7. The Skin I Live In
While most Almodóvar movies are relatively similar, The Skin I Live In sticks out like a sore thumb. After years of experimenting with melodrama and dark comedy, Almodóvar took a risk by putting together something more closely resembling a horror film. It’s not exactly The Exorcist, but it walks a fine line between horror and psychological thriller. The result is an unsettling artistic achievement that shows the flexibility of this legendary filmmaker.
It’s hard to speak in depth about The Skin I Live In due to the countless twists and turns along the way. With that being said, let it be known that this twisted tale is delightfully creative and filled with surprises. It’s a weird departure from the intellectual melodramas that Almodóvar is known for making, but it’s nevertheless an intelligent movie that immediately brings to mind the greatest achievements from body horror masterminds David Lynch and David Cronenberg.
It’s more than just a creepy movie though. It’s also a surprisingly heartfelt drama. Almodóvar has never been afraid to stitch together aspects of different genres, and this is no exception. The Skin I Live In is definitely creepy, but the subplots come together to create an occasionally touching story about family and obsession. The drama often takes a backseat to the more thrilling aspects, but it’s consistently present nonetheless.
Honestly, there’s too much to be said about this thrilling little chiller. Almodóvar movies are all frequently high-quality, but several of them feel almost indistinguishable from their relatives.The Skin I Live In excels at being different. It may not be a daring political statement, but it never needs to be. Instead, it’s a harrowing cinematic rollercoaster.
6. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Before delving into more serious melodramas toward the final decade of the 20th century, Almodóvar earned worldwide recognition for directing this eccentric feminist comedy about loyalty and trust. Generally considered Almodóvar’s breakthrough movie, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a riotous ninety-minute escapade involving sleeping , love affairs, attempted murder, and Shiite terrorists. It’s rather brief, but what it lacks in content, it makes up for in unadulterated ridiculousness.
Admittedly, there’s been talk about how Almodóvar’s lighter works can’t keep up with his more insightful dramas. I’m So Excited! was a disappointment because it sacrificed coherence for laughs. On the other hand, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown remembers that there can be comedy alongside a good story rather than in place of it.
In fact, the movie is at its funniest when the story is at its most ridiculous. There’s a whole lot of nonsense packed into this tight package, but the nonsense always leads somewhere. Each new development within the plot paves the way for some type of eccentric joke. The jokes almost always land, and the narrative is consistently easy to comprehend.
So to put things simply, there’s not a whole lot wrong with the movie. It’s not higher on the list simply because Almodóvar is such a strong filmmaker. This is a stellar comedy through and through. It doesn’t have the emotional impact as even his weaker dramas, but it doesn’t need to. It makes up for the lack of emotional resonance with unabashed quirkiness and nonstop gaiety.
5. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
In what is certainly Almodóvar’s most underrated piece of work, a pornstar is taken hostage by an escaped psychiatric patient who believes they are destined to be together. If that doesn’t grab your attention, then maybe the movie isn’t for you.
For those interested, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is a darkly comedic gem that takes all of Almodóvar’s greatest strengths and throws them in a blender. It has the pitch black humor, the campy tone, the wonderful cast, and the creative blending of different genres. This is signature Almodóvar, and it’s signature Almodóvar done right.
The premise is interesting as is, but it would be a shame if it didn’t end up going anywhere. It’s a concept that could have easily been pushed into “generic thriller” territory if it were in the wrong hands. Luckily, this film happens to be in the hands of a very talented director and writer.
This is far from a generic thriller. Antonio Banderas’s central performance alone helps the movie avoid feeling formulaic. When it’s pieced together with creative writing and provocative motifs, we have a movie that does its silly premise justice.
The movie is at its best when it’s sneaking in sly jokes. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is an undeniably dark comedy, but the clever writing prevents it from feeling unnecessarily dark. The jokes aren’t so grim that they’re hard to spot. They’re the perfect amount of dark. You may feel a little bad laughing at a prostitute kidnapping, but there’s lightheartedness to ease your guilt.
Almodóvar’s wackier premises have a tendency to disappoint. Dark Habits, and to a lesser extent Broken Embraces, sound better in theory. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Lives exceeds its potential. It sounds like a lot of fun, but who knew that this much insanity could be these clever? This time around, everybody’s favorite Spanish director mixes quirky comedy with in-depth statements.
Volver is so much stranger than it looks. It appears to be another melodrama at the height of Almodóvar’s dramatic career. Then the movie takes a left-turn and the characters start talking about ghosts. Minus a certain telekinetic child in What Have I Done to Deserve This?, Almodóvar almost always kept things firmly grounded in reality.
Maybe that’s why it was so jarring to see an entire movie framed as a ghost story. Whether or not there is an actual ghost within the movie won’t be spoiled, but the fact that Almodóvar chooses to use it as a plot element is surprising considering the movies that came immediately before Volver.
It’s not just the setup that is surprising. Volver never ceases to surprise the audience. It’s surprising that, despite the melancholy plot, the movie still features a few laughs. It’s surprising that Penelope Cruz manages to outshine her previous Almodóvar performances. More importantly, it’s surprising that the plot never goes where the viewer thinks it’s going. The movie is a creative mystery disguised as a family drama, which is what makes it such a fun watch.
The countless award nominations aren’t a fluke. This is Almodóvar at his absolute finest. Just when you think it’s going to fall back on cliches, it takes a sharp left turn. Even when the plot stalls, the character development and naturalistic dialog remain easy to admire. It’s impressive that after so many career-defining hits, Almodóvar was still able to pull off a miracle.
3. Law of Desire
Law of Desire is queer cinema at its finest. After experimenting with the subject of homosexuality in his first five films, Almodóvar went all out with this arresting melodrama. It cemented his status as a skillful queer filmmaker early on in his career, and rightfully so. The movie is bold, insightful, and passionate.
It cherry-picks different genre conventions only to swirl them together in a concoction that oozes perfection. It’s not as visually pleasing as Broken Embraces or as quirky as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but it’s damn hard to find a movie this passionate in Almodóvar’s entire repertoire.
The story is focused on the relationship between Pablo and Antonio. After Pablo’s previous lover leaves him behind, he picks up Antonio as a sort of rebound. Unfortunately, Pablo knows little about Antonio’s possessive tendencies.
This, combined with Pablo’s desire to make his transexual sister happy, sets the stage for a 102-minute epic that explores topics such as love, sexuality, gender, and obsession. The tight runtime means that the movie should be overstuffed in theory. At the same time, every shot feels vital. Maybe the movie does bite off more than it can chew, but most viewers wouldn’t have it any other way.
If What Have I Done to Deserve This? was the first film to show a potentially legendary filmmaker, Law of Desire was the first movie to prove that Almodóvar actually is a legendary filmmaker.
Following the time of release, it was longer a question of whether or not Almodóvar would make an impact as a director. This was certain. The next question was how often could he make an impact? Thirty years later, it seems as though Almodóvar isn’t planning on going anywhere. Each new release further solidifies his legacy. This was just the first one to do it.
2. All About My Mother
All About My Mother effortlessly picked up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000. This somber tragedy about a mother searching for her dead son’s biological father is an unforgettable tearjerker that will resonate with all types of viewers.
Despite being the saddest movie Almodóvar has ever made, All About My Mother never forgets to inspire hope. It’s a poignant family tragedy that makes statements about family, loneliness, homosexuality, and gender. Most of these themes are familiar for Almodóvar nerds, but none of his films take on these subjects in such an insightful way.
Alongside the intelligent themes, you’ll find a cast made up of most Almodóvar regulars. Cecilia Roth, Penelope Cruz, and Marisa Paredes all make their usual appearances. Somehow, the trio of Almodóvar ladies always find a way to make their presence feel fresh in the movie. Each of the three actresses bring their A-game to the camera. The script is good enough as is, but the brilliant on-screen performances are a terrific added bonus.
In the wrong hands, the plot could’ve been downright soapy. The premise isn’t bad, but it’s something that almost feels destined for a Lifetime Original Movie. This is in the right hands, thankfully. It’s not a sappy after-school special. It’s actually a beautiful film that stays with you years after its release. The fact that it avoids coming across as conventional is a testament to Almodóvar’s skills as a writer and director.
All About My Mother will make you probably make you cry, and that’s okay. This isn’t a manipulative Nicholas Sparks inspired sap-fest. It’s a movie with raw emotion infused into each and every scene. It’s thematically rich and hypnotically absorbing. It’s everything a viewer would want in an Almodóvar movie.
1. Talk to Her
As if Almodóvar hadn’t already build up an amazing resume up until this point, he had to go on create his magnum opus. All About My Mother, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and Law of Desire had already done enough to prove that he was one of the greatest Spanish filmmakers living. Then this movie had to come along and silence every last viewer who remained skeptical.
It’s not only Almodóvar’s best movie, it’s one of the best internationally released movies of all time. It takes everything the director has learned over the years and molds it together to assemble a gut-wrenching story that takes on heavy-handed themes such as loneliness, communication, and the importance of communication.
The plot centers around two men who meet at a hospital after their love interests fall into a coma. One man obsessively falls for the woman he cares for while the other slowly drifts always, learning that communication is impossible. The two men become increasingly close during this experience, even after their darkest secrets are revealed.
Like Bad Education, Talk to Her throws some truly disturbing twists at the viewer. The surprising reveals never exist to shock the audience. They serve a much greater purpose in bringing forth the brilliant themes scattered throughout the film.
Talk to Her is a rare Almodóvar film in that it focuses on the male characters. Almodóvar has always been considered one of the greatest directors of female-centric films, so it may be surprising to learn that he can easily focus on the dudes as well. Even though the film focuses on two men, he still finds a way to tell a story with a strong feminist message. That strong feminist message sits aside so many other powerful messages.
The movie is so jam-packed with intelligent statements that it’s hard to classify the main purpose. It’s a feminist drama as much as it’s a tragic love-story. Almodóvar movies are hard to label, and this one is especially difficult.
There’s so much to talk about with Talk to Her that it’s almost unfair to try to fit it all into a few paragraphs, but this is a list, and people only have so much time in their day to read about Spanish filmmakers (unfortunately). With that being said, this haunting portrait of obsessive love and male-bonding is the pinnacle of a legendary director’s career.
Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.