With "The Place Beyond the Pines," Ryan Gosling's super-intense intensity is back in action, and the re-teaming with director Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine") is once again drawing raves. But will it be able to crack the lineup of Gosling's best films? I suppose we should take a look at where that list currently stands. (And, fine, while we're at it, what are his 5 worst films? No point in being Pollyannas about it.)
1.) "Drive" (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn's film wasn't so much "All Style, No Substance" as "All Style, What Even Is Substance, Never Mind, I'm Not Listening." When your film is this slick and lush and swimming around in its own atmosphere the way "Drive" is, a bare-bones story is easily forgiven. Gosling is given an absolute gift of a character, all badass poses and cool silence, but he pulls it off without seeming like a pretender, and that's harder than it would seem.
2.) "Blue Valentine" (2010)
A punishing tale of the attrition of romance over time, Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver brilliant, arguably career-best work opposite each other, ultimately devastating themselves and the audience.
3.) "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007)
You have to wonder how this movie would be received if Gosling made it now, after he's honed his Lil' Brando onscreen persona so sharply. Would such an obviously strange role be seen as a quirky affectation. Somehow, in 2007, "Lars" didn't come across that way. The story of a man and his love for a life-size sex doll was so grounded in relatable characters and honest performances (Gosling got great support from Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, and Kelli Garner), it repelled any charges of over-quirk you could throw at it.
4.) "The Notebook" (2004)
COME AT ME! Look, the simple truth is that Gosling would have never managed to make the leap to taciturn tough-guy roles in Serious Action Movies if he hadn't ever made a huge splash in the unapologetically romantic "The Notebook." His real-life romance with Rachel McAdams boosted the film's appeal, sure, but at its heart, Nick Cassavetes film knows what it has in the Gosling/McAdams chemistry and lets it work its magic.
5.) "The Believer" (2001)
Gosling's breakthrough role as a Jewish neo-Nazi in Henry Bean's provocative indie drama is probably still his most surprising. Gosling's quiet intensity here (and in "Drive," and in "The Place Beyond the Pines,” and in just about everything else) is contrasted with the oddball charisma you'd find in later movies like "Lars," and "Crazy, Stupid, Love."
1.) "The United States of Leland" (2003)
An unremarkable slog through the usual indie-tragedy beats, this was another movie that pushed Gosling into anti-charisma territory, but there was nowhere for him, or the story, to go. Sad people dealing with tragedy sadly. Not much else.
2.) "Crazy, Stupid, Love." (2011)
This was a movie that had its moments, most of them involving Gosling, actually. His chemistry with co-stars Steve Carell and Emma Stone provided the jolt that kept this thing buzzing for the first two thirds. Too bad the rest of the movie falls apart around him, including ill-advised plot diversions and a final-act twist that deep-sixes the Stone character and leaves a far flatter, two-dimensional story in its wake.
3.) "Gangster Squad" (2013)
An all-star cast -- Gosling! Penn! Brolin! Sone! Ribisi! -- in service of something both preposterous and slick at once. Somehow, despite coming off of a movie where he stomped a guy's face flat in an elevator, "Gangster Squad" stands as the most distastefully violent entry in Gosling's filmography.
4.) "Stay" (2005)
"Stay" could have actually been a solid movie if it had remained waaaaay more vague and wasn't intent on wrapping things up in a neat short-story twist. Gosling, Ewan McGregor, and Naomi Watts are all pretty solid, and the atmosphere is unsettling and stylish, but it just goes WAY too hard for the clever mind-blower.
5.) "The Ides of March" (2011)
Boy, what a disappointment. George Clooney taking on personality politics with an ace cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman AND Paul Giamatti?? But who's minding the Purposefully Disheveled Thespian Clubhouse? ("Shlubhouse"?) should have been at the very least a rousing and entertaining potboiler. Instead, it pulled every one of its punches and passed on each and every opportunity to make the cool, interesting choice.