Total Recall: Ryan Gosling's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Gangster Squad star.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."