Cruz plays Johnny Depp's cocaine-addicted wife in the real-life drug drama Blow. "She was not right at all for the part," director Ted Demme admits, "but it was just because of her absolute beauty that I hired her."
Cruz begins filming the period adventure Bandidas alongside best friend Salma Hayek, who picked Cruz up at the airport when she first arrived in L.A. During the flight to the set in Durango, Mexico, their small plane rapidly loses altitude and the pilot is forced to do an emergency landing. "We nearly died together," Hayek tells PEOPLE. "I thought, 'If I go now, I go with my good friend.'" While promoting Bandidas, Cruz pinches Hayek's behind, sparking reports that they are lovers. "I grabbed Salma's ass just to keep things moving, because everyone was a little slow," Cruz tells reporters in 2006. "And, of course, the energy changed when I did that."
Cruz, 30, stars in the big budget adventure Sahara with Matthew McConaughey, 35, and Steve Zahn. Though the film flops, it launches Cruz's second high-profile romance with her leading man McConaughey. "They are very happy with each other," Hayek tells PEOPLE. "They're a very good couple." They end their two-year relationship in June 2006.
Pedro Almodóvar's latest film Volver (To Return), starring Cruz as a working-class mother whose own mother comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends, premieres at Cannes Film Festival. This is the third time Cruz works with Almodóvar, and earns the best reviews of her career. "It's as if she has a bank of painful emotions that never dries up," Almodóvar, who calls Cruz his muse, tells the Los Angeles Times. In Cannes, the jury awards Cruz and her five female costars an ensemble Best Actress prize.
Cruz becomes the first Spanish Best Actress nominee in Academy Award history for her performance in Volver. "I didn't want to leave the set...Pedro had to take me by the hand and walk me to my trailer. I changed [out of my costume], crying and laughing and crying," Cruz tells Entertainment Weekly. "Then I opened the door. And Pedro was there. He said, 'Welcome to your new life.' It was so beautiful." Although The Queen star Helen Mirren takes home the Oscar, Cruz does win Spain's Goya Award for Best Actress.
Cruz and her younger sister, Mónica, launch their MNG by Mango clothing collection in Ibiza, Spain. The line features 25 pieces, which are a mix of clothing and accessories, for the Spanish retail chain. "It's very much our taste," Cruz tells PEOPLE. "It's inspired by things we've found in vintage shops and dresses our favorite actresses have worn."
Cruz and fellow Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who fielded relationship questions earlier in the summer, are photographed getting cozy in Maldives. Cruz, who shot an upcoming Woody Allen film with Bardem, called him "a friend and the best actor in the world" at a press conference in July.
Cruz, Bardem and Scarlett Johansson star in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which earns the Spanish duo raves. Calling Cruz "dynamite," Variety says the film is "by several degrees more hot-blooded than [Allen's] norm, thanks especially due to the palpable chemistry of Bardem and Cruz." She earns Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar nominations for her supporting role.
Cruz becomes an Oscar winner for her supporting, yet scene-stealing role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. "Has anybody ever fainted here?" she says at the podium while accepting her Academy Award. "Because I may be the first one."
In director Rob Marshall's dazzling movie-musical, Nine, Cruz sparkles as Daniel Day-Lewis' Italian mistress Carla. "Filming this movie was such a special experience and to be nominated for this role makes me so happy," Cruz says of earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination in 2010, in addition to Golden Globe and Screen Actor Guild award nods.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): amazon.com; Queen/Wireimage; RAMEY; Kobal Collection/Wireimage; Paul White/AP; Lalo Yasky/WireImage; Everett Collection; Mike Blake/Landov; David James/The Weinstein Company