Ryan Gosling Vs. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Ryan Gosling Vs. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Is this not why you are here? Are you not entertained?

The Contestants

Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are both young actors poised to make it to the A-list if they play their cards right. Both have established indie cred, both are considered thinking person's sex symbols, and both had… less than fantastic beginnings, let's say. Is there room for two at the top of Hollywood? Sure. But let's pit them against one another anyway.

The Best

Mysterious Skin

“The kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun did what?” That was the general reaction when Joseph Gordon-Levitt broke out from his sitcom roots with an unexpectedly sober Gregg Araki drama about two victims of molestation. Gordon-Levitt brought a sinewy sexuality to Neal that probably made a lot of people both turned-on and uncomfortable, and rightly so. The obvious parallel between Neal's attraction to older men and the psychic trauma inflicted by the hands of his little-league coach could have seemed ham-handed if JGL hadn't sold Neal's bravado quite so well. And the final scene between Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbett is quietly heartbreaking.


In lesser hands, the unwieldy dialogue of Rian Johnson's teen-noir whodunnit would have landed with Juno levels of unreality. But even if we didn't get every word — they talk really fast in this movie — JGL sells it well. (Plus, this time you didn't feel at all conflicted about finding him sexy.) Brick could have played as ridiculous, or just emptily clever, but Gordon-Levitt's world-weary performance gives it real gravity.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is obviously an attractive guy — but his looks haven't really changed since 10 Things I Hate About You. Yet somehow, people who’d thought he was “cute” for a decade saw him in Inception and called him “hot.” Arthur is a small role, but Gordon-Levitt makes the most of it, with a smoldering cool that seems straight out of the 1950s. If that was the first glimpse into what we’ll see from grown-up Gordon-Levitt, he’s going to have an amazing career.


“The kid from The Mickey Mouse Club did what?” If Gosling showed promise in The Believer — which he did as a Jewish neo-Nazi — then he delivered on it in Half-Nelson, as an inner-city teacher who's also a drug addict. Gosling's fantastic chemistry with Shareeka Epps, who plays the one student who knows of his habit, is complicated, natural, and downright arresting. Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for his work in this film, in a rare Academy nod to moral ambiguity, and he earned it.



Blue Valentine

I have friends who actually swear that Ryan Gosling's work in this film changed their life, or at least massively affected them, and it's not hard to see why. Gosling here delivers the opposite of The Notebook, a painful picture of a man falling in and inexorably out of love. Cry as you see his deeply depressing sex scene! Swoon as you watch him play the ukulele! Cringe as you get to witness a future in which his hairline recedes like the waters before a tsunami! Movies where characters jump from one stage of their life to another can be jarring, but Gosling keeps his performance utterly grounded and painfully believable.



Gosling may be doing his best Marlon Brando here — he's even admitted that he made himself talk more like the man — but god damn, he does it well. His character — never given a name in the film — is a compressed piece of rock, rarely showing emotion and speaking only when necessary. It's in the silence that Gosling shines, imbuing emotion where others might just clench their jaw and call it a day.

The Worst

Latter Days

One of the least interesting films in the terribly spotty genre of gay cinema, Latter Days does no one any favors. I was conflicted about including this, because I don't know if anyone's acting talents — seriously, let's get Meryl to try this out and see — could rise above such an uninteresting script. Joseph's Elder Paul is a fine little Mormon missionary, but this portrayal lacks the credibility he's brought to his other characters.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

No one made it out unscathed with this movie, which actually included a handful of decent actors, and also Channing Tatum. (Naturally, it's getting a sequel.) Gordon-Levitt didn't have as much to do in this film as some of the other damned, but it felt like he simply wasn't giving 100 percent. And I can't blame him; it might have been a fun movie to film, but there is no way he thought it would be any good.

500 Days of Summer

I bet you didn't expect this one, but Gordon-Levitt has been in exactly one good romantic comedy and this is not it. 500 Days is cute enough, I guess, but it's also smug and self-satisfied in a way that made even an all-singing, all-dancing JGL unappealing. Gordon-Levitt's Tom is the worst kind of sad sack in his low moments — the kind you don't want to comfort so much as give a good swift kick in the shins.

Young Hercules

Yes, I know it's not a movie. But when you're in a show with production values that make Xena look like Avatar and you still haven't entirely thrown off your Mickey Mouse Club hamminess, it's going to stick with you. It also didn't help — though this isn't really his fault — that Gosling was still pretty lithe and twiggy, and at a certain point you just can't believe that this guy is Hercules, young or not.

Murder By Numbers

Loosely based on the case of child murderers Leopold and Loeb, this film is probably best remembered for Sandra Bullock's impassioned delivery of the ridiculous line, “The profile doesn't fit the profile!” Gosling did his best to make the spoiled, sociopathic Richard into something like a believable person, but, much like Gordon-Levitt in Latter Days, he could only do so much with lousy writing.


Honestly, this isn't even that bad — Gosling is pretty good at picking projects and very good at acting. Fracture ends up on this list simply for being unremarkable, a fine but not amazing turn from Gosling as D.A. William Beachum, a man obsessed with proving the guilt of Anthony Hopkins' Ted Crawford in a murder trial. The most relevant detail about this film is that I forgot that I’d even seen it, which is not something I can say about most of Ryan Gosling's oeuvre.

The Verdict

While both men are exceptionally talented, Gosling has the jump on Gordon-Levitt in two ways: one, he picks his projects better, so even his duds aren't total disasters. Two, he's knocked it out of the park in an acting-with-a-capital-A way at least three times — JGL has only done that once, in Mysterious Skin. In the end, though, they're both great actors doing above-average work, so we all win.

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