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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Penelope Cruz feels uncomfortable talking about nude scenes and says she has "an allergy to labels," but she becomes effusive when discussing her "dream year" with two special films about to hit theaters.
The first is Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," her fourth collaboration with the filmmaker who helped make her a star, and the second is musical "Nine" from director Rob Marshall, which challenged her voice and her previously little-known dancing skills.
Both films hope to win over Oscar voters during Hollywood's awards season, and after her own Academy Award-winning turn in Woody Allen comedy "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" last year, Cruz is again earning some early Oscar buzz -- doubled.
"I feel like I have learned a lot. The movies could not be more different," the Spanish beauty told reporters recently.
"To be able to sing for the first time professionally and dance (in 'Nine'), it was a scary experience. 'Broken Embraces' is like three women in one. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world."
"Broken Embraces" opens on Friday after turns at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals where it earned good marks from critics. Review website rottentomatoes.com gives it an 82 percent positive rating.
Cruz calls both movies homages to cinema -- "Nine" to the work of the Italian director Federico Fellini, and "Broken Embraces" to the tradition of film noir.
After playing a prostitute, a nun who falls in love with a transvestite, and a woman whose husband is buried in the fridge in previous Almodovar movies, Cruz tackles the part of a poor assistant to a powerful tycoon in "Broken Embraces."
But as lowly as her character starts out, she goes on to become the rich man's partner and then plays a figure counter to herself in a movie within the movie. While it sounds somewhat complicated, it is vintage Almodovar.
"Every time Pedro has given me a script, I have really been blown away. The characters (I have played) couldn't be more different from each other, and from who I am," she said.
In "Nine," from Oscar-winning "Chicago" director Marshall, Cruz shows audiences another new facet of her many talents.
The Fellini-inspired movie, in which she teams with Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotillard, does not open in the United States until December 25, but already a brief clip of Cruz in a bustier performing a sultry song and dance is making waves among movie fans.
Cruz, 35, had early ambitions to be a dancer, taking ballet classes in her native Madrid from 5 to 15-years-old, but dramatic acting took its course and stardom ensued.
So, she went back to training five hours-a-day for her role as the mistress of a middle-aged moviemaker in "Nine," after being shown the routine she would be asked to perform.
"I almost fainted. I thought this is impossible...But there was no way to fake anything," she said.
While she is happy to talk freely about career, her personal life remains very private, and questions were banned about her two-year romance with Spanish actor Javier Bardem .
Although she may seem at ease with nude scenes in "Broken Embraces," she won't talk about them, saying it is too "uncomfortable" to do so.
And she sees herself as neither a role model, nor feminist in a male-dominated movie world.
"I just try not to label myself in any way. I have an allergy to labels in general," she said, then smiled.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte