Here’s a quandary as today the members of the Critics Choice Association– a group I belong to — receives ballots for nominations.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Pedro Almodovar’s sensational “Parallel Mothers” has a 100% rating. That’s 45 out of 45 reviewers. Penelope Cruz won the Venice Film Festival award for Best Actress. And yet, the film was not entered by the Spanish Film Commission as their choice for the Oscars in Foreign Language Film.
To further the irony, the Spanish film people chose a film starring Cruz’s husband, Javier Bardem. Go figure.
So now there’s a problem. Critics groups and the Academy have to find Penelope and “Parallel Mothers” on their own or it will flounder in its US release. This would be a shame.
For me, Cruz gives one of the 5 best performances by an actress this year without a doubt, maybe the best. In a competitive year, her turn as Janis, a single woman who wants to become a mother is incredibly captivating and moving. It’s full of Almodovar’s drama and humor. And Cruz brings to Janis the sexiness of Sophia Loren updated with modern practicality. I don’t want to give it away, but when Janis is delivered lemons she makes lemonade. Or in Almodovarian terms, when she’s pelted with tomatoes she whips up a tasty gazpacho.
Without the entry from Spain, “Parallel Mothers” is only eligible for Best Picture, a category that rarely accepts films in a foreign language. “Parasite” was a very rare exception. But Best Actress is a place where Penelope Cruz could find success. She already has an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Woody Allen’s “Vicki Cristina Barcelona.” She’s been nominated two other times, for Best Supporting Actress in “Nine,” and for Best Actress in Almodovar’s “Volver.”
“Volver” remains one of Almodovar’s top movies. I often think it’s his best. It’s the best precursor to “Parallel Mothers” in that it sees Cruz playing an intelligent, forthright woman who must find her way out of a dilemma. While “Volver” revolves around death, “PM” springs with life. A baby is at the center of the story, and what sacrifices a woman will make to secure a family. You can’t imagine a woman as beautiful as Cruz getting into so much trouble in the process. But Penelope, playing the movie as a drama without a hint of hammy-ness, brings out pathos and wry laughs as she must solve her own problem.
So I hope my fellow Critics Choice voters will enter Penelope’s name as one of the possible nominees for Best Actress this week. And I also hope that all the other voters in different groups seek out this movie and this performance. There’s a reason that it’s at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s that good.