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Penelope Cruz: The 'Other' Foreign Hit

Penelope Cruz: The 'Other' Foreign Hit | Grammy Deadline Nears: Gnarls in Charge? | Prayers for 'Music Man'

Penelope Cruz: The 'Other' Foreign Hit

"Borat" wasn't the only foreigner to take America by storm at the box office this weekend.

Raimunda did it, too. Or rather, the feat was accomplished by Penelope Cruz — who plays Raimunda, the cheerful and sexy chef/murder accessory — in Pedro Almodovar's "Volver." After six months of waiting, this wonderful film finally opened in limited release in five theaters and scored a little over $200,000.

In other words: "Volver" sold out every seat in theaters where it played.

This is no surprise. Almodovar's sparkling confection has already earned over $53 million around the world. Its American release is just dessert at this point.

But Sony Pictures Classics will start rolling it out slowly now, and the result should be more of the same as word spreads. "Volver" is one of the five best movies of the year, and Cruz's performance is destined for an Oscar nomination, if not a win. She is superb.

Now the challenge will be for SPC to get "Volver" in the main Oscar category, not just the foreign film one, but that shouldn't be a problem. Almodovar also certainly deserves nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. "Volver" (which means "to return" in Spanish) is his most accessible work, as well as his most generous.

Viva "Volver"! In any language, it's one of the two no-brainers of the 2006 Oscar campaign. What's the other one? Why, "The Departed," of course.

Grammy Deadline Nears: Gnarls in Charge?

Members of the Recording Academy must have their preliminary ballots all voted and back in by Thursday for this year's Grammy Awards. And then things get interesting.

The Best Album nominations are certain to include Gnarls Barkley's hit CD, "St. Elsewhere," and that album's single, "Crazy," is destined for the Best Record category. But beyond that, what?

The four other Best Album nominees could be Paul Simon's "Surprise," which actually was the best recording this year — although that doesn't really guarantee it anything in this age of diminished standards.

The three remaining slots could go to a variety of different offerings, including obvious but not definite choices like Bob Dylan's "Modern Times," the Dixie Chicks' "Taking the Long Way" and James Blunt's "Back to Bedlam." Expect Blunt to clean up at this year's awards, with nominations for Best New Artist, Best Song and Record for "You're Beautiful," in addition to Best Album. There's also Bruce Springsteen's "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," which will be taken very seriously by voters.

But we can't count out the commercial stuff, no matter how much we dislike it. That would include Justin Timberlake's "Future Sex/Love Sounds," Beyonce's "'B' Day," , Christina Aguilera's "Back to Basics" and Mary J. Blige's "The Breakthrough." And that's not including Tony Bennett's irksome "Duets" album. One or more of them is sure to break through, causing protests and shrieks.

But Best Record, now that's an easier story. Besides Blunt, we have KT Tunstall's "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree," Wyclef Jean and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice" and Daniel Powter's ubiquitous "Bad Day." If one of those doesn't make it, expect Timberlake's "Sexyback" to be included.

For Best Song, things are a bit harder. Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," for example, is built on a sample from an Italian spaghetti western. It may not count, as it is more pastiche than original composition. But Blunt is in, and so is Powter. Tunstall also has a shot, as do the Chicks. One Best Song nominee that would produce screams, especially from this column: John Mayer's "Waiting for the World to Change," which is so completely built on two songs by the late Curtis Mayfield that I have to change the channel when it comes on my satellite radio.

Finally, for once the Grammys will have an over abundance of Best New Artists from which it will hard to make choices. Carrie Underwood, who matriculated from "American Idol," seems like an obvious choice. Both Blunt and Tunstall also appear to be slamdunks. But then what? Teen dancing sensation Chris Brown cannot be excluded either. But at the same time, excellent cases can be made for Rihanna, The Fray, Arctic Monkeys, Corinne Bailey Rae and even The Pussycat Dolls.

Prayers for 'Music Man'

Legendary music man and co-founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, is still in the hospital. Ten days ago he hit his head at the Rolling Stones' birthday concert for Bill Clinton at the Beacon Theater. According to the Daily Mail, Ertegun, who's 83, slipped and fell backstage at the Beacon. The paper says he was put into an induced coma, but is doing better now. Anyone who knows Ahmet knows he's a man with the energy for more than nine lives. We send him and his wife Mica our prayers and good wishes for a speedy recovery...Michael Jackson's big "Access Hollywood" interview couldn't have been less enlightening. So Jackson is "working with" Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. But who's paying those bills? And what record company is going to release this project, since nearly no one wants to work with Jacko? "Access" got none of that, but they did at least get some up close video of Jackson's horrifying visage, which he keeps shrouded by a huge black wig and sunglasses ...