Opening in theaters this week is La La Land, director Damien Chazelle's highly-anticipated follow-up to Whiplash. The film stars Emma Stone as a fledgling actress who crosses paths with a fledgling jazz musician, played by Ryan Gosling, and the two explore the romantic corners of the City of Angels together.
The Canadian Gosling got his first on-screen credit with Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark? and was featured in a slew of TV shows as a kid. Over time, his credits grew and grew until he became one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. Thanks in large part to his role in romantic drama The Notebook, many moviegoers have dismissed Gosling's acting abilities and chalked his success up to his good looks. However, looking through his filmography, you'll have a harder time finding subpar performances than you will realizing how many compelling characters his portrayed in his diverse filmography.
In honor of yet another incredibly charming and delightful performance from Gosling, we're looking back at his best performances throughout the years! Let us know your favorite performances in the comments.
The Believer (2001)
After a role in Remember the Titans, Gosling shook loose the shackles of "child TV actor" to take on the intense role of Daniel Balint, a young Jew who becomes a neo-Nazi. Balint's questioning of his own faith develops into hatred of what Judaism stands for, aligning himself with the American Nazi Party. Gosling approached the role fearlessly and, in addition to being a compelling performance in a film that won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, provided the perfect opportunity to show he had the acting chops to command the big screen.
Half Nelson (2006)
Gosling continued to hone his craft, focusing on more subtle characters whose conflict was much more internal. In Half Nelson, Gosling plays a junior high school teacher who battles with drug addiction, who is beloved by his students. Gosling's character connects with one of his students, who also has a tempestuous personal life, and whose only escape is the classroom. His performance of a tortured teacher proved so enthralling that he was nominated for Best Actor at that year's Academy Awards.
[H/T YouTube/Jamie Patricof]
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
It's hard to make Gosling look unattractive, but if you throw some weight on him, give him a mustache, and make him fall in love with an anatomically correct rubber doll, you're off to a good start. In Lars, Gosling plays a man who feels so detached from other humans, that even physical contact with another person causes him physical pain. On a whim, he purchases a life-size doll, which his entire community accepts as a real personality. Gosling plays the role with immense vulnerability and convinces you to believe that even a hunk like him could be painfully socially awkward.
Blue Valentine (2010)
If The Notebook helped establish Gosling as a romantic leading man, Blue Valentine is a response to that storybook romance and focuses on what happens when a passionate relationship burns out. To develop a realistic on-screen relationship, he and his co-star Michelle Williams spent a month living together, learning each others' mannerisms, and figuring out the best way to push one another's buttons. This film was another opportunity for Gosling to show his depths and that he shouldn't just be relegated to "handsome leading man" roles, and was another opportunity to look ugly. Well, as ugly as Ryan Gosling can look.
The Ides of March (2011)
In this political drama, Gosling got to star alongside another handsome leading man who can be dismissed for his looks, rather than his talent. Clooney, in fact, also directed the film and adapted its screenplay from the play Farragut North. In it, Gosling is the campaign manager for Clooney's character who learns his candidate isn't entirely who he's made out to be. The film shines a light on a side of political campaigns often shielded from the public, and Gosling shines as a character trying to find a way to do what's right for his career, his candidate, and the future of the country.
The Big Short (2015)
Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale are three of the hottest sex symbols of the last couple of decades, but the trio's sex appeal was so lacking in The Big Short that the film had to arbitrarily have Margot Robbie show up in a bathtub wearing nothing but bubbles. The film isn't meant to be sexy, as it focuses on the financial crisis of 2007-2008, but Gosling gets to flex some of his comedic muscles as a sleazy salesman hoping to use the crisis for his own financial gain. The film as a whole received massive critical acclaim, thanks in due part to Gosling's comedic timing with the arrogant character.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Audiences got a taste of Gosling's comedic chops in The Big Short, but writer/director Shane Black put those comedic talents in the forefront of The Nice Guys, which partnered the actor with Russell Crowe. The film follows the two bumbling private detectives on the quest to uncover a mysterious pornographic film and, as expected, hilarity ensues. Not only do audiences get to see Gosling's delivery of Black's incredibly hilarious script, but there are a few scenes that showcase the performer's skills in physical comedy, proving he can pratfall with the best of them.
Honorable Mention - Nicolas Winding Refn Collaborations
If the previously listed films prove that Gosling is more than just a hunk, then Drive and Only God Forgives prove the exact opposite. In Drive, Gosling plays a stoic getaway driver who fills the tropes of an archetype so completely, his character is never even given a name. The film was a critical success and enough of a financial one to lead to Gosling to play the lead role in Only God Forgives. If Gosling was "stoic" in the previous film, he might as well have played a mute in this film, speaking roughly 80 words throughout the film's entirety. But you know what? That's okay. Refn leaned into his leading man's looks and merely used him as a set piece to stage the story, moving him around from one scene to another. Although both films might leave audiences with unfulfilling narratives, they are some of the most visually gorgeous films of the last few years, thanks in part to Gosling's good looks. Great roles for Gosling? Nope. Great movies that have roles for Gosling? Oh, you betcha.