A handicapper friend assures me that Penelope Cruz, star of Pedro Almodovar‘s Parallel Mothers — a film that is 15 times better than House of Gucci, 10 times better than Spencer and far more emotionally rewarding than Being The Ricardos — is almost certainly good for a Best Actress nomination.

I hope so. I would certainly think so. I realize Cruz might not win for reasons having nothing to do with quality of delivery. But she needs to be nominated, at least.

I’ve seen the Almodovar twice and I know Cruz’s performance is the shit this year. She’s the absolute queen of her category. No other lead female performance comes close to plucking the emotional chords that she owns the patent on. She’s given the best female performance of the year. Don’t debate it, no question, put it to bed.

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg has Penelope in 2nd place as we speak. Feinberg Frontrunners: Kristen Stewart (Spencer); Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers); Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos); Lady Gaga (House of Gucci) and Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter).

I realize that in the myopic and strangely calculating award-season culture that we live in that some people are insisting otherwise…that Penelope is in the rear somewhere. They’re saying that Nicole Kidman (Ricardos) or Kristen Stewart (Spencer) or Lady Gaga (Gucci) are somehow better or at least more likely to win, partly because they’re backed by some heavy-hitter agencies and expensive campaigns.

Which is why I suspect that the best Cruz can expect is a Best Actress nomination. Because Oscar races are not so much about merit as muscle and power and primal audience longings and identifications. If it were my call I would give Cruz the Oscar now but she at least needs to become one of the five…c’mon.

I know that Pedro’s film doesn’t open until 12.24 but the big critics groups will begin voting soon. Somehow or some way the award-season heat has to start building in Cruz’s favor. I hope she gets there — her performances ‘is obviously much better than Kidman’s, Gaga’s and KStew’s — but she might not make it. I can feel it — she’s just not in the conversation the way the others are.

Repeating: Cruz’s Parallel performance is somewhere between 5 and 10 and 15 times better than all the other performances put together. It’s one of the finest efforts of her career, and yet if you talk to certain people her name is barely in the conversation. (David Poland actually believes that Licorice Pizza’s Alana Haim is one of the top three contenders.) As we speak Cruz is regarded as a peripheral player, and she’s not — she’s the top.

A recent Pedro Almodovar interview by SBIFF’s Roger Durling: