother after his father died, except his brother and his brother’s wife live in the home and Lars occupies the outbuilding. He is shy and introverted, always shunning any offers made by his sister-in-law to join them or colleagues and fellow churchgoers to events, that is until Bianca arrives. What follows is a truly intriguing and engaging journey as on a psychiatrist’s orders, the family and subsequently town have to go along with Lars’ delusions.
Lars and the Real Girl is a film that is really hard to recommend to someone without sounding ridiculous but is a film that should absolutely be recommended and watched nonetheless.
4. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine was the first film released for Ryan Gosling after his three year break and rather appropriately takes the place on this list after the last one he did before it. It could have been a totally different story if All Good Things hadn’t suffered a series of delays that led to it being released almost 18 months after it was meant to be. As it was Blue Valentine arrived first and put Gosling back on the map with another scintillating performance and film.
The film revolves around the relationship between Dean Pereira (Gosling) and Cynthia “Cindy” Heller (Michelle Williams), flipping back and forth between the present day where their marriage is dissolving before their eyes and the past during their budding romance. Williams actually received the script way back in 2001, eight years before the film even began filming due to an inability to find financing.
Gosling had been on board since 2003 as well. When the time did eventually arrive, before they filmed the married scene, Gosling and Williams went the extra mile and decided to live together for a month as the couple. It paid off as the relationship feels very authentic.
Their first date in New York was completely unscripted as they let Williams and Gosling improvise and genuinely get to know each other better. During said date, Gosling also gets to flex his singing muscles too in a sweet moment where his character serenades Cindy.
Whilst the film is undeniably excellent, a classic tale of good things come to those that wait for the people involved, by focusing so intently on a two-three day period in the present both helps and hinders the final project, it helps by developing a sense of mystery as to what has happened by providing only a tiny snapshot into their present life.
The problem is though, that it is set up in such a way that tries to make Dean seem like the major reason the marriage is failing but offers no real insight as to why and the only real information we get is that Cindy feels that he is underachieving but that is something Dean is happy with as it means he gets to spend time being a Dad to their daughter. However, Cindy cannot understand why he could be happy with that. Despite this apparent ignorance on her part. it serves as a poignant reminder that relationship issues are rarely one person’s fault.
Blue Valentine is depicts the horrifying situation of an imploding marriage with incredible realism but the seeming lack of any true exposition does not hinder the superb performances and registers the film at number four.
3. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Crazy, Stupid, Love saw Gosling in his toughest role to date, playing the smooth talking, incredibly attractive womaniser, Jacob Palmer. The film revolves around the fallout of Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) being told by his wife (Julianne Moore) that she wants a divorce because the relationship has gone stale and that she slept with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon) from work.
That news leads to an excellent somewhat drunken monologue about being cuckolded from Carell, who is superb throughout as he always is when given a chance, which draws the attention of Gosling’s Jacob who is also in attendance at the same bar. Jacob takes on Cal as a personal project (his motives are revealed later on in a sweet moment) to smarten Cal up and teach him how to approach and talk to ladies.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a romantic comedy/drama on the face of things, but it’s definitely one of the greatest in the genre out there currently. It is thoroughly entertaining in all the right ways, hilarious in places and sweet and sincere in others, the tone is never misjudged and the film flows perfectly from start to finish and the twist that comes at the two thirds marker is a genuine twist.
Whilst only Emma Stone won awards (two People’s Choice and a Teen Choice) on an acting front, Gosling was nominated in the Musical and Comedy category of the Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Jacob Palmer and rightly so. Lars and the Real Girl was his only entry into the comedy genre prior to this and that leaned more on the side of drama than comedy and so Crazy, Stupid, Love was the true proof that Ryan Gosling was capable of being a great comedic actor on top of all the other ridiculous talent he possesses.
2. Half Nelson (2006)
There is an undeniable rawness to Gosling’s depiction of flawed teacher Dan Dunne. Half Nelson shows Gosling at the top of his acting game which is reflected by the fact that Half Nelson remarkably remains his only Academy Award nomination to date. Though, with his innate ability to inhabit a character, it is incredibly unlikely that will be his last. He is equally adept at handling all aspects of the complicated and conflicted Dunne.
In the classroom, Dunne employs dialectics and on the face of things seems like he has got it all together but in reality he is a cocaine addict. The drama is set in motion by two events on one fateful night of a basketball game for which he coaches a team. A visit from an ex-girlfriend sends him into utterly adorable mode and he embodies to the role of a guy who is talking to an ex that he still clearly has feelings for.
However, it is those feelings that send him into a rapid downward spiral that leads to the second key moment, being caught getting high in the locker room by one of his students, Drey. Drey has problems of her own at home, though and through this Dan and Drey forge an unlikely friendship and his protective nature over her and desire to straighten her life out even though he is falling apart himself is endearing and beautifully played.
The whole film is directed by Ryan Fleck in a way that feels almost deliberately amateurish but as a result creates an intimate aura to the proceedings, like it is you that’s there not a camera and that is not an easy trick to pull off. Half Nelson is an incredible real and down to earth film, which features Ryan Gosling at the top of his game and only just narrowly misses out on number one by the slightest of margins to…
1. Drive (2011)
Drive will forever be placed on “Films That Never Received Oscar Nominations But Really Really Should Have” lists. It is crazy looking back that he was nominated for Golden Globes for Ides of March (Drama) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (Comedy/Musical) but his performance in Drive was overlooked. That is not to say he did not deserve those ones, because he did, just that Drive was even better.
His first collaboration with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn saw Gosling channel Steve McQueen in a present day LA set thriller. The Driver is the only name that’s provided and only heightens the mystery of the character. During the day, he’s a stunt car driver for films and by night he turns into a getaway driver for hire with a very specific no nonsense set of rules. Agree and he is yours, as the opening to the film shows with an excellently crafted car chase escape sequence.
Dialogue is sparse in the film, especially from Gosling’s Driver, which makes for a very efficient script as there’s no superfluous talking scenes. Gosling manages to make The Driver appear both caring when he s sharing scenes with Carey Mulligan’s character, Irene, and her son, Benicio, but also quietly menacing when the action ramps up over the course of the film.
The relationship that he builds with Benicio is perhaps the only insight into the mysterious Driver’s past as there is a real bond, a real drive if you will for him to protect the little boy and his mother however he can but that is the real mastery of the mystery. One could theorise all day and night as to why The Driver does what he does, what his past was and who he really is but the film never needs you to know.
Drive is a masterpiece on every front from the acting, especially Gosling and the acclaimed supporting role of Albert Brooks that will forever change the way you look at Finding Nemo, to the direction of every shot to even the gloriously 80s feel of the soundtrack that oozes glorious ambience through the film. The combination of all these factors make Drive a modern must watch.
Author Bio: Charlie is currently trying his hand at marketing after stints in physics and teaching but the one constant in his 22 years of living is film. When he is not watching a film, it is likely another form of media is in play or dabbling with photography. Both he and his camera are hoping for opportunities to travel the world. Follow him on Tumblr (sothisiswatson.tumblr.com) and Twitter (@charlesiwatson).