Spanish cinema has plenty to be proud of. From Pedro Almodóvar to Alejandro Amenábar, Spanish directors have won the appraisal of film critics and audiences internationally, with a handful of Oscars to top it all off. So if you’re planning a weekend glued to your TV screen with popcorn coming out of your ears, read on and enjoy!
1. Abre los Ojos/Open Your Eyes. A handsome, rich man falls in love with the woman of his dreams (Penelope Cruz) but is disfigured in a suicidal car crash by his ex-girlfriend, plunging him into an unexpected series of nightmarish plot twists. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar to great acclaim, a Hollywood remake ('Vanilla Sky' with Tom Cruise as lead and Penelope Cruz reprising her role) was panned by critics.
2. Todo Sobre Mi Madre/All About My Mother: This Oscar-winning masterpiece tells the story of a grieving mother looking for her transvestite ex-husband to inform him about their teenage son’s death. Considered by many to be Pedro Almodóvar's greatest film, Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum called it a “spectacular synthesis of everything that has always interested him -- proud women, lovely boys, beautiful drag queens, grand movie stars, gorgeous frocks, wild wallpaper”.
3. El Espíritu de la Colmena/The Spirit of the Beehive: British film critic Derek Malcolm called it “one of the most beautiful and arresting films ever made in Spain, or anywhere in the past 25 years or so”. Set in the Castillian countryside around 1940, the movie is seen through the inquisitive eyes of eight-year-old Ana, who after watching the film Frankenstein, becomes convinced there’s a monster lurking in the abandoned houses of her village.
4. Los lunes al sol/Mondays in the Sun: The movie starts with the message “This film isn’t based on a true story, it’s based on thousands”. It’s almost as if director Fernando León de Aranoa knew what was to come in Spain when in 2002 he depicted the damaging effects of unemployment on a group of shipyard workers in the north of the country. The performances of Javier Bardem and fellow actor Luis Tosar are a real tour de force in this moving and very real drama.
5. Hable Con Ella/Talk to Her: Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti) form a bond of friendship while looking after their comatose girlfriends in a private clinic as their stories unfold in flashbacks. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said the following about Almodóvar’s second Oscar win: "The actors are outstanding, illuminating four different views of loneliness. But it's Camara's tour-de-force performance that anchors the film, that shocks and unnerves us”.
6. Tesis/Thesis: A film student researching material for her thesis (hence the title) on audiovisual violence becomes drawn into the world of a deadly 'snuff movie' ring. The feature debut of director and co-writer Alejandro Almenábar was shot in just five and a half weeks on a shoestring budget. Film review website Rotten Tomatoes call it a “suffocating thriller that is not only extremely tense and suspenseful but also respects the viewer's intelligence and always keeps us interested.”
7. El Laberinto del Fauno/Pan's Labyrinth. Set in 1944 in post-Civil War Spain, a shy girl fascinated with fairy stories thinks up a fantasy world to escape the violence of her real life with her new stepfather, a sadistic army captain. Won: 3 Oscars (3 more nominations), 3 BAFTAs, 8 Goyas (6 more nominations) Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert called it "one of the greatest of all fantasy films."
8. El Bola/Pellet: Pablo, or El Bola as he is nicknamed, is a 12-year-old boy from an abusive home in Madrid who finds a new lease on life through a friend and his family. Gritty rather than emotional, the movie won Juan José Ballesta a Goya (Spanish Oscar) for best newcomer in 2000, a stellar performance which has led Spaniards to still call him El Bola to this day.
9. La Comunidad/Common Wealth: “A cleverly crafted tongue-in-cheek suspense thriller, it plays like Hitchcock crossed with Monty Python and Pedro Almodóvar,” the BBC’s film reviewers say. Directed by the whacky Alex de la Iglesia, it tells the story of 40-something Julia (Carmen Maura), who after finding a huge hidden stash of cash in her dead neighbour's apartment, has to fight the building’s other residents to the death to keep the money.
10. Los Santos Inocentes/The Holy Innocents: A golden oldie of Spanish cinema, Mario Camus’s movie reflects the harsh realities of Franco-era class differences in rural Spain. Voted the 8th best Spanish film by professionals and critics in 1996 Spanish cinema centenary, the movie’s main characters Alfredo Landa and Francisco Rabal both won the Best Actor Award at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.