Woody Allen once told the HFPA that when he had an idea for a film he’d write it on a slip of paper and throw it in a drawer. “When I’m about to start a new project, I open the drawer, take out those pieces of paper and look at them. Sometimes there are a few good ideas there. Sometimes they’re not so good.” Vicky Cristina Barcelona was one of the better ones.
The film emerged from a spotty period when Allen gave up on America and decided to make movies in Europe. After four disappointments Vicky was the real thing. The film won Woody his first best picture Golden Globe since Hannah and her Sisters and he followed it with many of his best films. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the story of two American women, Vicky and Cristina, who spend a summer in Barcelona where they meet an artist, Juan Antonio, who is attracted to both of them, even though he is still enamored of his mentally and emotionally unstable ex-wife María Elena. The film was shot in Spain in Barcelona, Avilés, and Oviedo and was Allen’s fourth consecutive film shot outside the United States.
Maria Elena was played by Penélope Cruz, who not only ran off with the picture but ended up winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Because his reputation precedes him, Allen has always been able to attract the best actors. If he beckons, they come, no questions asked. And why not? Seven actors in his movies have won a total 15 Academy Awards and Golden Globes. So, besides Penélope Cruz, he had her future husband, Javier Bardem and, as the young Americans, Rebecca Hall, and his then muse Scarlett Johansson who was working with him for the third time, following Match Point and Scoop. The film also marked the second time Johansson and Hall had worked together, the first time being in Chris Nolan’s The Prestige. In supporting roles, he had Chris Messina and Patricia Clarkson.
The film was Allen’s biggest commercial success and grossed close to $100 million. The other nominees for Best Comedy or Musical that year were Burn After Reading, Happy Go Lucky, In Bruges, and Mamma Mia!. Nominees for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical were Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading, Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!, Emma Thompson in Last Chance Henry, and the winner Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, For Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, the nominees were Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, James Franco in Pineapple Express, Brendan Gleeson in In Bruges, Dustin Hoffman in Last Chance Henry, and the winner, Colin Farrell in In Bruges.
Comedy actors who got a supporting nod were Penelope for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and both Tom Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. The winners, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight and Kate Winslet for The Reader, were both from dramas.