Total Recall

Ryan Gosling's 10 Best Movies

We look back at the best-reviewed work of the La La Land star.

by | December 7, 2016 | Comments

Ryan Gosling reunites with his Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Gangster Squad co-star Emma Stone for this weekend’s La La Land — and even though it’s only opening in New York and L.A., this festival favorite is already Certified Fresh and well on its way to ending up as one of the better-reviewed movies of the year. In honor of its arrival, we decided to take a fond look back at some of the brighter highlights from Mr. Gosling’s growing filmography, and you know what that means, folks: It’s time for Total Recall!


10. The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) 80%

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After accruing critical acclaim together with Blue Valentine, Gosling and writer-director Derek Cianfrance reunited for 2013’s The Place Beyond the Pines — a very different sort of drama that, instead of picking over the bones of a doomed relationship, traces the aftermath of a man’s fateful decision to turn to crime in order to support his child. Starring Gosling in the lead opposite Bradley Cooper as the cop who targets his character after he breaks the law, Pines earned its hefty 140-minute running time with an ambitious multi-generational story that proved Valentine‘s accolades were no fluke; as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “This is a story about legacy, the sins of the father, the restlessness in our souls. It’s powerful, it’s bold, it hits you hard.”

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9. Lars and the Real Girl (2007) 81%

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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.”

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8. The Believer (2002) 82%

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Less than a decade removed from his early career as a children’s TV fixture on shows like Young Hercules and the mid-’90s 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.”

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 7. The Ides of March (2011) 84%

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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.”

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6. The Big Short (2015) 88%

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How do you take the 2008 financial crisis and turn it into an entertaining movie? Hand the reins to ex-SNL writer and frequent Will Ferrell confederate Adam McKay, stock the larder with a top-shelf cast that includes Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, and focus your story on the trials and tribulations of a hedge fund manager — oh, and while you’re at it, line up Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain modern finance. The end result is The Big Short, an all-star dramedy that manages to make banking shenanigans entertaining — no small feat, especially considering that many people are still dealing with the real-life effects of the story. As Dana Stevens put it for Slate, “One of the most appealing things about this very appealing movie — a stylistic Chex Mix of storytelling, satire, advocacy, and clip art — is its high regard for the intellect of the viewer.”

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5. Blue Valentine (2010) 88%

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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.”

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4. Half Nelson (2006) 90%

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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.”

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3. Drive (2011) 92%

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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.”

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2. The Nice Guys (2016) 92%

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In the right hands, even the most well-worn formula can make for entertaining viewing, and The Nice Guys offers delightfully profane proof. Starring Gosling alongside Russell Crowe as a pair of LAPD detectives who stumble into a conspiracy while investigating the death of a porn star, it highlights its leads’ comic chemistry while underscoring director/co-writer Shane Black’s way with a buddy cop picture — plus, its ’70s setting makes room for a cool soundtrack and all sorts of questionable wardrobe choices. “The Nice Guys flies high on the chemistry between Gosling and Crowe, and Black gives them plenty to chew on,” wrote Adam Graham for the Detroit News. “It’s a gourmet summer treat. Nice, guys.”

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1. La La Land (2016) 92%

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Not many screen couples get the opportunity to team up for more than one movie — and those who do often learn the hard way that lightning rarely strikes twice. Gosling and Emma Stone suffered the sophomore jinx with their second outing, Gangster Squad, but their effervescent onscreen chemistry rebounded in a big way with La La Land. In this throwback musical from Whiplash writer-director Damian Chizelle, Stone plays an aspiring starlet and Gosling is a musician dedicated to a dream — a time-tested setup that pays an affectionate debt to the classics of yesteryear while unfolding against the backdrop of a lovingly filmed Los Angeles. To say critics were charmed would be an understatement; after wowing festival crowds and a rapturously received limited theatrical release, La La Land ranked among the best-reviewed films of 2016. “Catch the film on the largest screen you can find, with a sound system to match,” urged the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane. “Even if that means journeying all day.”

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