In today’s Toast series, we celebrate the birthday of Oscar-nominated Ryan Gosling, whose unique twenty-year career highlights the wonderfully expansive landscape of modern film, from independent to mainstream and everything in between.
Let’s face it. Hollywood isn’t what it used to be. This new millennium has seen immense change to a film industry that’s super-young to begin with, like only about a century old. But luckily for us, stars like Ryan Gosling, who celebrates his 41st birthday today, make that huge change all worthwhile. Long-gone is the Hollywood studio system that essentially owned its actors – molding them into stars via their machine media process, churning out movie after movie with said star, alongside print promos whose plethora of newspapers and magazines undoubtedly decreased the world’s tree population. (Hello, Clark Gable in 1939’s Gone With the Wind and Humphrey Bogart in 1942’s Casablanca.)
And red carpet premieres? Absolutely. Stars were required to walk the red carpet, pose for photos, and meet their screaming fans. After all, a new movie playing in a theater was monumental, as there were no VCRs, DVD/Blu-ray players, or TV streaming services to allow for a post-theater watch. Best to show your star some love with a 50-cent movie ticket and tub of popcorn, right?
But the 2000s aren’t like that. And neither is Ryan Gosling. Though his performances are ironically compared to possibly the most talented Old Hollywood actor ever, Marlon Brando himself, Ryan Gosling, with his Brando-like smoldering intensity, rawness, and seemingly effortless character delivery, is still a Hollywood star for the new millennium.
He’s carved out an awesomely singular career path, starring in both independent art-cinema flicks and big-budget movies, such as The Slaughter Rule (2002) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) respectively. Sometimes he strolled that Tinseltown red carpet, and other times not. Likewise, sometimes his movies are released in the powerhouse movie theater, and other times not. Instead, grab your TV remote and press “play.”
The Hollywood Renegade
Free? Creative? Daring? These are just a few words Gosling fans use to describe him and his career. Oh, and many say he’s easy on the eyes, a total dreamboat. But, that’s Old Hollywood terminology, so let’s nix that. Nominated for two Oscars with Half Nelson (2006) and La La Land (2016), Gosling shines in thriller, romance, musical, and even sci-fi film genres, leaving many to ask, “Is there anything this former Disney Mouseketeer can’t do?”
Yes, that’s correct. Ryan Gosling was a sweet Disney TV child star of the 1990s before blasting onto the big-screen with a minor role in the popular Remember the Titans in 2000. The world is still grateful for this auspicious millennial debut, and Gosling’s staying power twenty years later.
Adding to this mystically unique career path, Gosling has been a prime example of “millennial enlightenment,” taking a hiatus at various intervals throughout his movie career to pursue other things like music (his band called Dead Man’s Bones) and humanitarian causes. It’s all about the balance, right?
Perhaps Gosling’s ability to occasionally move away from the Hollywood grind has ultimately allowed him to stay attached to it. After all, like Brando, as mentioned, Gosling has an intimidating rawness to his work – it might lessen in glorious degree should he overwork it. Gosling inhabits a role completely, and his characters always keep us wonderfully guessing with bated breath. Whoever has seen him in 2001’s indie flick The Believer (Gosling’s film after Remember The Titans) can concur.
The Hollywood Chameleon
Then cut from Gosling playing a young neo-Nazi in The Believer (2001) to a lovelorn 1940s sweetheart in the uber-romance flick The Notebook (2004) just a few years later. Talk about an acting pivot. But we get the sense from the quietly charismatic Gosling that it’s “all in a day’s work,” as the saying goes. The Notebook was Gosling’s breakout hit from his early career, and fans everywhere can still be heard quoting, “I want YOU, ALL of you, forever. You and me, every day.” Yes, that’s the stuff of romance movie legend, golden and perfect. Enough said.
So where is Ryan Gosling today? After hits like Blue Valentine (2010), Drive (2011), a brilliant neo-noir crime thriller, The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) and more recently The Big Short (2015), La La Land (2016) and First Man (2018), he’s just finished a Netflix film called The Gray Man, and signed on to star in Barbie with Margot Robbie. Yes, that’s as in Barbie the iconic 1950s doll. No surprise that Gosling will fill the much-loved doll shoes of Barbie’s paramour, Ken.
As for Ryan Gosling’s real-life love, fellow actor Eva Mendes, rumor has it that the couple and their two children might be leaving Hollywood to live in Gosling’s native Canada. To restate, it’s all about the balance, right? Wherever Gosling resides, may he know how much the world appreciates his eye-opening, thought-provoking, and entertaining work.
And to honor his birthday, here are five films that showcase Ryan Gosling’s truly awe-inspiring talent. They’re examples of his popular, mainstream success, but ofcourse there are many other amazing movies besides these. Explore the eclectic filmography of Ryan Gosling. There’s a lot to enjoy.
5 Super-Popular Ryan Gosling Films
1. Murder by Numbers (2002)
Full disclosure, this movie has juicy casting trivia. Ryan Gosling stars with Sandra Bullock, and the two ended up dating briefly due to this film. What’s more, their 16-year age difference (Gosling, 22 and Bullock, 38) caused quite a fun ruckus in Hollywood tabloids. But off-screen buzz aside, Murder by Numbers is a riveting, nail-biting, and disturbing thriller. For as sanitized and formulaic as some Hollywood thrillers can be (not always Hollywood’s fault given that we viewers have merely gotten wise to popular plotlines!), this film is still a good one. Bullock shines as a curious detective with a troubling history, and Gosling expertly plays a posh, punky villain with a sense of entitlement. Gosling is legit frightening.
2. The Notebook (2004)
Taking its steamy, red lipstick-stained place among “Most Romantic Movie” lists everywhere, The Notebook is Ryan Gosling at his romantic best. His depiction of a young 1940s man from the American South who is of limited means (aka poor), and loses his sweetheart because of it, is thoroughly sympathetic and touching. He and Rachel McAdams are stunning on-screen, and their famous “kiss in the rain” has become a pop culture phenomenon. This then gets extra bittersweet when you factor in that this old-timey romance is all a flashback. Wait, really? Yes, the narrative structure of The Notebook is intriguing. Watch. Cry. And be warned – even if you are a non-romance movie fan, you might find yourself converted.
3. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Here’s a quirky Gosling “cult classic” that presses all the right buttons (pun intended). But wait, did that sex doll have buttons, or was she just inflatable plastic? See Gosling’s loner character Lars fall head-over-heels for a life-size sex doll who he perceives as real. Her beloved name? This lovely Brazilian/Danish lady is called Bianca. Alternatingly sweet and disturbing, yet never unkind or mocking, this film is precious. And here’s guessing that only Gosling could play this role so brilliantly well. The film is a wonderful vehicle for Gosling to showcase his many talents in character development, resulting in a sleeper hit that will definitely keep you awake and, dare we say, even smiling?
4. La La Land (2016)
What’s a Ryan Gosling movie list without the marvelous, wondrous, acclaimed La La Land? Quite simply, this film is just so superlative-worthy. It won six Oscars, and Gosling was nominated for his performance as jazz pianist Seb Wilder. Set in Los Angeles, we get to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone sing and dance in the Tinseltown moonlight, as they fall in love, fight for their showbiz careers, break up, and all the rest. A colorfully clever modern musical that gives us all those magical Old Hollywood feels, this movie truly leaves us asking, “Is there anything that Ryan Gosling can’t do?” La La Land is a Ryan Gosling must-see if ever there is one. And although Ryan Gosling is the awesome poster-child for New Millennial Hollywood, we’ll give him a pass on this nostalgic, vintage-loving La La Land, as this film is just so amazingly, whimsically, superlative-worthy good.
5. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Anyone familiar with Gosling’s filmography knows that he can be unpredictable and a loose cannon on-screen, and that’s why we love him. But just as he embodies the fire, Gosling is conversely adept at displaying the ice. He can do deadpan, flat, and the effect can be beyond intriguing and mysterious. Yes, enter Officer K from the futuristic sci-fi megalith Blade Runner 2049, which is the sequel to the original Blade Runner “cult classic” from 1982. Is Gosling’s Officer K a replicant, or a hybrid human that was born and not artificially created? Are his memories real or instead implanted? Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning, majestic, and enveloping. The futuristic aesthetic is perfectly palpable, and Gosling inhabits this futuristic world with a commanding quietness that still displays yearning.
Deep, rich, and multi-faceted, Gosling is always everything we’d want in an actor and more. Cheers to the badass Ryan Gosling on his 41st birthday, and here’s to many more.
I'm a published poet, travel writer, and "vintage" pop culture blogger. I love movies, and especially those dusty old classics. I "heart" the rich history of film.