11. Gangster Squad (2013)
Gangster Squad is not one of the actor’s better films, but something about it makes it difficult to dislike. Its writing could have been better, the characters aren’t really that interesting, and it’s not a very memorable movie (with a title that promises so much more).
However, there’s an undeniable charm to a movie where people ham it up with silly film noir accents. For fans of the 40s Los Angeles era this film covers, there are worse ways to spend time than watching Gangster Squad. It’s a good movie for what it attempts to be: a lighthearted Untouchables-esque movie.
10. The Believer (2001)
The Believer is one of the more underrated films from Gosling’s filmography. It’s about a Jewish young man who gets involved with Neo-Nazis, and it’s loosely based on a true story. If that isn’t a recipe for a great film, I don’t know what is. His performance in this movie is so convincing, after The Believer Gosling could have easily become a typecast actor in similar films as “hateful young man #100.”
Thankfully he was able to show us his remarkable range after this. Small side note: in Half Nelson there’s a scene where he’s talking about a book and he says, “It’s just not cool to be a Nazi anymore, baby.” That line may be a direct reference to his past role in The Believer.
9. The Ides of March (2011)
The Ides of March can essentially be described as being a film about the corrupt side of politics. Specifically, people involved with the campaign trail are explored here. For me what makes this film stand out is Gosling acting alongside a veteran actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman and completely nailing it.
There’s a powerful scene where he gets told off by Hoffman’s character when he gets caught lying about something; it stands out because Gosling does the “cool guy” routine in the film a little bit, but when he’s being addressed by Hoffman’s character you can tell he just feels awful about it immediately. It adds another layer to that type of character he usually plays: he’s a hotshot in his field, but deeply flawed and dishonest.
8. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Blade Runner 2049 is another film that makes excellent use of the “strong silent type” version of Ryan Gosling that Nicolas Winding Refn helped to create. In a film like Blade Runner, where the visuals are almost the star of the movie, the choice to make the characters a little more subdued makes complete sense. Blade Runner 2049 also proves that Gosling is capable of handling a sci-fi movie with ease.
7. The Notebook (2004)
The Notebook was one of the first huge films to make Ryan Gosling a household name. As a small example of how much of a cultural phenomenon this film was: a year after The Notebook was released, the classic SNL sketch by The Lonely Island “Lazy Sunday” aired. At one point they reference the relationship between Gosling and Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, which was somehow a joke everyone understood at the time.
The film was not just a dumb romantic movie; it soon became a favourite to a lot of people in the years following it (just like Love Actually took on a new life as a bit of a cult hit). To this day there are probably people out there who prefer this film over anything else Gosling has ever acted in.
6. La La Land (2016)
This is the movie Ryan Gosling single handedly saved jazz in! To be completely honest, I hate musicals but I actually enjoy this film. It’s ridiculously cheesy, but somehow incredibly appropriate for what it sets out to do. And the argument has been made that “Ryan Gosling can’t sing.” But what makes La La Land so great is the fact that it marks another period of growth in Gosling’s career. Just when you thought he couldn’t surprise you, along comes his role in La La Land.
La La Land isn’t a Ryan Gosling movie all of his fans will enjoy by any means, but it’s another great moment in his career, and further evidence that he consistently makes great choices.
5. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
This may be a choice that gets a little heat for being so high up on the list, but it was one of the first times in Gosling’s feature film career that he went for a comedic role. And in classic Gosling fashion, he didn’t sign up for any run of the mill dumb comedy movie. Lars and the Real Girl is a fantastic mix of a comedy with serious dramatic elements, which isn’t always easy to get right. Gosling’s performance as the eccentric Lars Lindstrom is sweet and tragic at once.
When Blade Runner 2049 came out many film buffs pointed out that it actually shares a similarity with the “real girl” in this film. It speaks volumes that people would actually remember a movie so early in Gosling’s career: with another actor we might easily forget everything they’ve ever done, but Lars and the Real Girl still really holds up.
4. Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine is one of the strongest Gosling films to date. It tells the story of a relationship spanning several decades, and all of the turmoil that comes with that particular story. Gosling’s acting here elevates what could be an decent, average film to something much more.
The leading man good looks he is known for will always be used in any romantic film he is in, but as we see him age over the years it becomes clear to us this film isn’t going to be like any other. We actually begin to feel a bit sorry for him as he gets slightly fatter, and his hairline recedes. It’s a bold choice to make work, but Gosling knocks it out of the park.
Also, Gosling had input on the music used in the film (specifically: the couple’s favourite song, “You and Me”). It’s a minor thing to note, but it’s important: Gosling is an actor willing to work with a director in the best possible way creatively. If he has ideas that may reflect well on the film’s final result, he will let the filmmaker know; it’s a really great quality to have as an actor.
3. The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
This was the second collaboration between Gosling and filmmaker Derek Cianfrance. Spoiler alert: Gosling’s character doesn’t make it for the entire duration of the film. However it’s a testament to his skills as an actor that he manages to make himself memorable for the rest of the running time of the film.
Thematically the film is a great exploration about fathers and sons, and the passage of time (among other things), and the writing is almost tragically Shakespearean. As a result, even Gosling’s absence is greatly felt in the second half of the film.
As a small side note: for fans of Drive (the film that came the year before this in the actor’s filmography) The Place Beyond the Pines was not only a great role because of Gosling taking on a new type of character, it was also really exciting to see Gosling doing another film that required high performance driving. To some, the driving sequences in this film are arguably better than the ones featured in Refn’s.
2. Half Nelson (2006)
This is the film that earned Gosling his first Oscar nomination, and it put him on everyone’s radar if he wasn’t already. He plays a schoolteacher struggling with an addiction problem in an inner city school. Once again this film is a great example of Gosling choosing to do a subversive film and make a role completely his. On paper this film sounds like something designed to perform well at film festivals, but it’s actually a brilliantly original take on the “teacher in a bad school” film.
Gosling also really works for this role because with most movies about addicts, the characters often become very annoying as they repeat the same mistakes over and over. With Gosling in the role there’s a charm here not very many actors can pull off when playing a character messing up in life so frequently and monumentally.
1. Drive (2011)
I can already see some of the negative comments this choice may get for being number 1. But Drive is Gosling’s best role in my opinion for a couple reasons. Firstly: it’s not just one of the best “car movies” of the last decade, it’s one of the best movies of recent history period. That is primarily due to Gosling’s performance. What he manages to do here is nothing short of amazing; as an actor he’s able to convey moods by being completely silent. Drive is a stylish film that feels like a great hybrid of films like Vanishing Point and Le Samouraï; throughout the film “Driver” is the strong, silent type. He rarely speaks, and when he does you know it has to mean something.
Drive is one of the most influential films of the last few years. It feels like one of the last big cultural moments in cinema. The Drive jacket Gosling wears in the film was enough to send several companies off trying to manufacture their version of it. And even the people that purchased the jacket can’t pull it off like Gosling does in the film (myself included: I have a scorpion jacket that has been hanging in my closet since 2012 because it’s almost impossible to see anyone other than the character wearing it).
It is worth mentioning that Gosling’s style in real life (he was inspired by vintage Korean souvenir jackets) directly influenced the costume design of Drive; this is another great moment where he contributed personally to the role of the character, ultimately making it a signature performance.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film is also important because when most people talk about Gosling’s career so far as an actor there is a “before Drive” and “after Drive” period. He was already a star, but Drive made him a bit more of an icon. If Bullitt was Steve McQueen’s most memorable film, Drive is arguably the equivalent for Gosling.