I'm sitting here watching Volver for the second time, and both remembering how much I enjoyed it when I first saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival, and catching little things I'd missed before. Like how great the Hitchcockian feel of the film is in the scenes where Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) is getting rid of the body, how carefully thought-out the color palette is, and, most of all the brilliance of the acting. The ensemble as a whole -- Cruz, Lola Dueñas as Sole, Raimunda's sister, Yohana Cobo as Raimunda's daughter, Paula, and Carmen Maura as Irene, Raimunda and Sole's dead mother -- is one of the best ensemble performances I've ever seen.
Cruz, though, really shines in this film. Maybe there's just something about the magic of her working with Pedro Almodóvar (and my little film geek heart is all a-flutter over the news that the duo are pairing up for another film), or maybe she just really took a shine to this particular role, but her performance is just everything it should be: nuanced and funny, intense and passionate. This is Cruz at her best, and after watching Volver again, she's who I'm going to be rooting for to win Best Actress come Oscar night.
Helen Mirren had the early lead, and many still think she's a solid lock for her performance in The Queen, and yes, she was great in it -- but she's such an obvious choice, and maybe people are tired of hearing how everything she does is Oscar-worthy. Mirren and Judi Dench could end up canceling each other out, anyhow, leaving a path for one of the other nominees to slide up the middle for the win. There's buzz that Streep might just sneak in there for the win, but if she does I'll be pissed. She was good in The Devil Wears Prada, sure, but I wouldn't call it the performance of her career, and the film itself is very light to be Oscar-caliber.