Fifteen years have passed since Penélope Cruz broke new ground as the first Spanish woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Although her performance in Pedro Almodóvar’s Spanish-language film “Volver” was passed over in favor of Helen Mirren’s in “The Queen,” she bounced back two years later by triumphing in the supporting category for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Now, based on her work in Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” (their seventh collaboration), she may have another shot at lead glory. If she does land in the lineup, she will join an exclusive club as the fifth leading lady to be recognized for two non-English language performances.
The first woman to accomplish this feat was Sophia Loren, who was nominated for “Marriage Italian Style” (1965) after winning for “Two Women” (1962). Both are Italian-language films directed by Vittorio De Sica. After losing on her second outing to Julie Andrews (“Mary Poppins”), she was succeeded by Liv Ullmann, whose two career bids came for the Swedish films “The Emigrants” (1973) and “Face to Face” (1977). She was first bested by Liza Minnelli (“Cabaret”) and then by Faye Dunaway (“Network”).
The two most recent entrants on this list each picked up notices for a pair of French-language performances. First came Isabelle Adjani, who was nominated for “The Story of Adele H.” (1976) and “Camille Claudel” (1990) against eventual victors Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and Jessica Tandy (“Driving Miss Daisy”). Marion Cotillard followed by catching the academy’s attention as the star of “Two Days, One Night” (2015) after prevailing in 2008 for “La Vie en Rose.” She was beaten on her second try by Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”).
Of all the languages besides English for which lead actresses have been nominated, French is the most common. In 1967, Anouk Aimée (“A Man and a Woman”) made history as the first person recognized for a French-language performance in any category. Aside from Adjani and Cotillard, she has since been followed by four more one-time French Best Actress contenders: Marie-Christine Barrault (“Cousin Cousine,” 1977), Catherine Deneuve (“Indochine,” 1993), Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour,” 2013), and Isabelle Huppert (“Elle,” 2017).
Although Cruz was this category’s first Spanish-born competitor, Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace,” 2005) was the first to be nominated here for a Spanish-language role. In 2019, Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”) became the third member of that group.
The only other lead actress besides Loren to be recognized for an Italian-language performance is 1956 winner Anna Magnani (“The Rose Tattoo”), whose character technically speaks a mixture of Italian and English. Ullmann was likewise followed by just one other Swedish-speaking nominee: her “Autumn Sonata” (1979) costar Ingrid Bergman.
The remaining non-English languages represented in this category include Greek (Melina Mercouri, “Never on Sunday,” 1961), Portuguese (Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station,” 1999), and Yiddish (Ida Kaminska, “The Shop on Main Street,” 1967 and Carol Kane, “Hester Street,” 1976).
Jane Wyman and Marlee Matlin’s respective American Sign Language performances in “Johnny Belinda” (1949) and “Children of a Lesser God” (1987) both resulted in wins, as did Holly Hunter’s British Sign Language one in “The Piano” (1994). In 2018, Sally Hawkins also picked up a bid for her ASL performance in “The Shape of Water.”
According to our odds, Cruz is running sixth in the 2022 Best Actress race, directly ahead of Spanish and English-speaking Rachel Zegler (“West Side Story”). This gives her the best shot at taking out one of the five women in our presently predicted lineup, which features Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”) in the top spot. In the runner-up position is Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”), followed in order by Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”), Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”), and Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”).
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