Ryan Gosling: The Past, The Present, and The Future

To those who have been dedicated followers of The Awards Circuit for a while now, it’s no secret that Ryan Gosling is my favorite actor working today.  Lucky for me, he’s also one of the pickiest, having yet to appear in anything that I wouldn’t consider a solidly recommendation-worthy film.  He’s also been in some incredible and lasting works, showing a real sense of knowing the parts that are right for him and not succumbing to the temptation for easy and high paying parts.  With this being perhaps his biggest year as an actor to date in terms of acclaim and notoriety, it’s as good a time as any to dive right into the works he’s done before, the films he had out this year, and what’s next for him.  For my money, he ranks right up there with some of the all time greats.  When I see Gosling at his best, it’s not much of a stretch for me to feel like I’m watching Marlon Brando when he was a young actor, dazzling the film world with his potential.  Am I saying that Ryan Gosling is the next Brando?  No, but I think he has the skills to be as good, and maybe even better.  In my eyes, he’s surpassed only by Daniel Day-Lewis in regard to being the best actor working today, period.  Though plenty of you have seen his recent works, how many of you have seen ‘The Slaughter Rule’ or ‘The United States of Leland’?  This article will hopefully shed a light on some of Gosling’s less appreciated but still incredible performances.  I wrote an article a few weeks ago on it being Brad Pitt’s year, but I made sure I mentioned Gosling as well, since it’s just as much his year, only without as good a chance at an Oscar nomination at the end of the rainbow.  So, consider this a spinoff from that article.  In case anyone still isn’t sure if Gosling is a great actor, I present to you my case for him being not only great, but soon to be one of the greats…

A Canadian native, Ryan Gosling got his start alongside a number of other soon to be famous youngsters.  How did he do that?  Well, he broke into the business as a kid on ‘The All New Mickey Mouse Club’, that’s how.  After that, Gosling dabbled in television for a few years, notably with an episode of ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’.  Those were the first two instances in which I saw him as an actor.  A starring role in ‘Young Hercules’ and a role in ‘Breaker High’ followed, which set him up for his appearances in film.  That first notable film role came in 2000 with a supporting turn in ‘Remember the Titans’.  It’s one of Disney’s better sports movies, and Gosling gives a very interesting performance in it.  As if to make sure no one was comfortable with him in family fare, he next appeared in ‘The Believer’ (2001), giving one of his 5 best performances to date.  As a Jewish kid who develops a rather Anti-Semitic view of the world, he’s mesmerizing.  For many, that would be an impossible character to make work, but Gosling was up to the task.  The next year he nearly matched that work in the drama ‘The Slaughter Rule’, playing a teenager who finds a measure of comfort in a select few people, only to have them show their true colors.  His scenes with David Morse are incredibly intense and show Morse at his best, with Gosling matching him scene for scene.  At this point, Gosling had easily emerged in my eyes as someone to watch.  2002 also brought a venture into the mainstream with a villainous turn in ‘Murder by Numbers’.  The flick is fine but nothing special, though Gosling is disturbingly good as a high schooler who plots to commit the perfect murder.  Disturbing character choices continued the next year for him with the underrated ‘The United States of Leland’.  Gosling played the title character, confined to a juvenile detention center for a crime no one but him seems to understand.  This was another role that easily could have gone wrong, but he made it work.  These weren’t films that many people were seeing, but those who did were taking note of his work.  Ryan Gosling was an under the radar young actor, but not for long.

In 2004 Gosling became a heartthrob with the weepy ‘The Notebook’.  I’ll admit to not thinking much of this decision when I heard about the flick, but when I finally sat down to watch it, I was pleasantly surprised.  His chemistry with Rachel McAdams is excellent, and yes…it got me to cry.  My concern had been that his talent for intensity would be wasted in something like this, but he was able to retain it while also showcasing the charm that he would make work so well in later films.  This combination was a sight to behold.  At this point, there was little in my mind that Gosling couldn’t do, and he did nothing to change that opinion in 2005 with the bizarre film ‘Stay’.  I was completely lost the first time I saw the flick, but a few more viewings (and one college paper written on it) made it work for me, and it was in no small part to the acting of Gosling.  It may not be one of his most memorable performances, but it is still an electrically charged one.  I wasn’t sure what to expect next from Gosling, but I knew that I was excited and wanted more.

We come now to 2006’s ‘Half Nelson’, an absolutely brilliant little movie that nabbed Ryan Gosling his first (and at the moment, only) Oscar nomination.  As the drug addicted Brooklyn teacher Dan Dunne, Gosling combined his brilliant intensity with a type of charm that masks a sense of pity that you see all around him shine onto him.  I was absolutely blown away.  I was delighted when the Academy was able to look at a small film like this and see the incredible nature of the performance.  Honestly, it’s one of the 10 best performances I’ve ever seen by an actor, and it’s my most watched work of his (yes, even more than an upcoming film that is well known as a favorite of mine around these parts).  The layers he gives to this particular character are unlike any I’ve seen in a drug movie before, and it elevates a great film to an unbelievable one.  The only question I had after his nomination came was what could he possibly do next?

Since his Oscar nod, he spent most of the time going slow, putting out a film or two one year, and then nothing for a few after that.  His first post nomination role was in the legal thriller ‘Fracture’, which was a delight to watch if for no other reason than Gosling dueling with Anthony Hopkins.  The second role was more memorable, as the title character in the Capra-esque Dramedy ‘Lars and the Real Girl’.  The fact that he made his character not be a joke was noteworthy alone, but his talents raise the movie to being a cut above.  The Golden Globes honored him, and it looked like the Academy was going to follow suite, but that never materialized.  Gosling then took some time off (though part of that was do to Peter Jackson dropping him from ‘The Lovely Bones’ shortly before shooting, but with how that disappointing film turned out, maybe it’s for the best), but when he returned, he returned with a bang.

Last year had Gosling give 2 of the best performances of the year.  One was in the flawed but interesting mystery ‘All Good Things’, but the other was in my favorite film of 2010…‘Blue Valentine’.  I go back and forth on whether this or ‘Half Nelson’ is his best work, and while at the moment I think his acting is a pinch better in the latter, this is the superior film.  A heartbreaking look at love that still shakes me to the core whenever I watch it, he and Michelle Williams gave the performances of the year.  Watching him fall in love with Williams and then fight to keep it as they get older, I nearly lose it a number of times.  He got another Globe nod, but again the Academy snubbed him…this time more shockingly so.  Coming into this year, Gosling was clearly more established now as an acting force, with plenty of filmmakers looking to work with him.  Would he go the mainstream route and lose what made him so great?  The answer was an emphatic no.

This year has seen Ryan Gosling give 3 of the 10 best performances of the year to date, in 3 very different roles.  He was at his most charming this summer in the romantic comedy ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’, while also channeling Steve McQueen to turn in an iconically quiet action hero role in the brilliant ‘Drive’ (my favorite film of the year so far).  Finally, just this past week he appeared in ‘The Ides of March’, combining his intensity with his charm to play an idealistic Press Secretary who learns the reality of Presidential politics.  All of them are nomination worthy roles, with each showing a different side of him.  If there was any concern that a larger status in Hollywood would take him down a peg, that concern was quickly tabled (he even for a time was set to direct and star in a remake of ‘The Idolmaker’, but that never materialized).

What’s next for Gosling?  He’s got at least 2 more collaborations with his ‘Drive’ director Nicholas Winding Refn.  One is the Bangkok Western ‘Only God Forgives’, with the other two being a potential remake of ‘Logan’s Run’ and the other a pipe dream romantic comedy written by Albert Brooks.  Those are still to be made, but he’s just finished a second teaming with his ‘Blue Valentine’ director Derek Cianfrance, the crime drama ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’.  Currently in production is another potential Oscar film in the period gangster drama aptly titled ‘Gangster Squad’.  If there’s one thing you can take to the bank, it’s that Gosling is not going away any time soon.

The question on more than a few people’s minds currently is if he’s going to get his second Academy Award nomination this year.  It seemed more likely earlier on, but I still think the Precursors will get either his lead role in ‘Drive’ or ‘The Ides of March’ into the fray.  A longer shot will be his supporting work in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’, but anything is possible.  We’ll know more in the coming months, but I’ll be excited to see if these brilliant roles will be rewarded or not.

If this seemed somewhat like an Under the Circuit-ish piece to you, that’s not lose on me.  It’s essentially a combination of a look at his year (like Pitt’s), while also shining a light on his lesser known works.  For me, he’s always been great, so it was a pleasure to try and show everyone more of his brilliance.  To me, his 5 best performances are as follows: ‘Half Nelson’, ‘Blue Valentine’, ‘Drive’, ‘The Believer’, and ‘Lars and the Real Girl’.  There’s not a bad performance in the bunch when it comes to Ryan Gosling, so anytime you see one of his films, you know you’re in for a treat!

I mentioned him potentially being one of the greats.  When I look at other legends of the game, I see sustained greatness.  Ryan Gosling is today’s equivalent in my eyes, since he’s consistent with his brilliance.  It will take many years before we can fully decide if he’s on that level or not, but I’m putting my money on yes.  Even if he never quite reaches that level, there’s very few other actors out there who can currently match him, and that’s far from light praise.  In his age group, there’s literally no one.  If there was one actor to really commit to following their career from beginning to end, it’s Ryan Gosling.  He’s just that good.

Thoughts on Ryan Gosling? Discuss them on the Forum!