Cannes Confidential

"Hotel Noir"

Before you board your flight, bone up on what you need to know with this insider's guide to the buzzy buy-now movies, the big showy prize contenders and which hot yachts will float your boat.

At this year's Cannes Film Market, foreign sales companies are rushing in where studios fear to tread. With the Hollywood majors cutting back on midrange movies in favor of cheapies and pricey would-be blockbusters, independent productions are picking up the slack. And that, in turn, means foreign distributors have a chance to buy into a broad array of titles touting such marquee names as Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Emma Watson, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Taylor Kitsch and even Oprah.

"The studios are doing films for $130 million and up. That leaves room for us to do movies that the independents could never have gotten their hands on before," says Lisa Wilson of The Solution Entertainment, whose Cannes lineup includes projects boasting Robin Williams and Elijah Wood. Recent successes like Exclusive Media's Daniel Radcliffe ghost story The Woman in Black, which grossed $126 million worldwide, proved it's a healthy business. And worldwide breakout hits like The Hunger Games, which Lionsgate sold last year because the company doesn't have a global distribution network of its own, have buyers salivating to grab foreign rights to its sequel Catching Fire this time round. "There is a big appetite for the kinds of movies the studios are staying away from," attests Sierra/Affinity founder and CEO Nick Meyer.

Last year at Cannes, there were at least four $100 million titles -- virtually on a par with topline studio budgets -- that were shopped to international distributors. They included Sierra's Ender's Game and Focus Features' Cloud Atlas, directed by the trio of Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski. (Focus Features International will be showing off a rough cut of the film to buyers May 15, just before Cannes kicks off.) But most of the hot indie titles this year are more modestly budgeted. Says Maggie Monteith of U.K.-based Dignity Distribution, which co-finances mainstream independent movies budgeted up to $15 million: "We are getting directors who have never done an independent film before. The challenge is to work with a director who can switch from doing big-budget to midbudget, who can make $1 look like $10 on the screen. Then we can fill the gap between the big studio blockbuster and the small art-house film."

THR's Complete 2012 Cannes Coverage

The one downside: Competition among sales companies will be fierce thanks to a crush of such new firms as Megan Ellison's Panorama and two companies that emerged out of the fallout from the Lionsgate and Summit merger: Good Universe and Mister Smith. The dollars aside, why are so many willing to take the risk? Suggests Meyer: "I love the idea of selling a dream. It's such a great rush."

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THE FILMS VYING FOR THE BIG PRIZES

Amour (Love) -- Michael Haneke
Despite the title, this study of an octogenarian couple is no romantic comedy.

The Angels' Share -- Ken Loach
An uncharacteristic lark about a whiskey heist.

Baad El Mawkeaa (After the Battle) -- Yousry Nasrallah           
Its focus is on forces that tried to stop the Arab Spring.

Cosmopolis -- David Cronenberg
Robert Pattinson makes another bid for art-house cred.

Da-Reun Na-Ra-E-Suh (In Another Country) -- Hong Sang-soo
Isabelle Huppert juggles three roles in this South Korean feature.

De Rouille et D'os (Rust and Bone) -- Jacques Audiard
It promises a star-making turn from Matthias Schoenaerts.

Do-Nui Mat (The Taste of Money) -- Im Sang-soo
The Housemaid director finds further fault with South Korea.

Dupa Dealuri (Beyond the Hills) -- Cristian Mungiu
The social critic takes on the Romanian church.

Holy Motors -- Leos Carax           
Time travel! Parallel lives! VFX! A real wild card.

Jagten (The Hunt) -- Thomas Vinterberg
The co-founder of Dogme 95 looks at a case of child abuse.

Killing Them Softly -- Andrew Dominik
The director and his loyal Jesse James star Brad Pitt mix it up again in a mob tale.

Lawless -- John Hillcoat
The Proposition helmer opts for a U.S., Depression-era drama.

Like Someone in Love -- Abbas Kiarostami
A student selling sex in Tokyo marks a departure for the Iranian director.

Moonrise Kingdom -- Wes Anderson
Anderson scores the opening-night slot on his first fest visit!

Mud -- Jeff Nichols
The Take Shelter director graduates to working with stars like Matthew McConaughey.

On the Road -- Walter Salles
Jack Kerouac's iconic novel finally makes it to the screen.

The Paperboy -- Lee Daniels
When his passion project Selma stalled, the director turned to this murder investigation.

Paradies: Liebe (Paradise: Love) -- Ulrich Seidl          
Caution ahead: Its heroine is a 50-year-old sex tourist.

Post Tenebras Lux -- Carlos Reygadas
The director says it is more an expressionist painting -- paging Terrence Malick.

Reality -- Matteo Garrone
After his grim Gomorrah, the director faces down reality TV.

V Tumane (In the Fog) -- Sergei Loznitsa
On paper, this World War II drama sounds very retro.

Vous N'avez Encore Rien Vu (You Haven't Seen Anything Yet) -- Alain Resnais
Turning 90, the director could offer a grand summing-up.

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