Spanish language films have been the shining light of the industry over the last decade. There are many Spanish actors who have become household names in the United States most notably Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Gael Garcia Bernal in a short period of time. Meanwhile the industry has been breeding some the most promising film-makers of this generation including Guillermo Del Toro, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Amenabar. Many of these names appear multiple times on our list.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Dir. Guillermo Del Toro
One of the most emotionally impactful films in recent memory. Set in the late stages of the Spanish civil war, it tells the devastating story of a little girl named Ofelia. It is Alice in Wonderland meets Francoist Spain. A fairy tale for adults-only, it is a timeless meditation of the loss of innocence of an entire society.
2. Open Your Eyes (1997) Directed by Alejandro Amenabar
Amenabar’s breakthrough hit, Eduardo Noreiga plays the successful and handsome Cesar whose life is turn upside down when his face is deformed in an automobile accident. The film also stars a young Penelope Cruz as Cesar’s love interest. Remade by Cameron Crowe as ‘Vanilla Sky’, Crowe never seems to come close to the emotionality and beauty of Amenabar’s film. One final note, it has one of the best twists of any film I have seen.
3. The Secret in their Eyes (2009) Directed by Juan Jose Campanella
This was Argentina’s successful entry in the 2009 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film. The story centres on a retired legal counsellor (the mesmerizing Ricardo Darin) who remains haunted by a brutal murder of a young girl more than thirty years ago. One of the best films of the last decade.
4. Talk to Her (2002) Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Still Almodovar’s greatest achievement, this film won the 2003 Oscar for best original screenplay. The story centres around two men who meet at a hospital while they are both caring for their ailing girlfriends. This film has the vision and unpredictable twists that only Pedro Almodovar could pull off.
5. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Two young men (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) go on a roadtrip through Mexico with an attractive older woman (Played by Maribel Verdu). A different kind of coming of age story than most people are used to seeing. It is a wonderful meditation on the meaning of life and includes some of the steamiest sex scenes in recent memory.
6. Volver (2006) Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar’s second entry on the list is perhaps his most commercially successful largely due to the presence of his muse Penelope Cruz. Like Live Flesh, Broken Embraces and Talk to Her, Volver is about a past crime that haunts a group of people. It includes all the hallmarks of what makes an Almodovar film, murder, incest and beautiful women.
7. The Sea Inside (2004) Directed by Alejandro Amenabar
Based on a true story, The Sea Inside tells the story of Ramon Sampedro and his 30 year battle to end his life. Javier Bardem plays Ramon who was injured in the swimming accident and has been confined to a wheelchair since. A heartfelt film to the very end. It won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.
8. Amores Perros (2000) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Inarritu’s big international success and his first film with Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Amores Perros tells the three interconnected stories involving characters learning life’s difficult lessons. This was the first of a three part trilogy that would include 21 Grams and Babel.
9. All About My Mother (1999)Directed by Pedro Almodovar
The 2000 winner of Best foreign Language film of the year and the third Almodovar film on this list. The story centres around Manuela (Cecilia Roth) and her young son Esteban. It is a wonderful reflection on the true meaning of parenthood.
10. Motorcycle Diaries (2004) Directed by Walter Salles
Based on Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s writings and starring Gael Garcia Bernal, the Motorcycle Diaries encompasses many of the themes associated with Spanish cinema. The film is a dramatization of the Latin American icons adventure of self discovery.
Honorable Mention: Live Flesh (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Broken Embraces (2009)