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Like many film fans, I’m able to recall a long list of actors I admire and enjoy the work of. However, there aren’t many who also appear repeatedly on my ‘Hot Damn’ Pinterest board. Ryan Gosling, who found fame in the big screen adaptation of romantic drama The Notebook, is perhaps one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and with his latest feature La La Land released this week, he’s about to become even hotter property (if that’s even possible).

However, it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows (and long, passionate kisses in the rain) for Ryan. If you’re interested in getting to know him on a deeper level, our hidden gem choices might just be what you’re looking for.

The Believer (Henry Bean, 2001)

The Believer

Unlike anything Gosling has done or attempted before or since, he plays Daniel Balint, a young Jewish man who has renounced his faith, turning to Neo-Nazism. Based on the true story of Dan Burros, Gosling’s Daniel uses his knowledge of the religion to argue against its key themes and stories in the Torah.

After attending the meetings of a local fascist group and impressing them with his temper, they start to arrange attacks on local Jewish businesses and synagogues – but there’s a catch. Daniel is approached by Guy Danielsen, a local journalist, who knows about his past attending yeshiva and his background in Judaism, and threatens to ‘out’ him to his new associates, potentially ruining Daniel and his credibility forever.

One of Gosling’s most striking, powerful performances to date, his portrayal of Daniel as an angry, cocky, troubled young man is hard to ignore, especially considering the current American political/religious climate. Harrowing viewing.

Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006)

Half Nelson

Next up is Half Nelson, for which Gosling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Ryan stars as Dan Dunne, a young teacher working at an inner-city school in New York. Young, free and single, Dan’s only downfall is his hardcore cocaine addiction.

After befriending student Drey (Shareeka Epps), whose family has a background in drugs, Dan tries hard to kick his habit, while Drey is dragged into the aftermath of her brother’s arrest and jail sentence for dealing. Is it possible that they’re able to help each other out of the messes they’ve made?

It’s clear from the start that Ryan was well deserving of his Oscar nomination, with his portrayal of Dan enabling you to loathe him and feel sympathy for him simultaneously.

Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)

Lars and the Real Girl

Neo-Nazi Ryan too much for you? Then I suggest winding down with Ryan as Lars in Lars and the Real Girl. Quiet, reserved and averse to the comforting touch of his family and friends, Lars lives alone in his brother’s garage, enjoying the silence. When a porn-obsessed co-worker introduces him to RealDolls – life-size, anatomically correct sex dolls that can be ordered from the internet – Lars invests, introducing the town to new girl ‘Bianca’.

I was introduced to this film in a college Film Studies lesson (where we paused it to investigate the RealDolls website – yes, it exists). Ryan’s performance as Lars is stunning, as Bianca and her busy schedule open Lars up to emotions he hasn’t experienced in a long time: jealously, anger, and love. Lars and the Real Girl saw Gosling nominated for a Golden Globe Award (Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy) and rightly so, as the film shows that he’s able to go from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Blue Valentine

For many, The Notebook is the swoon-worthy choice of Gosling films, but for me it has to be Blue Valentine, an odd selection considering his receding hairline and the outcome of the protagonists’ relationship.

Detailing the demise of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) marriage, director Cianfrance cuts in flashbacks to when the pair met – Dean a fresh-faced Floridian musician working for a moving company, Cindy a college student caring for her grandmother.

What really makes Blue Valentine is the chemistry between the pair; Cianfrance insisted that they ‘live’ together before shooting to ensure they felt like a family, and much of the script (and fight scenes) were improvised. Both beautiful and heartbreaking storytelling.

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2017)

La La Land

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? While not really considered a ‘hidden gem’ (as it’s been advertised everywhere, nominated and won everything, and I’ve been tweeting about it at least once a week since the first trailer dropped), La La Land is a glorious piece of cinema, masterfully directed by Damien Chazelle, which will send both Gosling and Emma Stone’s stars soaring into the stratosphere.

Seb (Gosling), a jazz-loving pianist, gets by playing tunes in a local restaurant. Mia (Stone), an actress with big dreams, wants to escape her dull waitressing job and make a name for herself. Falling in love under the Hollywood sign, Seb and Mia dance and sing their way through the seasons, until Seb’s career starts to take off and Mia’s left waiting behind for her man and a long-awaited audition callback.

I had the privilege for previewing La La Land at a screening back in October 2016, where members of the audience laughed, cried, and applauded throughout. Whether it rakes in the many awards it’s nominated for or not, La La Land features one of Gosling’s (and Stone’s) best performances and will surely leave millions of hearts full and feet tapping.

La La Land is released in cinemas from Thursday 12th January 2017.

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