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We’re counting down to the Oscars by introducing you to some of the best and sometimes overlooked performances of this year’s Oscar contenders. Today’s episode: Set it on Cruz.

Penélope Cruz, a woman known as much for her body as her body of work. And despite her series of lackluster American films, she always has a good showing, then returns to foreign films where she blows the doors off of the recycled junk she keeps appearing in over here. That’s not to say she doesn’t have some good fare over here. But to truly get a grasp of why this woman deserves her nomination, one need only check out her resume.

Essential Filmography:

Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes). Unfortunately most Americans have never seen this film. At least not like this, they haven’t. You see, this 1997 Alejandro Amenábar (The Others, The Sea Inside) film accomplishes in under two hours what Cameron Crowe’s 2001 American adaptation, Vanilla Sky, fumbles and fails to do in over two and a half. You probably saw Vanilla Sky and got robbed. Like a eunuch version of its former self, what you saw was neutered, bloated and perpetually flaccid. And trying to watch the original after seeing the remake is an exercise in futility. Many think it’s the exact same film in Spanish. Of course, they think this because Vanilla Sky spoon feeds and explains the film to the audience, making a definite decision about what it is all supposed to mean, while Abre Los Ojos lets you feel the punch at the very end as you figure it all out, and are left to wonder. Sadly, Cruz took the gig to star in the American version, playing the same role as she did in this masterpiece — which is honestly forgivable, as it made her a name. If somehow you never saw Vanilla Sky, go rent Abre Los Ojos right now.

Sahara. Okay, this one is just fun. Based on a series of Clive Cussler novels, this is your typical spy/archeologist/modern-day pulp adventure story with the twist of starring two of the funniest and coolest stoners in the business. Watching Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn dodge explosions is like Bill and Ted hijacking an Indiana Jones movie. But in a good way. Cruz plays the lovable damsel in distress and seems to be having more fun than she ever has in her life. Throw in appearances by bad mofos Delroy Lindo and William H. Macy, not to mention the comedy stylings of The Office‘s Rainn Wilson, and you get a fun time had by all.

Blow. Sadly, both Cruz’s best film and director Ted Demme’s last, Cruz stars opposite Johnny Depp during his “Please God Let Me Escape From Paycheck Hell” stint of The Ninth Gate, Sleepy Hollow, The Astronaut’s Wife and From Hell. Depp plays George Jung, one of the men credited with popularizing cocaine in this country –- and Cruz plays his wife trying to deal with first the success, then the downfall.

Why she probably shouldn’t get the gold: She’s made about a dozen films in English. I’ve mentioned two. Shall I bring up Gothika or Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or All the Pretty Horses or Woman on Top or … shiver … Masked and Anonymous? No. I thought not.

C. Robert Cargill – – – Email Me
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Austin-based Cargill, who not only loves but owns The Cutting Edge, writes on movies and DVD two times a week.

This is part of Film.com’s coverage of the 2007 Academy Awards. For more Oscars articles, analysis, news, and red carpet photo galleries, visit our Oscars page.

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