best film:   When an actor has worked with the great Pedro Almodovar as much as Penelope Cruz has, this category is going to be pretty solid. Among their collaborations, All About My Mother (1999), Broken Embraces (2009), and Pain and Glory (2019) stand out as the finest (curious that they come out ten years apart exactly – excited to see what 2029 has to offer from the director and actor pairing). All About My Mother borrows large chunks of the narrative (and the title of course) from 1950’s All About Eve. Broken Embraces is definitely Almodóvar’s most underrated work. But it is Pain and Glory that emerges (ever so slightly) as Cruz’s single best film.  Almodovar works in melodrama (one of the tops in this genre’s history – like R.W. Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk) – but the autofiction (his word in the film) here pushes this more towards Federico Fellini (critics have mentioned that this is Almodóvar’s 8 ½ and that is an apt description). Some of Almodóvar’s earlier works have been broader almost Preston Sturges-like comedies (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and others have leaned towards Hitchcock (The Skin I Live In). In Pain and Glory, Cruz plays the mother Jacinta.  In this film, Cruz is in a supporting role (not nearly as much meat on the bone for her as say Antonio Banderas – playing Salvador the lead) but she makes the most of her scenes (she appears in flashbacks as Salvador’s mother) and this is clearly a role and character close to the heart of Almodovar.


best performance:  In three of the many Almodovar collaborations, Cruz is given a chunkier, sizeable lead role.  Those three films are Volver, Broken Embraces and then over a decade later again in 2021’s Parallel Mothers Although they worked together in the 1990s, it was not until Cruz went to Hollywood and became an international star (late 1990s and early 2000s) that she was cast as sort of front and center leads in Almodovar films.. Broken Embraces stands out from the others. The 1992 section of the Broken Embraces story centers around Lena (Cruz – just mesmerizing here) and her jealous/insane lover Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez). Lena only ends up entangled with Ernesto to save her father. There is also the story of Ernest’s son out for revenge as a subplot. It is a deliciously tangled web – a superb beach read of a film.


from Broken Embraces – Cruz in her platinum wig in front of the mirror – she is already a star of course in 2009 but if there was ever the “a star is born” moment for her in her career this is it.


one of the many jaw-droppers from Broken Embraces – a high angle medium long shot of the staircase – then at the 67-minute mark – directly after that shot – Cruz’s Lena is shot from a closer distance at a higher angle with the beautifully designed floor pattern serving as the background.



stylistic innovations/traits:  The Madrid-born actor has been successful in both her native Spain and Hollywood. She is not on this list without Almodovar – but so many other actors – both male and female – owe much of their success to a single director helping to lift up their career (and surely Almodovar and these directors benefitted from collaborating with talents like Cruz). Cruz also was in a Spanish film (Open Your Eyes) and its Hollywood remake (Vanilla Sky) which does not happen often. Cruz can play more balanced characters (a well-rounded one in Volver) and crazy as well (Vicky Christina Barcelona). Cruz is a four (4) time Oscar nominee and aging like fine wine with a strong start already to the 2020s with two archiveable films under her belt.



directors worked with:   Pedro Almodovar (6) – I’m So Excited! is the lone unarchiveable film they worked on together, Woody Allen (1), Asghar Farhadi (1)


from 2006’s Volver – one of the six archiveable films to date spanning four decades between Almodovar and Cruz



top five performances:

  1. Broken Embraces
  2. Volver
  3. Vicky Christina Barcelona
  4. Parallel Mothers
  5. Everybody Knows



archiveable films

1997- Open Your Eyes
1997- Live Flesh
1999- All About My Mother
2001- Vanilla Sky
2006- Volver
2008- Vicky Christina Barcelona
2009- Broken Embraces
2017- Murder on the Orient Express
2018- Everybody Knows
2019- Pain and Glory
2021- Parallel Mothers
2021- Official Competition