Committee still watching films in 'complicated' year

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New works by Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Abbas Kiarostami and Oliver Stone are among the few near-certainties in a Cannes Film Festival lineup that looks set to go down to the wire even more than in recent years.

With the official selection set to be announced in Paris on Thursday (nearly a week earlier than last year’s April 23 unveiling), fest director Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee are rushing to view as many submissions as possible in the scant time remaining. All signs suggest the lineup won’t be finalized until the last minute — and perhaps not even then, as a few key entries may be slotted after the announcement.

“It’s a very difficult, complicated year,” Fremaux told Daily Variety .

The title perhaps most emblematic of the committee’s indecision is Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life.” Fest officials are keen to lock in the Brad Pitt-Sean Penn starrer, which would not only put some high-profile talent on the red carpet but also land Malick back in the competition spotlight for the first time since 1979, when he won the director prize for “Days of Heaven.” But given the helmer’s reputation for taking his time in the editing room, the jury’s still out on whether the Apparition release will be completed in time.

Elsewhere on the American front, what’s out seems clearer than what’s in: At least three high-profile pictures — Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and Gus Van Sant’s untitled latest — will not be finished in time for the festival.

Still, Cannes’ 63rd edition so far seems primed to deliver a fairly robust lineup of U.S. studio and specialty-division fare — starting with the previously announced opening-night attraction, Universal’s Ridley Scott-directed “Robin Hood” — as opposed to last year’s Hollywood-light selection.

In keeping with his longtime rule of not competing at festivals, Allen should get an out-of-competition slot for Sony Classics’ “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” a London-set feature starring Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Freida Pinto.

Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” looks set to cash in on a Cannes berth, though where it will wind up in the official selection remains unclear ( Daily Variety , March 11). The Fox sequel sees Michael Douglas reprising the role of Gordon Gekko alongside Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan and Brolin.

Reports are that Doug Liman’s political thriller “Fair Game,” starring Watts and Penn, had yet to be screened for the committee as of Saturday; ditto two potential British candidates, Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” (featuring Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton) and Stephen Frears’ still-in-progress “Tamara Drewe.”

An Un Certain Regard slot seems likely for Godard’s Swiss-funded “Socialism,” though the film’s exact placement has yet to be confirmed; the French New Wave vet’s past two Cannes entries, “In Praise of Love” (2001) and “Notre musique” (2004), screened in and out of competition, respectively. An HD video feature described in an online synopsis as “a symphony in three movements,” “Socialism” was helmed by Godard with six other filmmakers.

Two past Cannes prizewinners are widely expected to return to the Croisette. Palme d’Or laureate Kiarostami will bring his first film produced outside Iran, “The Certified Copy,” which stars this year’s Cannes poster girl, Juliette Binoche, and was shot in Tuscany. Romanian helmer Cristi Puiu may get his first crack at the competition with “Aurora” — the second installment in the six-film cycle he began with “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” which won the 2005 Un Certain Regard prize and marked the festival as an early champion of new Romanian cinema.

At least two Asian titles look ripe for competition slots: Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage,” the Japanese helmer’s first yakuza thriller since 2000′s “Brother”; and South Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry,” a drama about a cross-generational friendship, starring vet Korean actress Yun Jeong-hie.

Traditionally, the French-directed films are the last to be selected for competition, and while this year will be no exception, two pics that seem near the head of the pack are Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos the Jackal,” a three-part, 4½-hour miniseries about Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez; and Bertrand Blier’s comedy “The Sound of Ice Cubes,” toplining “OSS 117″ star Jean Dujardin.

Fest runs May 12-23.

(Robert Koehler, Jordan Mintzer, Alissa Simon and Boyd van Hoeij contributed to this report.)

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