A penny for your thoughts makes it very hard to get by in this economy.
Having recently seen ‘First Man,’ Neil Armstrong is the latest in a line of interesting film choices from Ryan Gosling. From his early career when he was mostly famous as a romantic love interest, and what a love interest!, he’s gone on to work in a wide range of genres, garnering two Oscar noms even if the box office hasn’t quite met expectations.
His bread and butter is playing emotionally closed off characters, his handsome handsome face hinting at extra depth and tortured inner lives, to varying degrees of success (at least God forgives because I do not forgive the turd that is Only God Forgives). However he’s also proven gifted at action, comedy and bringing sympathy to characters not the easiest to like.
I haven’t seen all his movies yet - sorry Carol, still haven’t made it to Lars and the Real Girl - so this isn’t an exhaustive list and it’s skewed mostly towards his more recent work. This may be affected by the circumstances in which I first saw them, it being so much more engaging seeing a film at the cinema opposed to on a laptop with your own face reflecting back at you. So, does his turn as Neil Armstrong make it into my top five Ryan Gosling movies? Short answer is it doesn’t.
La La Land
This was a toss up with Half Nelson, this pipping it mostly because it was much better than I expected it to be. It is the old style cinema musical, but there are plenty of modern elements simmering underneath. This isn’t a love story where the leads amount to one character together, but one where both have clear, distinct goals and ambitions which often put them in conflict with each other. Gosling is jazz musician Sebastian, who could so easily come across as insufferable as he is arogant and condescending, but over the course of the film you warm to him as he drops the act, and you see exactly where that passion comes from. Also he learned to play piano for this role, the big dreamboat.
I loved this movie when it came out, brilliantly stylish with an iconic soundtrack and a great cast. However I made the mistake of watching it too often, too soon, and the lack of real depth became more apparent with each viewing that it made me wonder why I liked it so much in the first place. A few years down the line I gave it another chance and some of the initial joy of watching it returned, the opening car chase, Albert Brooks’s loveable bad guy and Gosling oozing cool. It played to his strength of looking handsome while doing basic tasks in a very purposeful way. Also I’ll never forget the entire cinema gasping at the lift scene. Look forward to watching it again in five years.
The Big Short
It was perhaps strange this worked, its premise essentially uncovering a mystery we all already knew the result of (similar to Spotlight which won Best Picture the same year), but that almost lifted it in that otherwise it could have seemed too surreally stupid to have happened. It’s punchy style and filmmaking flair gave real energy to what could have been staggeringly complex, while stoking exasperated anger about one of modern history’s worst injustices. Gosling plays a more incidental character and narrator Jared Vennett, a real arsehole only out for personal gain who you still get onside with, largely due to him being so honest about his arseholeness.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black is one of my favourite writer/directors with his blend of comedy/action right up my street. There is no incidental action in his films with every seemingly innocuous action having an unexpected, often hilarious consequence, such as Gosling’s Holland March trying to break into a bar and cutting his wrist on the glass window. He proved funnier than I think most expected, playing the foil to Russell Crowe’s straight man in a much more ineffectual, squeaky role we’d seen him play before. The plot is mostly an excuse to take you from one setup to the next with the laughs never letting up the whole way. Proper gutted looks unlikely we’ll ever see a sequel.
Blade Runner 2049
My top film of 2017, and that’s even without being much a fan of the original. Was totally swept up in the narrative, carried along by Gosling’s K replicant investigating whether he may, or may not be a miracle child. Playing a robot meant another more subdued role for him, but the glimpses we get into the turmoil underneath are played at just the right pitch. The relationship with Joi is one of the film’s heartbreaking highlights, along with remarkable sound design, incredible visuals and a feeling that stays with you long after. Yes it may be slow and ponderous, but embrace its languid tone and you’ll get the most out of this stunning cinematic experience.