Total Recall

Ryan Gosling Top Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Gangster Squad star.

by | January 10, 2013 | Comments

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling has three movies scheduled for release this year — and with the first, Gangster Squad, making its long-delayed arrival in theaters this weekend, we decided not to waste any time giving the impressively prolific (not to mention widely eclectic) leading man his due by taking a fond look back at his ever-growing filmography’s critical highlights. And you know what that means, folks: It’s time for Total Recall!


10. The Notebook

We never like to see rotten movies on our Total Recall lists, but this is one case where a non-fresh film’s omission would have actually been a shame. Maligned by critics and boyfriends, 2004’s The Notebook positioned Gosling for romantic weepie superstardom, placing him opposite the lovely Rachel McAdams in a Nick Cassavetes-directed adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks bestseller about star-crossed lovers whose beautifully filmed affair is torn asunder by her controlling parents (and World War II). It’s the kind of stuff that has served as grist for countless Lifetime movies, and not a few scribes rolled their eyes at the swelling music and sweeping cinematography — but for others, The Notebook represented a sensitively assembled, solidly acted paean to a style of filmmaking long out of vogue. Opined an appreciative Rex Reed for the New York Observer, “How rare to see a film that says there is still a value system out there, that being thoughtful and caring is not uncool.”


9. Fracture

A slickly twisty crime thriller from Primal Fear director Gregory Hoblit, Fracture stars Gosling as a young district attorney who’s using his office as a springboard to a promising career in corporate law — and eagerly takes what he thinks is the open-and-shut case of a wealthy engineer (Anthony Hopkins) who confessed to shooting his wife (Embeth Davitz) after discovering she was having an affair with a local police officer (Billy Burke). Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem, and the state’s forced to let the confessed attempted murderer go free — at which point, the story’s gears truly start whirring into motion. “The main interest here is the juxtaposing of Gosling’s Method acting with Hopkins’s more classical style,” observed the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, calling their interaction “a spectacle even more mesmerizing than the settings.”


8. The Slaughter Rule

Gosling followed his breakout turn in The Believer with The Slaughter Rule, a little-seen but critically respected indie starring David Morse as a semi-pro football coach whose friendship with a troubled player (Gosling) forces both men to deal with suppressed emotions — not to mention the whispers of small-town life. Both leads attracted copious critical praise for their work, as did writer/directors Alex and Andrew J. Smith, whose sensitive screenplay and judicious use of small-town setting inspired Netflix’s James Rocchi to write, “Montana’s wide-open spaces — and the closed hearts of the people who live there — make for a sincere, superbly acted story of loss and need.”


7. Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Released near Gosling’s swoon-tacular, meme-generating matinee idol peak, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. found him aiming for the mainstream after spending a few years in the indie trenches — albeit in the services of a romantic comedy with enough of a self-aware streak to keep the critics happy. Starring Steve Carell as a milquetoast middle-aged guy who’s gutted by the sudden discovery that his wife (Julianne Moore) is cheating on him with a co-worker (Kevin Bacon) — and Gosling, natch, as the suave, impeccably dressed ladies’ man who takes Carell under his wing — Crazy hit all the requisite rom-com beats, but tossed some dramatic wrinkles and soulful performances into the mix; the result was, in the words of Empire’s Olly Richards, “The kind of film that makes you want to call someone the minute it’s over, even if just to tell them to go see this movie.”


6. Lars and the Real Girl

It may have a perfectly tasteless-sounding plot, but Lars and the Real Girl is actually far more empathetic, wise, and finely shaded than any movie about a man in a relationship with a sex doll has a right to be — and that’s largely because few actors could have grounded its largely inscrutable and possibly demented central character as sensitively as Gosling, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work. Gosling was supported with a solid cast and a tender script that, in the words of the Globe and Mail’s Rick Groen, offered “A sweet little fable about how a delusional man-child is helped by the loving ministrations of his family and community, the kind of throwback flick where human nature is seen as inherently good — a notion so quaint that it feels damn near buoyant.”


5. The Believer

Less than a decade removed from his early career as a children’s TV fixture on shows like Young Hercules and the mid-1990s Mickey Mouse Club revival — and just a year after popping up briefly in Remember the Titans — Gosling scored the lead role in Henry Bean’s The Believer, a harrowing dramatization of the incredible life story of Jewish Neo-Nazi Daniel Burros. While Gosling’s character in the film achieves a somewhat happier ending than the real-life Burros, who shot himself after his heritage was publicly revealed, that doesn’t make the rest of The Believer any easier to watch — and neither does it detract from Gosling’s searing performance. “It’s blunt, controversial and never takes the easy road through its themes and situations,” observed Rich Cline of Shadows on the Wall. “It’s also profoundly moving.”


4. The Ides of March

Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign may not have amounted to much besides a lot of mocking soundbites from pundits, but it did provide the inspiration for Beau Willimon’s well-reviewed play Farragut North — which, in turn, inspired George Clooney to adapt its script into the screenplay for The Ides of March, a solidly reviewed 2011 political drama about, as Willimon put it, “the lust for power and the costs one will endure to achieve it.” While it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, Ides outperformed at the box office considering its Beltway subject matter — and it found no shortage of critical accolades for Clooney (who starred, directed, and earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay), Gosling (who picked up another Golden Globe nomination for his work as a conflicted campaign manager), or the film itself. As Charlie McCollum put it for the San Jose Mercury News, “This is intelligent filmmaking, and a provocative moral fable. It may not be perfect, but it stands as one of the better, most realistic movies about the way we elect our leaders.”


3. Blue Valentine

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance struggled for years to find funding for Blue Valentine, but his faith was handsomely rewarded when the film’s sensitive, non-linear portrayal of a young urban couple’s courtship and divorce ended up earning some of the most passionate critical accolades of 2010 — including a Golden Globe nomination for Gosling and an Academy Award nomination for Michelle Williams. Boasting improvised dialogue and appropriately raw performances, Valentine enraptured critics like Mike Scott of the Times-Picayune, who observed, “It’s at its root a hard-to-resist character study. That’s because the character being studied is you and me and everyone else who has ever fallen in, and out of, love.”


2. Half Nelson

Gosling earned an Academy Award nomination for his work in this Sundance favorite, a piercing drama about a middle-school teacher whose worsening drug problem complicates — and serves as an unlikely basis for — his friendship with a student (Shareeka Epps) who’s facing her own substance-related struggles. Though it was far from a big hit at the box office, Half Nelson proved definitively that its star could carry more than just handsomely lensed weepies like The Notebook — and it proved an instant favorite for critics like Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote, “Although the subject promises more than the film can deliver, there is compensation in Gosling’s convincing, unromanticized portrayal of someone seeking escape from longing and loss that neither he nor the movie can really define.”


1. Drive

He didn’t have much dialogue — or even really a name — but Ryan Gosling’s character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive came equipped with enough cool to rock a satin scorpion jacket — and enough hard-won knowledge of the L.A. underworld to try and make a difference in the lives of his alluringly sad neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her recently returned ex-con husband (Oscar Isaac). Sleek, dark, and stylish, Drive doled out a heaping helping of action thrills without sacrificing smarts or character; as Jason Best put it for Movie Talk, “From its opening shots, Refn’s movie is as cool and controlled as its protagonist… at once unhurriedly stylish and intensely gripping. You’d like to lean back and admire, but the action keeps pulling you to the edge of your seat.”

In case you were wondering, here are Gosling’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Notebook — 85%
2. Lars and the Real Girl — 83%
3. Half Nelson — 82%
4. The Believer — 82%
5. The United States of Leland — 81%
6. Crazy, Stupid, Love. — 80%
7. Drive — 78%
8. Blue Valentine — 75%
9. The Ides of March — 73%
10. Fracture — 71%

Take a look through Gosling’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Gangster Squad.

Finally, here’s Mr. Gosling (and a couple other no-name Mouseketeers) letting all the ladies know that he will cry for you: