Strong U.S. presence in fest's 65th lineup; Cronenberg, Hillcoat, Nichols pics on tap

Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are among the many thesps expected to walk the red carpet next month at the Cannes Film Festival, which is celebrating its 65th birthday with one of its most star-packed editions in years.

Beyond the glitz factor, however, the wide-ranging 2012 lineup is notable for showcasing the heavyweight international auteurs on which Cannes has long staked its reputation, even as it invites a fresh wave of Hollywood-reared directors to step up to the big leagues.

As anticipated, Lee Daniels, Jeff Nichols, Andrew Dominik and John Hillcoat will represent the new guard opposite Croisette stalwarts such as David Cronenberg, Michael Haneke, Walter Salles and Ken Loach, all vying for the Palme d’Or in a robust 22-film competition slate unveiled Thursday morning by Cannes delegate general Thierry Fremaux at Paris’ Grand Hotel (Daily Variety, April 16).

Somewhat less expectedly, Wes Anderson’s retro ensembler “Moonrise Kingdom,” announced in March as the fest’s May 16 opening-night attraction, was upgraded to the main program; the Focus Features release is the first Cannes curtain-raiser to compete since 2008′s “Blindness.”

With five films up for the Palme, the U.S. hasn’t enjoyed a competition presence this robust since 2007, when Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, David Fincher, Gus Van Sant and James Gray were all in contention.

The strong Yank representation isn’t limited to the main program, however. Philip Kaufman’s “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” an HBO drama about the titular literary couple, will screen out of competition, as will the previously announced DreamWorks toon “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” “The Central Park Five,” a Gotham true-crime account from documakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, will receive a special screening, while Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will have its international premiere in the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Notably missing from Thursday’s announcement was Terrence Malick’s “The Funeral,” a once hotly tipped possibility that, Fremaux confirmed, will not be ready in time. The fest topper told Variety he would almost certainly bulk up the official selection (which now stands at 54 titles) before its May 16 kickoff, though any such additions would most likely be made to the midnight and special screenings; the competition and Un Certain Regard are unlikely to change.

In a sharp turnaround from last year’s impressive distaff showing, there are no female directors in competition. The titles simply weren’t there, Fremaux said, adding that he doesn’t practice positive discrimination.

“The best respect we can pay to women is to consider them as directors. I don’t want to say, ‘This film is selected because the director’s a woman.’ It’s because the film is good,” he said.

In a further sign of the difficulty of maintaining creative diversity year-to-year, there are no debut features in competition, as opposed to last year’s two (Julia Leigh’s “Sleeping Beauty” and Markus Schleinzer’s “Michael”).

Star wattage, however, is in abundance. Kidman toplines both “Hemingway” and Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” a 1960s-set erotic thriller that also features Zac Efron, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey. In addition to his “Paperboy” role, McConaughey stars as a wily fugitive in Nichols’ “Mud,” a Southern coming-of-ager that also boasts Reese Witherspoon.

Pitt, in Cannes last year with Terrence Malick’s Palme-winning “The Tree of Life,” will make a return visit as the star of “Killing Them Softly,” a mob-themed dark comedy that reteams the actor with helmer Dominik after “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke play brothers in Hillcoat’s “Lawless,” a tale of Prohibition-era bootleggers scripted by the helmer’s regular collaborator Nick Cave.

For Fremaux, “Killing Them Softly” and “Lawless” (both of which the Weinstein Co. is distributing Stateside) fall into a category of “mixed personal-commercial genre films” that includes titles such as last year’s Cannes hit “Drive.”

“I hope that Cannes will bear witness to what could be a comeback of the spirit of ’70s American cinema, or will at least pose the question as to whether there could be a comeback,” Fremaux said. “Maybe it’s the first step toward something new. Cannes is meant to ask questions like this.”

Fremaux said he hoped the festival could serve as a platform for such fare, occupying an artistically vital space between big-budget studio pics and Sundance indies. Cannes has a tradition of slotting choice Park City titles in its noncompetitive sidebars, as with Daniels’ “Precious” (2009) in Un Certain Regard; Nichols’ “Take Shelter” (2011) in Critics’ Week; and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in Un Certain Regard this year.

This is the first Cannes competish berth for Anderson, Daniels, Dominik, Hillcoat and Nichols, as it is for Egyptian helmer Yousry Nasrallah, selected for “Baad el mawkeaa.” By contrast, the 16 other directors in competition have all been here at least once before.

Whereas Nichols is the youngest director in competition at 33, Alain Resnais is the oldest at 89, taking another swing at the Palme with what is reportedly his final film, “You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet,” starring Mathieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson, Michel Piccoli and Anne Consigny.

Of the other two French-directed films in competition, “Rust and Bone,” the gritty Marion Cotillard-starring drama from Jacques Audiard (“A Propet”), was an expected choice; slightly less so was Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors,” which toplines Denis Lavant, Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue.

Four Palme laureates will again vie for the top prize: Romania’s Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) with “Beyond the Hills,” a drama set in a rural monastery; Britain’s Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”) with comedy of redemption “The Angels’ Share”; Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami (“The Taste of Cherry”) with Japan-set romance, “Like Someone in Love”; and Austria’s Haneke with “Amour,” a study of relational tension starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert. “Amour” was acquired for North American distribution on Tuesday by Sony Classics.

Haneke’s countryman Ulrich Seidl (“Import/Export”) will bolster Austria’s presence in competition with “Paradise: Love,” a drama of desire and self-image centered around a mother and daughter.

Cronenberg returns to competition with “Cosmopolis,” his adaptation of the 2003 Don DeLillo novel, starring Pattinson as a young Manhattan billionaire. Pic’s selection was inadvertently confirmed hours before the press conference when a trailer for the film, bearing the festival’s logo, was posted online. Joining the Canuck auteur in the official selection is his son Brandon Cronenberg, who scored an Un Certain Regard berth for his directing debut, the biological thriller “Antiviral.”

Another literary adaptation, Walter Salles’ take on Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” stands to be a hot competition ticket with a cast that includes Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen. Excitement over the fact that “Twilight Saga” leads Stewart and Pattinson would both be on the Croisette dominated online fest chatter Thursday morning, singlehandedly pushing “Cannes” to worldwide trending status on Twitter.

One of the less expected competish selections was Mads Mikkelsen starrer “The Hunt,” a tale of father-son estrangement from Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg, who was previously at Cannes with 1998′s “The Celebration.”

Other competition alums back for another round include Mexican provocateur Carlos Reygadas with his experimental, semi-autobiographical “Post tenebras lux”; Ukrainian helmer Sergei Loznitsa with “In the Fog,” a drama set in 1942 German-occupied Belorussia; and Italian director Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah”) with “Reality,” inspired by a local “Big Brother” TV spinoff.

The only two Asian films competing are both from South Korean helmers who share a given name. Hong Sang-soo, whose past few pics have screened in Un Ce
rtain Regard, is back in the top program with Huppert starrer “In Another Country,” while Im Sang-soo will compete with “Taste of Money,” a follow-up of sorts to 2010′s “The Housemaid.”

Other Asian titles sprinkled throughout the official selection include “Mystery” (Un Certain Regard), Lou Ye’s first official Chinese production since the five-year filmmaking ban imposed after his controversial Cannes 2006 title, “Summer Palace”; “11.25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate” (Un Certain Regard), Koji Wakamatsu’s film about celebrated Japanese author Yukio Mishima; “Mekong Hotel” (special screening), a Tilda Swinton-starrer from 2010 Palme winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul; and Takashi Miike’s “The Legend of Love & Sincerity,” one of two midnight screenings, the other being Italo horrormeister Dario Argento’s self-explanatory “Dracula 3D.”

Un Certain Regard titles tipped at one point or another for competition slots include “White Elephant,” from Argentina’s Pablo Trapero; “Laurence Anyways,” from Canada’s Xavier Dolan, an alum of Un Certain Regard and Director’s Fortnight; “Le grand soir,” from French duo Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern; and “Loving Without Reason,” from Belgium’s Joachim Lafosse.

Rounding out Un Certain Regard are “7 Days in Havana,” a portrait of the titular Cuban city directed by multiple filmmakers; “Confession of a Child of the Century,” from France’s Sylvie Verheyde; “Despues de Lucia,” from Mexico’s Michel Franco; “God’s Horses,” from Morocco’s Nabil Ayouch; “La Pirogue,” from Senegal’s Moussa Toure; “La playa,” from Colombia’s Juan Andres Arango; “Miss Lovely,” from India’s Ashim Ahluwalia; “Student,” from Kazakhstan’s Darezhan Omirbayev; and “Trois mondes,” from France’s Catherine Corsini.

Regarding the numerous high-profile directors slotted out of competition, from Kaufman and Weerasethakul to Italy’s Bernardo Bertolucci, with his two-hander “Me and You,” Fremaux noted that these were fairly atypical projects: “Some directors like to go off the beaten path and make different films, a bit like novelists who are able to write an article or a poem in between books. It’s the same for these filmmakers.”

Docus receiving special screenings include “Polluting Paradise,” a look at a struggling Turkish village from Germany’s Fatih Akin; “Journal de France,” a road-trip collaboration between France’s Raymond Depardon and Claudine Nougaret; “A musica segundo Tom Jobim,” a portrait of Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim, from Nelson Pereira Dos Santos; “Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” in which France’s Laurent Bouzereau allows the embattled director to tell his side of the story; and “Les Invisibles,” a docu on a surprise topic from France’s Sebastien Lifshitz.”

Also receiving special screenings are Argentinean helmer Gonzalo Tobal’s debut feature, “Villegas,” and “Une journee particuliere,” a celebration of Cannes’ 65th birthday directed by festival president Gilles Jacob and Samuel Faure.

As previously announced, the festival will close with “Therese Desqueyroux,” the final film from French helmer Claude Miller, who died April 4. Starring Audrey Tautou, the drama is based on the Francois Mauriac novel of the same title, previously filmed by Georges Franju in 1962.

While Nanni Moretti was announced as president of the Cannes jury in January, the names of the other jurors will not be revealed until closer to the start of the festival, which runs May 16-27.

(John Hopewell and Elsa Keslassy in Paris contributed to this report.)

OPENER
“Moonrise Kingdom,” U.S., Wes Anderson

COMPETITION
“Amour,” France-Austria-Germany, Michael Haneke
“The Angels’ Share,” U.K.-France, Ken Loach
“Baad el mawkeaa,” Yousry Nasrallah
“Beyond the Hills,” Romania, Cristian Mungiu
“Cosmopolis,” France-Canada-Portugal-Italy, David Cronenberg
“Holy Motors,” France, Leos Carax
“The Hunt,” Denmark, Thomas Vinterberg
“In Another Country,” South Korea, Hong Sang-soo
“In the Fog,” Germany-Netherlands-Belarus-Russia-Latvia, Sergei Loznitsa
“Killing Them Softly,” U.S., Andrew Dominik
“Lawless,” U.S., John Hillcoat
“Like Someone in Love,” France-Japan, Abbas Kiarostami
“Mud,” U.S., Jeff Nichols
“On the Road,” France-U.K.-U.S., Walter Salles
“The Paperboy,” U.S., Lee Daniels
“Paradise: Love,” Germany-France, Ulrich Seidl
“Post tenebras lux,” Mexico-France-Netherlands, Carlos Reygadas
“Reality,” Italy-France, Matteo Garrone
“Rust and Bone,” Belgium-France, Jacques Audiard
“Taste of Money,” South Korea, Im Sang-soo
“You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet,” France, Alain Resnais

OUT OF COMPETITION
“Hemingway & Gellhorn,” U.S., Philip Kaufman
“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” U.S., Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath
“Me and You,” Italy, Bernardo Bertolucci

UN CERTAIN REGARD
“7 Days in Havana,” France-Spain, Benicio del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Juan Carlos Tabio, Gaspar Noe, Laurent Cantet
“11.25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate,” Japan, Koji Wakamatsu
“Antiviral,” Canada-U.S., Brandon Cronenberg
“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” U.S., Benh Zeitlin
“Confession of a Child of the Century,” France, Sylvie Verheyde
“Despues de Lucia,” Mexico, Michel Franco
“God’s Horses,” Morocco-Belgium, Nabil Ayouch
“La Pirogue,” France-Senegal, Moussa Toure
“La playa,” Colombia, Juan Andres Arango
“Laurence Anyways,” Canada-France, Xavier Dolan
“Le grand soir,” France, Benoit Delepine, Gustave Kervern
“Loving Without Reason,” Belgium-Luxembourg-France-Switzerland, Joachim Lafosse
“Miss Lovely,” India, Ashim Ahluwalia
“Mystery,” China-France, Lou Ye
“Student,” Kazakhstan, Darezhan Omirbayev
“Trois mondes,” France, Catherine Corsini
“White Elephant,” Argentina-Spain, Pablo Trapero

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS
“Dracula 3D,” Italy-France-Spain, Dario Argento
“The Legend of Love & Sincerity,” Japan, Takashi Miike

SPECIAL SCREENINGS
“A musica segundo Tom Jobim,” Nelson Pereira Dos Santos
“The Central Park Five,” Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
“Journal de France,” Claudine Nougaret, Raymond Depardon
“Les Invisibles,” Sebastien Lifshitz
“Mekong Hotel,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul
“Polluting Paradise,” Germany, Fatih Akin
“Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir,” U.K.-Germany, Laurent Bouzereau
“Villegas,” Argentina-Netherlands-France, Gonzalo Tobal

CLOSER
“Therese Desqueyroux,” France, Claude Miller

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