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‘Barbie’ Got Ryan Gosling His Third Oscar Nomination. Here’s the 2006 Movie He Should Have Already Won For

Everett Collection

Given that he’s playing a plastic doll, it feels right to call Ryan Gosling’s excellent work as Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie productively synthetic: a little Big, a little Being There, a healthy portion of the titular character of 2000's holy Millennial-bro text Van Wilder. Barbie is very much not about Ken. In fact, the movie not being about him is part of the film’s power. Ken finds meaning in this world where dumb guys run companies and throw a thousand invisible bear traps of expectation and shame around women. But Gosling’s Ken is merely one of the movie’s many. He's the handsome one, the eventually-reflective one—but he’s still part of the set.

For my money, the first true gem of Gosling’s career came early. In 2006’s Half Nelson, he’s a young man divided. He soars as an authentically gifted middle-school social studies teacher who turns an under-resourced Brooklyn classroom into the kind of mesmerizing, class-wide Socratic dialogue that baptizes his students into the best of education. He’s also a full-time addict who freebases cocaine wherever he can, including on campus. He embodies a keep-it-real sage in the classroom—in one scene he creates a dialogue with his students about whether he, too, his part of the machine of power that messes with their families and their everyday lives. And when he gets high at a tense family dinner, he offers as resonant a portrayal of addiction as we’ve seen from an actor of his generation. He probes the humor, terror, loss, and—as plenty of writers of addiction have testified—the almost religious awe people can feel with their drug of choice.

For Half-Nelson he received an Oscar nomination (for Best Actor; he lost to Forrest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland) and comparisons to Marlon Brando. He also created a performance that told a harrowing truth: great school teachers are frequently not saints, and many have wounds that run parallel to their excellence. Gosling has revisited self-destructive young men since—Blue Valentine, most famously—but nothing has ever outstripped his singular work in Half Nelson.

As we begin our final approach to the 2024 Oscars, we're taking one more look back at the films and performances that blew our minds last year—and looking even further back, to spotlight earlier Oscar-worthy work from the filmographies of this year's nominees.

Sixteen years before *Oppenheimer* and *Poor Things*, five years before the first *Avengers*, both nominated actors did career-best work in the same movie.

Originally Appeared on GQ