Desert Island Films: Ryan Gosling Movies

            Most mainstream audience members first took notice of Ryan Gosling when he starred in the relentlessly popular adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ romantic melodrama, The Notebook, but he quickly began taking roles that allowed him to escape the pitfalls of most actors who are able to create a career from being on the cover of teen magazines. Those who have followed him from the beginning of his illustrious career can see how rarely the actor chooses roles with such broad appeal, but when he does they manage to catapult his career into all new opportunities.


A Place Beyond the Pines (2013)
            2013 looks to be another stellar year for Gosling, including two reunions with directors that he previously produced masterpieces with. A Place Beyond the Pines is now playing in limited theaters (list of theaters: ), and the trailer for Only God Forgives was just recently released online. A Place Beyond the Pines is directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and features a performance by Gosling that is so electrifying that it inspired James Franco to write a blog praising the actor ( Only God Forgives is a new collaboration with Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive). The red band trailer is below.


            For the sake of this list I only considered films from 2012 and earlier, and it should be noted that these are my desert island picks. These are the movies I would (and in some case do) watch countless times. Occasionally emotional attachment and personal preference outweighs quality when making decisions in a desert island list.


5. The Notebook (2004)


[The following are excerpts taken from a previous review of film]


            The Notebook is one of those films destined to become a classic in the future, remembered by each generation as it is passed along. There is also a great chance that this will happen with Titanic, so I don’t mean to insinuate any statement of worth by claiming this, but I am certain it is true nonetheless. The Notebook was a phenomenon that reached a remarkably wide number of audiences, even if many of the men were there because of their date. I worked at a movie theater when The Notebook was released and I watched the crowds pour in, cleaning up the many wet tissues after the show was over and the sniffing customers had vacated the theater. Even I watched the film twice amongst the mass of couples. Years later I worked at a video store, and once again saw the popularity of the DVD, even years after its initial release. There is a timeless quality about the film and the love story that makes The Notebook accessible to all ages, and doesn’t look likely to grow old.


There is more to The Notebook than just the
classic love story to make it such a legendary romance film, although that certainly would seem to be enough. The romance which developed between the two leading stars, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, certainly helps to reinforce its place in history. Both actors were not nearly as appreciated as their talents seemed to call for before this film, and each elevated the simple love story to something much more. Gosling is among one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, but like Edward Norton and Russell Crowe before him, sometimes he is so good that he goes unnoticed. Heath Ledger was this type of actor as well, and it is impossible to find a moment that he seems to be acting. Gosling’s performance in this film is a perfect example of how he manages to take even the simplest role and add a bit more to it than is necessary. His dedication is so effective that he often comes off more as a chameleon rather than an actor, who we expect to be able to see ‘acting’.

4. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)


            Gosling dons a moustache, a bad haircut and bulky winter clothing for one of the sweetest romantic comedies that he has made. The premise seems outlandish, likely to resort to gags within the first minutes. Gosling stars as a man who is so lonely and cut off from the world that he forces himself into something of a delusional state. Buying a sex doll off of the internet, Lars (Gosling) introduces her to his family as his new girlfriend. Treating her with absolute respect and decency, many are confused about this change in Lars’ behavior, but the arrival of the inanimate partner allows him to face issues which have long been keeping Lars from living his life fully.



           This is one of those films that I have yet to tire of, though I have watched it enough times to know most scenes word for word. Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider are wonderfully cast as Lars’ sympathetic and supportive family members, with Schneider easily at his best since David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls. Gosling plays away from the heartthrob personality, even though this was his first return to the genre since The Notebook. His resistance towards being a typical romantic lead reminds me of similar paths Johnny Depp took after escaping “21 Jump Street” in favor of John Waters and Tim Burton oddities.


3. Blue Valentine (2010)


[The following are excerpts taken from a previous review of film]


Blue Valentine follows about 24 hours in the life of couple Dean and Cindy (Gosling and Williams), interspersed with footage from their past which provides context for the relationship. Their day begins with the bad news that the family dog has vanished, which is first discovered by their adorable little girl. Although Dean and Cindy don’t seem to be getting along very well any longer, we see through flashbacks that their relationship began very passionately. This makes the inevitability of the future so much bleaker.


            Williams was honored with a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards, but Gosling did not get nearly enough attention for this spectacular performance. This is a crowning achievement in a career already full of some of this generation’s most honest performances. Painful as this film may be, few films have captured the rise and fall of love quite so vividly. Gosling may not have received a nomination, but it doesn’t much matter. He will have many more in his future.


2. Half Nelson (2006)


[The following are excerpts taken from a previous review of film]


Every so often there is a movie that affects me so profoundly on so many levels that I have difficulty pinpointing specifics coherently and that makes it difficult to find the right words to praise the film properly. Half Nelson is one of these films, in my opinion one of the smartest and effective human stories put on film in years, specifically thanks to the wonderful performances by all and Ryan Fleck’s thoughtful and authentic directing.


Gosling stars as Dan Dunne, a young impassioned history teacher with the ability to make the difficult subject seem relevant and real, while also keeping a serious drug habit after hours. Dunne sees an ex-girlfriend and finds out that she is engaged and this continues his drug abuse until he begins to spiral out of control, no longer able to function properly. Half Nelson occurs in a real world where even the best teachers have students who don’t listen. It isn’t Dead Poet’s Society and it seems like only a few actually appreciate what a great teacher he is. One that does notice, and becomes even more interested after discovering her teacher’s secret addiction, is Drey (Shareeka Epps). Drey is also on the failing basketball team that Dunne coaches and she forms a bond with him when he starts giving her rides home after practice. As Dunne grows more concerned he learns of Drey’s connection to a local drug dealer (Anthony Mackie), and tries to keep her from becoming involved with him.


1. Drive (2011)


[The following are excerpts taken from a previous review of film]


                        On average, I watch about 600 movies a year. Sometimes it’s more and sometimes it is less, but I will only watch a small percentage of them more than once. The truth is, very few of the 600 are altogether memorable. Some are praiseworthy but I feel no emotional connection to them, while others are indulgent but less than adequate upon later examination. Then there are the perfect films. The ones which not only have the ability to keep you thinking for days, but also grab you in a way which almost feels personal. In 2011, for me, this film was Drive. A culmination of a director I have long respected, an actor I very much admire, and a promising premise taken from a book by James Sallis resulted in the best film of the year. 1 in 600.


The storyline is rather simple, and the filmmaking simplifies it even further. We are not given lengthy scenes of dialogue to fill us in on back-story, and occasionally we even leave the scene before the dialogue has even begun. In one amazing sequence the driver is walking through a grocery store when he notices his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan). At this point it is clear from his facial expression when he sees her that he wants nothing to do with her. Perhaps he wants no attachments or maybe he has another reason, but instead of approaching the woman and her son, he retreats down another aisle. As fate would have it, he walks out of the store just as Irene discovers that her car won’t start. As well as being a stunt driver and a getaway driver, our antihero protagonist also works with a mechanic (Bryan Cranston), and again we see the look on his face, hesitating before approaching to help. The film then cuts to a shot of them in their apartment elevator. We don’t need the unnecessary dialogue. We know everything we need to know from the images, and with the help of a pop-electronic soundtrack. 


Gosling’s performance comes as no surprise, however, as he has never been short of excellent. What truly surprised me was to see how much director Nicholas Wining Refn has come into his own. He was born and bred amidst the Dogma ’95 movement of Danish cinema, but while he debut feature was certainly shot in natural surroundings with mostly non-actors with natural light, Refn’s Pusher was also a stylistic and graphic gangster film resembling the type of films Quentin Tarantino was making in the 1990s. Followed by two sequels which were each better than the last, Refn showed promise from the very beginning. His films have otherwise always proven to be worth watching, though some are more impressive than others. Each attempts to intellectually approach the art of filmmaking while telling otherwise straightforward stories. He is one of many filmmakers, including Tarantino, who have elevated the genre film into an incredible art form. Drive is Refn’s masterpiece.

Runners Up:
The Believer (2001), Stay (2005), Fracture (2007), the Ides of March (2011)

Giveaway Contest

Lincoln Blu-ray/DVD Combo Giveaway Contest
Win the latest Steven Spielberg film on Blu-ray and DVD! Enter the contest today!
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Dragon Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei
  • Director: Peter Ho-Sun Chan
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: April 16, 2013
  • Run Time: 98 minutes


              Dragon is a blending of genres which plays out something like Rashamon meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There is a mystery and a lot of spectacular action within a world of pristine visual fantasy. There is enough eye candy and hard-hitting action to please the low brow, with a clever screenplay and flawless choreography to cater to those who want more than just a quota of violence.


    Donnie Yen once again elevates his status as the most enigmatic working Chinese action star playing Liu Jin-xi. The village craftsman lives a quiet life until the arrival of two wanted gangsters in the local general store. Jin-xi happens to be shopping when they arrive, and is pulled into a fight with them, saving the shopkeeper from certain death.


    The event first appears to be an act of bravery which results in a lucky victory, but a visiting detective named Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) sees more to the altercation than that. The detective becomes convinced that Jin-xi is hiding something about his past and possesses more powers than he admits. In his investigation, the truth about Jin-xi’s identity comes out, and it brings a dangerous clan of criminals to the village in the process.


               The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, as well as additional features with Donnie Yen interviews and a music video. The highlight of the disc, however, is the visual impact of the high definition. This is easily one of the most beautifully shot action films of the last few years, and it is paired with an impressively impactful soundtrack, all of which is enhanced by the high definition presentation.


    Entertainment Value: 8.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10

    Historical Significance: 7/10

    Disc Features: 7/10


    Repo Man Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez
  • Director: Alex Cox
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: April 16, 2013
  • Run Time: 92 minutes


              Repo Man is an enigma of a film, its very creation as inexplicable as many aspects of the film itself.  It is a film which never seems to choose a genre, therefore defying any perceptible trajectory in plot, and also seems to embody the spirit of punk rock music like few other films ever were capable of. The fact that the soundtrack was far more successful than the film upon original release speaks volumes, and is part of what makes this film the quintessential video-age cult classic.


              UCLA film student graduate Alex Cox plummeted out of the gate with this debut feature, one which was originally meant to be an independent until Universal swooped in and backed the picture. Even more remarkable was the limited interference the studio had on the creative vision of the odd counter culture film about Los Angeles, Reaganomics, Repo-men and aliens.


              Emilio Estevez is at his very best as a middle-class punk with little regard for anything. This makes him a perfect candidate for the job of a repossession man, which he is first tricked into doing by seasoned pro Bud (Harry Dead Stanton). Otto (Estevez) goes through the familiar stages of many other comedic protagonists; he loses his job (in actuality, he quits his job), he loses his girlfriend, and he is in danger of being thrown out on his ass. The difference between Otto and most other protagonists in his shoes is this doesn’t seem to affect him at all. His attitude is superfluous to most fortune or misfortune alike.


              Though there is a semi-constant storyline involving a car which contains mysterious items in the trunk which were smuggled out of the deserts of Nevada, Repo Man is mostly a free-flowing film about Otto’s misadventures in repossessions. He learns different methods from different repo men. While one dresses in suits to look like a cop, another does his best to look like a hardened criminal. The desired outcome is always the same; to be left alone until the car has been repossessed.


              Cox went on to make Sid & Nancy, yet another contribution to punk rock film history, yet Repo Man still stands as his crowning achievement in my mind. It borrows from many films. Moments remind me of early Robert Altman comedies in style and dialogue. The trunk of the car resembles the unseen treasure of Touch of Evil. There are many other familiar moments, and yet Repo Man still stands as a distinctly original film.


              The director-approved Blu-ray release has a newly restored 2K digital transfer of the film, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The disc also includes an optional commentary track with Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora. The bonus features also include deleted scenes and trailers, a roundtable discussion of the film, a conversation between Stanton and McCarthy and new interviews with musicians Iggy Pop and Keith Morris, as well as actors Dick Rude, Olivia Barash, and Miguel Sandoval. There is also the TV-edit version of the film, which altered the language. All of this comes is a fantastic package with a 65-page book insert that has essays and an illustrated production history with comics and original art that inspired the film.

    Entertainment Value: 8.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10

    Historical Significance: 7.5/10

    Disc Features: 10/10



    Lincoln 4-Disc Blu-ray Combo review

  • Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader
  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writers: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tony Kushner
  • Producers: Adam Somner, Daniel Lupi, Jeff Skoll, Jonathan King, Kathleen Kennedy
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Dreamworks
  • Release Date: March 26, 2013
  • Run Time: 150 minutes



                There are very few surprises within the biopic of Lincoln. When the announcement of Spielberg’s decision to make an Abraham Lincoln biopic was made, I basically was able to imagine what that would be like. The end result is not far from what I imagined, with the same visual style that filmmaker Steven Spielberg has clung to for the last decade or so. Just as predictable is the ease with which Daniel Day Lewis is able to mesmerize us with another flawless performance. There are also a number of praiseworthy supporting cast members, including a joyful scene-stealer in James Spader.


    With all there is to praise, however, I felt myself feeling rather emotionally detached from the entire endeavor, mostly due to the areas of political maneuvering that the film tends to focus on. We know little about the man, aside from his tendency to tell long-winded stories, but we see a great deal in his ability to use the democratic system to create change. There is a lesson in this which is timeless, especially as correlations between the abolishment of slavery and current fights for civil equality are sure to be made.


    Lincoln does not waste time with the usual trappings of biopics, including no back-story or scenes of a childhood event which would shape later decisions. Instead, the film takes places entirely during the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment during his final four months in office. The Civil War has already been going on for over four years at the beginning of the film, but it is still a struggle to convince even the most liberal politicians to pass a law that will abolish slavery in the United States. Much of the film focuses on the political maneuvering that Lincoln was forced to use in order to make the law seem tied to the end of the war, rather than having anything to do with racial equality.


    Moments in the film are more entertaining than others, like expertly sprinkled confection to hide the more nutritional aspects of the film’s screenplay. Much of this is due to the performances in the film. All actors seem appropriately compelling without too much melodrama being played, but it is impossible to review Lincoln without singing the praises of Daniel Day Lewis. I will be brief, because I don’t think there is much left to be said. He is one of the most impressively dedicated actors working today, and the natural way he seems to embody the 16th President is so effortless that it would have been easy to overlook the performance. This is a well deserved third win for the actor.


    The 4-Disc Combo pack includes a DVD and digital copy of the film, as well as the Blu-ray version. The fourth disc is a Blu-ray with all of the many additional features. On the first Blu-ray disc and the DVD, there is a making-of featurette. The Blu-ray also has a featurette about the choice to shoot in Richmond, Virginia. The second Blu-ray disc has four additional making-of featurettes, each dealing specific aspects of this particular production. They cover the casting, the technical aspects of the era, sound design and more.


    Entertainment Value: 6/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance: 9/10

    Disc Features: 8.5/10

    Down the Shore Blu-ray review

  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
  • Release Date: April 9, 2013
  • Run Time: 93 minutes



    James Gandolfini has carried his career as an actor on his ability to appear tough. Sometimes this is played for comedic effect when his behavior is in contradiction with his demeanor, as was the case in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. Regardless, he always seems to carry himself as though he were willing to stand up to anyone. It is this expectation of the actor which makes his role in Down the Shore so surprising. Though he still has a bit of the usual Jersey attitude, Bailey (Gandolfini) is a man who is meeker and more broken down than any the actor has played before.


    Bailey runs a pathetically underperforming amusement park for small children on the Jersey shore. While in the middle of the dead winter season, Bailey is struck with the news of his sister’s death upon the arrival of her mysterious French husband (Edoardo Costa). The filmmaker deliberately prevents us from seeing enough about this stranger to know whether he is trustworthy or not, but Bailey is immediately suspicious. Despite the suspicion, the two go into business together running the kiddie amusement park, and soon the new brother-in-law becomes entangled in Bailey’s melodrama.


    This is a film about the characters and why they act the way they do, though some are made out to be villains without needing much of an explanation. Bailey has a past which makes him hold back from what he knows is right, including the unrequited love he has for an old childhood girlfriend and neighbor (Famke Janssen). In true independent film tradition, little happens besides conversations of a revelatory nature, but the performances are good and the direction is solid. Little about this film stands out from the mass of other small-town/dead town indi-dramas, but it is well made nonetheless.


    Entertainment Value: 3.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10

    Historical Significance: 3/10

    Disc Features: 1/10