1) Ryan Gosling – Drive (2011)
Identified in the credits of Nicolas Winding Refn’s gorgeous, evocative neo-noir only as “Driver,” Ryan Gosling’s stunt performer-turned-getaway driver is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma if ever there was one. Externally effeminate, quiet and well-mannered, the Driver has a feral animal nature that only emerges when he feels threatened, either by brutish thugs or a deliciously vicious mob boss (Albert Brooks).
When provoked, he strikes with the speed, ferocity and lethality of the golden scorpion that adorns his distinctive white jacket. A psychopath with a heart of gold, the Driver shifts between kicking in heads in elevators and calmly courting the girl down the hall just as easily as moving between gears behind the wheel. Less of a fully-formed man than a quietly seething machine, the Driver is built to unleash brutal violence, though he desperately tries to prove that he’s also capable of love. His pursuit of damaged-goods neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) is strangely touching, as Driver struggles to reconcile his humanity with a deep-set affinity for carnage.
The purpose of the Driver’s namelessness is sheer anonymity; he moves unnoticed through a neon-lit cityscape, a shark hunting for the scent of blood. What separates him from the other gangsters, with names like Nino and Bernie Rose, is his unwavering belief that he’s one of the “good sharks,” designed to protect the innocent (in his case, Irene and her young son) from those who would do them harm. By the film’s end, he has disappeared again into the darkness from whence he came, a high plains drifter for the modern era. He’s also a staggeringly effective symbol for the duality of man, instinctively savage but consistently restrained, both by society and his own unique moral code.