Daniels, Cianfrance, Nichols could boost H'wood presence in competition

It’s shaping up to be a strong year for U.S. fare at the Cannes Film Festival, with Andrew Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” John Hillcoat’s “Lawless,” Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” and Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” among several major titles vying for competition slots as the official selection lineup takes shape.

With three and possibly even four of these pics conceivably in competition, this year’s American batch seems to be skewing toward younger, fresher names that have nonetheless racked up considerable cachet on the international fest circuit. Daniels, Nichols and Cianfrance are all coming off films that parlayed Sundance acclaim into a warm Cannes reception (“Precious,” “Take Shelter” and “Blue Valentine,” respectively), while Australian helmers Hillcoat (“The Road”) and Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) bowed their previous efforts at Venice and Toronto.

As usual, Cannes delegate general Thierry Fremaux and his selection committee will continue screening films and making decisions up until, and possibly even after, the unveiling of the official selection on Thursday morning in Paris. As of Sunday, they had seen all the aforementioned American titles except “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a crime drama that reunites Cianfrance with “Blue Valentine” thesp Ryan Gosling; it’s set to screen early this week.

On the heels of its Cannes success story last year with “The Artist,” the Weinstein Co. could have another starry showing if the committee goes for “Killing Them Softly” (previously titled “Cogan’s Trade”), a mobster tale that reteams Dominik with “Jesse James” star Brad Pitt, and Hillcoat’s “Lawless” (formerly “The Wettest County”), a Prohibition-era drama with Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman.

Daniels’ “Paperboy” is an erotic thriller set in 1960s Florida that stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack. McConaughey also stars in Nichols’ Arkansas-set coming-of-age drama “Mud,” with Reese Witherspoon.

The abundance of A-list names suggests Fremaux is assembling an especially Hollywood-heavy buffet for the festival’s 65th anni, as also evidenced by two previously announced entries: Wes Anderson’s opening-night pic “Moonrise Kingdom” and DreamWorks toon “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” Rumors have circulated that Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” could bow in a noncompeting or midnight slot, though the Fox sci-fier, which opens May 30 in France and other Euro territories, is unconfirmed.

Never one to make the tea leaves overly readable, Terrence Malick could turn up with his provisionally titled “The Funeral,” starring Ben Affleck, Chastain and Rachel McAdams, though it’s unclear whether it will be completed in time; even if it is, the famously press-shy helmer could decide not to return to Cannes a mere year after winning the Palme d’Or for “The Tree of Life.” Still, it’s a possibility.

Likely to further bolster the fest’s Yank presence is Benh Zeitlin’s magical-realist debut, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which, following in the footsteps of Sundance hits such as “Precious,” “Blue Valentine” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” could have its international launch in the official selection’s Un Certain Regard program.

Despite the infusion of new auteur blood, Fremaux and Co. have already reserved competition berths for several expected Cannes heavyweights: France’s Jacques Audiard with his gritty love story “Rust and Bone,” toplining Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts; Canada’s David Cronenberg with his Robert Pattinson-starring take on Don DeLillo’s “Cosmopolis”; Brazil’s Walter Salles with his adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” featuring Viggo Mortensen, Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst; and Austria’s Michael Haneke with “Amour,” another collaboration with Isabelle Huppert after “The Piano Teacher” and “Time of the Wolf.”

Of the 20 or so competition slots, two are likely to go to a pair of Palme laureates: Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami with the Japan-set romance “Like Someone in Love” and Romania’s Cristian Mungiu with the monastic drama “Beyond the Hills.” Other Cannes favorites tipped for competition include Argentina’s Pablo Trapero with “White Elephant”; Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas with “Post tenebras lux”; Britain’s Ken Loach with “The Angel’s Share”; Ukraine’s Sergei Loznitsa with “In the Fog”; and South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo with “In Another Country,” also toplining Huppert.

The French films are always selected last, often in the wee hours before the lineup announcement, with Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” the sole competition lock so far in a heavily crowded field. Still, it would be a major surprise if Alain Resnais’ “You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet,” reportedly the 89-year-old auteur’s final film, were absent from the official selection, though its placement in or out of competition remains uncertain.

Other strong Gallic competition possibilities include Olivier Assayas’ “Something in the Air,” Leos Carax’s “Holly Motors,” Stephane Brize’s “Quelques heures de printemps,” Laurent Cantet’s “Foxfire,” and Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine’s “Le grand soir.” And that’s not counting the latest pics from two Francophone helmers who have been to Cannes before and could crack the competition for the first time: Canada’s Xavier Dolan with “Laurence Anyways,” starring Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement, and Belgium’s Joachim Lafosse with “Loving Without Reason,” featuring “A Prophet” thesps Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup.

Still unflagging at 103, Portuguese auteur Manoel de Oliveira, previously in Un Certain Regard with “The Strange Case of Angelica,” could find a home in the official selection with “Gebo and the Shadow,” featuring Michael Lonsdale, Jeanne Moreau and Claudia Cardinale.

A posthumous berth seems a near-certainty for Chile’s Raul Ruiz, whose “As linhas de Torres” could wind up in Directors’ Fortnight. Another Chilean helmer, Pablo Larrain, is a strong official-selection possibility for “No,” which, like his earlier “Tony Manero” and “Post Mortem,” tackles a unique chapter of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Australia looks to have a notable year on the Croisette with the possible inclusions of not only Hillcoat and Dominik, but also Cate Shortland and Rolf de Heer. Shortland’s “Lore,” a drama set in Germany toward the end of WWII, has already been acquired for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films; the Aussie writer-director was previously at Cannes with her 2004 Un Certain Regard pic, “Somersault.” De Heer, a two-time competition veteran who received an Un Certain Regard prize for 2006′s “Ten Canoes,” could also be in the mix with his suburban comedy “The King Is Dead,” which opens May 24 locally.

Of the numerous Asian titles being considered, two of the likeliest competition prospects are “Mishima,” Koji Wakamatsu’s biopic of the Japanese author, and “The Last Supper,” a Chinese period epic from Lu Chuan. Japan may also be repped by Sion Sono’s “The Land of Hope,” while Hong Kong genre mavens Johnnie To and Soi Cheang have a shot with their latest action pictures, “Blind Detective” and “Motorway,” respectively.

South Korea’s showing could be boosted not only by Hong but also by Park Chan-wook with his English-language drama “Stoker,” starring Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode, and Im Sang-soo with steamy thriller “The Taste of Money,” a follow-up of sorts to his 2010 competition entry “The Housemaid.” Outside the official selection, Yuen Sang-ho’s violent bully-themed toon “The King of Pigs” could leave its mark in Directors’ Fortnight.

Italy could be represented in the official selection by “Gomorrah” helmer Matteo Garrone with “Big House,” about a “Big Brother”-style reality TV skein, and “The Best of Youth” director Marco Tullio Giordana with “Romanzo di una strage,” an account of the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing.

Israel could make a respectable showing as well with “Single Plus,” from Dover Kosashvili; French-Israeli-Turkish co-production “Inheritance,” the directing debut of actress Hiam Abbass; and Rama Burstein’s “Fill the Void.”

As always, several high-profile hopefuls either have opted out of Cannes or will not have their films completed in time for the May 16-27 event. After his opening-night success last year with “Midnight in Paris,” Allen decided to bypass the Croisette this year with his ensembler, “To Rome With Love,” which opens in Italy on Friday. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” is eyeing a fall festival bow, and Wong Kar Wai’s long-delayed “The Grandmasters,” once tipped for last year’s Cannes as well as this year’s, is still in production.

(Nick Holdsworth in Moscow, John Hopewell in Madrid, Robert Koehler in Los Angeles, Russell Edwards and Richard Kuipers in Sydney, Maggie Lee in Hong Kong, Alissa Simon in Chicago, Boyd van Hoeij in Luxembourg City, and Nick Vivarelli and Jay Weissberg in Rome contributed to this report.)

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