Thursday, January 22, 2009

Penélope Cruz nominated for an Oscar

The nominations for the 81st annual Academy Awards were announced a short while ago, and Penélope Cruz was one of the names called out. Pe is nominated for best supporting actress for her role as a troubled painter in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." This is Pe's second Oscar nomination, having previously been a best actress nominee for "Volver" in 2006. This year she will face previous supporting actress winner Marisa Tomei ("The Wrestler"), Amy Adams ("Doubt") and Oscar first-timers Viola Davis ("Doubt") and Taraji P. Henson ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button").

The only other Hispanic to receive a nomination was the USA's Frank A. Montaño, for best sound editing on the film "Wanted." Montaño shared the nomination with his colleagues Chris Jenkins and Petr Forejt.

Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis and former best actor Oscar winner Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland") announced the nominees today just before dawn in Los Angeles. The Oscars will be presented Feb. 22 and televised worldwide. Actor Hugh Jackman will be this year's host.

For a complete list of the nominations, click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Award Season's Greetings from Goya, Oscar, et al

With another Christmas and New Year's celebration gone by, film fans are now enjoying the festive annual award season. So far we have been treated to presentations from Golden Globes, Critics Choice and various circles, guilds and groups, in what amounts to the big build up to the Oscars, whose nominations have not even been revealed yet.

Here in España, meanwhile, the contenders for Los Premios Goya, Spain's Academy Awards, were announced in December. The Spanish statuettes, small bronze busts of the artist Francisco de Goya, will be handed out to winners during a televised awards show on February 1st.

As a preview to that event, last weekend the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España (Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences) held its traditional reception to honor the nominees, which this year include Mexico's Benicio del Toro, for best actor in “Che: El Argentino,” and Penélope Cruz, for best supporting actress in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Although neither of those two internationally known stars were at the late night gathering in Madrid, hundreds of Spain's cinema industry members attended the event to mix, mingle, plug and pose.

The most photographed seem to have been good friends and best actress rivals, Ariadna Gil and Maribel Verdú. (See photo above.) In comments about the Goyas, Gil ("Sólo Quiero Caminar") gave reporters the classic, “the nomination is what is important,” line, while Verdú ("Los Girasloes Ciegos") added an equally traditional "a nomination always surprises." She then went on to predict that neither of them would win: "I believe that this year they are going to give it to Carme Elias" for her role in “Caminar.”

Other attendees included all of this year's best director nominees Álex de la Iglesias ("The Oxford Murders"), Javier Fesser ("Camino"), José Luis Cuerda ("Los Girasloes Ciegos"), and Agustín Díaz Yanes (Sólo Quiero Caminar). De la Iglesias was quoted as saying he was "frankly pleased" with the six nominations for "Oxford," which was filmed in Britain with an English script, and a mostly non-Spanish cast and crew. He failed, however, to shed any light on how such a tepid thriller could be singled out for any honors, in any country.

More understandable are the multiple nominations received by four other films. "Los Girasoles Ciegos" garnared a total of 15 nominations, while "Solo Quiero Caminar" picked up 11, and "Camino" and “Sangre de Mayo” each received seven.

"Los Girasoles Ciegos" (“The Blind Sunflowers”), which stars Maribel Verdú and Javier Camara, is based on a popular novel by the same name. This post-Spanish civil war tragedy tells the story of a priest who romantically pursues a war widow. This movie received nominations in all of the major categories, as well as in a number of technical ones such as costumes, editing, make-up and sound.

"Solo Quiero Caminar" (“Just Walking”) is a visceral crime thriller about four female bank robbers (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Ariadna Gil, Victoria Abril, and Elena Anaya) whose latest caper leads them into a confrontation with Mexico City's crime syndicate. Mexico's Diego Luna is the male lead in this one.

"Camino," (“The Way”) is about the final days of the terminally ill daughter of a religious family. The story was “inspired” by a real child, Alexia González Barros, who in 1985 died of a rare illness at the age of 14, and who is currently in the Catholic church's canonization process. Its nominations include best film, director, original script, and new actress, Nerea Camacho. (Each year the Goya's honor a best new actress and best new actor, as well as a best new director.)

“Sangre De Mayo” ("The Blood of May") is a period piece set during the Madrid street uprising against Napoleon's troops that started on May 2, 1808. The movie was released during the bicentennial observance of this event. Among its seven nominations is one for best supporting actress for Tina Sainz.

The best actor and actress categories are being watched closely, since the co-stars of two of 2008's biggest films are all in competition. This has pit Maribel Verdú and Raúl Arévalo of “Los Girasoles Ciegos” against Ariadna Gil and Diego Luna of “Sólo Quiero Caminar.”

The best supporting actress category is also generating a lot of interest, and not only in Spain. This is, of course, due to the nomination of Penélope Cruz, or “Pe” as she is affectionately known by the Spanish media. The Goya nomination is one of several others she has received this year, all of which contribute to the Oscar buzz she has been getting for her performance in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." (By the way, if there is an award anywhere for worst movie title, don't you think this one deserves a nod?)

Pe, who already has two best actress Goya's for La Niña de Tus Ojos (1998) and Volver (2006), has so far this season won honors from critics' associations in Boston, Los Angeles and New York, as well as from the USA's National Board of Review of Motion Pictures; then this past Thursday she was nominated for a BAFTA, Britain's Academy Award. However, with her recent losses to Kate Winslet at the Golden Globe and VH1 Critic's Choice awards, some may wonder if her momentum has slowed.

On January 22nd, when the American Academy Award nominees are finally announced, her fans will learn if Pe makes the Oscar cut. Then on February 1st we will see who receives Spain's top film industry accolades, including whether or not Pe will collect her third Goya -- this time for a supporting role in an English language film.

Hasta entonces amig@s,


P.S. For a list of Goya nominees, click here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Gothic Fable: "El Laberinto del Fauno" ("Pan's Labyrinth")

2006's “El Laberinto del Fauno(“Pan's Labyrinth”*), written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is quite simply one of the best films of recent years. Fantastic in terms of genre and quality, this Mexican-Spanish production depicts the phantasmagoric adventures of Ophelia (Ivana Baquero), a 13-year-old girl in 1944 Spain -- five years after the official end of the civil war, but a time when guerrilla warfare was still being waged.

The movie opens with the narration of a brief fairy tale about a princess from an underground land who escapes to the earth's surface. This is followed by scenes of Ophelia and her widowed, pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), traveling to a village in Northwestern Spain to live with the new man in their lives, Vidal (Sergi López). Vidal is a cruel captain in dictator Franco's army, who is stationed with his men in the town in order to wipe out the vestiges of republican resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. While he is happy to welcome his expectant wife, Vidal shows little interest in or affection for stepdaughter. However, Ophelia strikes up a friendly relationship with the kindly housekeeper, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), and the sympathetic local doctor (Alex Angulo), and soon discovers that the two of them are aiding the resistance fighters.

Ophelia, who enjoys reading fantasies, one day comes upon a walking-stick insect and follows it to the ruins of a labyrinth. Later that night the insect appears in her bedroom, where it turns into a fairy before leading her back to the labyrinth. This time she she meets a strange looking creature there, a faun (Doug Jones), who tells Ophelia that he believes she is in reality the princess from the narrative that opened the film, the last of her royal line, and that he and other creatures of her magical kingdom have been waiting for her return. He explains that in order to re-enter her realm, she must pass three challenges before the next full moon. As the viewer follows Ophelia on the quests the faun has set for her, a wonderful fantasy world combines with the harsh reality of the era to create a tale full of adventure and emotion that weaves its way towards a deadly, but lovely, climax.

The film, which won numerous awards, is in my opinion technically and artistically flawless. The costumes, make up and sets are out of this world. The music is hauntingly memorable. Ivana Baquero, the young actress who carries the movie as Ophelia, turns in a perfect performance. Sergi López embodies the evils of the military in a dictatorship through his portrayal of the vile Captain Vidal. Maribel Verdú is admirable and touching as the servant/spy, and the other supporting cast members all give excellent performances, as well.

If you have not seen “El Laberinto del Fauno,” I hope that one day you get a chance to experience this exquisite film, which not only suceeds as an intriguing fantasy, fable, adventure, and thriller, but also a moving homage to those who defied fascism in some of the darkest years of the 20th century.

Disfrutadlo amig@s,


* The title translates literally as, "The Labyrinth of the Faun," but was released in English speaking countries as, “Pan's Labyrinth”, despite del Toro's saying that the character of the faun had nothing to do with the creature from Greek mythology.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Three to look for from Spain in 09: Amenábar, Almodóvar and Viscarret

2009 is looking good for the Spanish film industry with works from two of Spain's best directors set to be released later this year, and a major documentary already out. Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenábar, is slated to come out in September, while Los Abrazos Rotos, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is scheduled for March. Meanwhile, El Canto del Loco: La película, by director Félix Viscarret, is currently playing in theaters throughout Spain.

Agora, filmed in English, is an adventure set in Roman Egypt. Rachel Weisz stars as as the legendary philosopher and astronomer Hypatia, an atheist dealing with the rise of Christianity and trying to save the Library of Alexandria from turmoil in the city. Throw in the love of a Christian-convert slave (Max Minghella), and it sounds like a tumultuous mix.

This is Amenábar's first movie since he won an Academy Award for Mar adentro (The Sea Inside) in 2004. Although his first English language film, 2001's The Others, may not have won an Oscar, I am sure most people reading this will be familiar with that world-wide box office hit. Let's see, 2001, 2004, 2009 -- I hope we don't have to wait another 4 or 5 years for his next Spanish language film!

Well, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) is in Spanish, as always with Almodóvar -- who thankfully is a much more prolific filmmaker. This one stars Penélope Cruz as an actress having personal difficulties during the filming of her latest movie. It is, reportedly, a movie within a movie.

In fact, one might say it has echos of Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), and not only because the director is using some of the same sets he used in that film. In addition, three of the cast from the 1988 comedy, Rossy de Palma, Chus Lampreave and Kiti Manver, have parts in this new production. Plus the story has Cruz' character busy making a comedy called "Chicas y Maletas" ("Gals and Suitcases"), with a story line that reportedly resembles the earlier film. And figuring prominently on one set, that of a screenwriter's office, will be the poster pictured above, "Mujer con pistola." Look familiar?

Almodóvar has said that Los Abrazos Rotos is a drama and also a thriller; that is has a film noir feel but also elements of comedy; that it is set in the 90s as well as the present day, but has a 50s feel; and that its characters are involved in the worlds of cinema and business, but that it is not about the worlds of cinema or business. Another tumultuous mix?

Finally, a film that was released this January definitely has a lot of tumult -- the "rockumentary" El Canto del Loco: La pelicula. (The Song of the Mad: The film.) While this movie includes plenty of scenes of the immensely popular Spanish rock band El Canto del Loco in concert, in interviews, and on the road, it will probably end up being best known for its shots from the infamous "nude-in" the group held last September. This was for a CD cover photo shoot at a Madrid bull ring where "birthday suits only" was the dress code for band members and attendees alike. (You can get a G-rated peek of the latter in the trailer below. More clips are available on the film's website.)

In an interesting marketing ploy, El Canto del Loco Personas (la peliciula) is only being shown in Spanish cinemas between January 2nd and 11th, and only in those with digital projectors. No information is available yet about when this unique movie will be released outside of Spain or on DVD.

Disfrutadlos amig@s,


Sunday, January 4, 2009

El Nido Vacio = The Empty Nest

One of my favorite films from 2008 is the Argentine-Spanish
co-production, El Nido Vacio. (The Empty Nest.) Filmed primarily in Argentina and partly in Israel, written, directed and produced by Argentine Daniel Burman, and starring Oscar Martinez and Cecilia Roth, it is an interesting comedy-drama with occasionally surrealistic overtones. It also has some excellent music by Academy Award winning singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler.

El Nido Vacio humorously depicts the daily life and marriage of a successful Argentine playwright, Leonardo (Martinez), a middle aged introvert showing signs of suffering from writer's block. His wife, Elena (Roth), is an outgoing, energetic woman who decides to go back to university and convinces Leonardo to try marital group therapy. His children, who are mostly glimpsed on the periphery, seem to be heading out on their own -- one of them eventually to Israel.

Daniel Burman is a well known director in the Spanish speaking world, primarily because of the success of three previous movies: Todas las azafatas van al cielo, El Abrazo Partido, and Derecho De Familia. (Every Stewardess Goes to Heaven, The Lost Embrace and Family Law.) He has said he admires the work of Woody Allen, and it definitely shows, especially in his application of a whimsical sense of humor. Burman's films usually either focus on the lives of Jews in Argentina today, or includes some reference to it. The family in El Nido Vacio is Jewish, but that does not really play a major part of the story.

While the film is entertaining and thought provoking, it can be a little confusing at times, as it swings between what may be reality or what may be the inner workings of Leonardo's creative mind. All is not clear until the very end, when things get wrapped up rather nicely. Basically, however, it is well made film that tells a good story, by a director who obviously knows how to do both.

Disfrutadlo amig@s,



I love movies and I love Spanish culture, so here starts my effort at merging and sharing the two. Although I live in Spain, this blog will be about films in the Spanish language, no matter where they are produced. I will also occasionally include information about films in English or other languages that have a connection to Spanish speaking countries, e.g. the director is a Spanish speaker, or the film is a production of a Spanish speaking country... Thus, the "and more" part of the blog's title.
In this fan's opinion, the Hispanic countries with the most dynamic and interesting film output are Argentina and Spain. So, I'll start there. These two nations have cinema industries that are over 100 years old. The first film shown in Spain was in 1895 and in Argentina it was the following year. Both saw their first native film productions in 1897. Since then thousands of Argentine and Spanish movies have been enjoyed by cinema-goers the world over.

Argentina and Spain suffered through dictatorships that tried to stifle creativity, and each of their film industries survived and then blossomed with the return of democracy in the 70s and 80s. Today they are both vibrant, despite the economic challenges of the world and the competition from the Hollywood powerhouse. One of the ways filmmakers in Spain and Argentina face such challenges is to pool resources into co-productions. The year 2008 saw excellent productions coming out of both countries, and I will write about one of those in my next post.

Meanwhile, let me mention that your feedback is appreciated, either via the comments option, or email, Also, please feel free to visit and give feedback on my original blog, Spain: The Blog, and my somewhat tongue-in-cheek effort, Spanish Phrasal Verbs.

Saludos amig@s,