Cannes Preview: The Hot Movies in the Running to Hit the Croisette

New films by Tommy Lee Jones, Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, David Cronenberg, Zhang Yimou, Olivier Assayas and the Dardenne brothers are all expected to premiere at the festival in May.

PARIS – With the Cannes Film Festival announcing its lineup on Thursday, there are only a few days left for forecasters, pundits and early-bird Oscar bloggers to speculate on what could appear in the coveted Official Selection. While legendary fest president Gilles Jacob will finally be stepping down after 36 years on the Croisette, general delegate Thierry Fremaux will continue programming the world’s premium art house event, which runs in its 67th edition from May 14 to May 25. And although there’s no telling what movie will turn out to be this year’s The Artist or Blue Is the Warmest Color, there are by now a few clues about who will be vying for the Golden Palm.

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French Touch

It’s no surprise that the Cannes competition and its sidebars -- Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week -- are an annual showcase for new French films. What else is home field advantage for? But the 2014 festival looks to be especially stacked with Gallic fare, beginning with the only titles announced thus far: paparazzi-friendly opening night pick Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, and directed by Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose), and Un Certain Regard opener, Party Girl, a nightclub-set feature made by the debuting trio of Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis.

Alongside those starters are several French films by Cannes alumni expected to show up in competition or elsewhere. Director Pascale Ferran, who won the Camera d’Or in 1994 with Petits arrangements avec les morts, should be returning with her latest drama Bird People, starring Anais Demoustier in what could be a major breakout role. Xavier Beauvois, whose Of Gods and Men nabbed the Grand Prix in 2010, will likely be competing with The Price of Glory, starring Benoit Poelvoorde and Roschdy Zem as thieves robbing the grave of Charlie Chaplin in the 1970s.

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Two English-language efforts by returning Gallic directors are also touted for competition. Palme d’Or laureate and Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) could premiere his drama The Search, a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 film that’s been transplanted to the recent Chechen conflict, featuring Berenice Bejo and Annette Bening. Olivier Assayas -- whose TV movie Carlos screened out of competition in 2010 -- is expected to show his theater-based drama Clouds of Sils Maria, headlined by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz.

Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne are slated to return with their latest collaboration, Two Days, One Night, which stars Marion Cotillard as a worker desperately trying to save her job over a single weekend. And actor-director Mathieu Amalric could play competition once again (after 2010’s On Tour) with his Georges Simenon adaptation, The Blue Room.

Other expected Gallic entries include: Mia-Hansen Love’s chronicle of the French Touch electro scene, Eden, which has strong competition potential (thus pitting her against Olivier Assayas, in what may be the first case of a couple competing against one another in Cannes); Bertrand Bonello’s YSL biopic, Saint Laurent, starring Gaspard Ulliel and Lea Seydoux; Robert Guediguian’s latest Marseilles-set drama Le Fil d’Ariane; Tomboy director Celine Sciamma’s third feature, Bande de filles; Haitian-born DIY filmmaker Djinn Carrenard’s sophomore effort, Faire l’amour; and DP-turned-director Marianne Tardieu's Qui vive, which stars Reda Kateb and Blue's Adele Exarchopoulos.

And let’s not forget new films by Tony Gatlif (Geronimo), Laurent Cantet (Return to Ithaca), Christophe Honore (Metamorphoses), Cedric Kahn (Wild Life), Sophie Letourneur (Gaby Baby Doll) as well as New Wave filmmaking legend Jean-Luc Godard, who could return with his latest provocation, Adieu au langage, shot entirely in 3D.

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Anglo Invasion

While the Cannes lineup of the last few years has been heavy on U.S. titles, the 67th edition may lack some notable names, with studios holding back premieres until the busy fall awards season. That should be the case with Paul Thomas Anderson’s much-anticipated adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, which is slated for a December release and now likely to appear first in Venice, Toronto or Telluride. The same goes for Croisette favorite Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), whose Michael Keaton comedy, Birdman, should screen sometime later this year.

Despite a smaller American presence than usual, two films look to be more or less locked for competition at this point: Tommy Lee Jones’ western The Homesman, starring the director alongside Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, Hailee Steinfeld and James Spader. Produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, the 1854-set heartland adventure is slated for French release on May 21; and Moneyball director Bennett Millers true story of wrestling and murder, Foxcatcher, which should bring stars Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo to the south of France.

Other U.S. filmmakers who could make the cut include: Palme d’Or winner Terrence Malick, who may premiere Knight of Cups or Voyage of Time (or both or neither -- you never know with Malick); Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York, featuring Gerard Depardieu as everyone’s favorite Gallic sex hound, Dominique Strauss Kahn; Sundance favorites Whiplash and Listen Up Philip; and How to Catch a Monster, which marks the directorial debut of Ryan Gosling, who could return to Cannes after Drive scored a hit there in 2011.

While Americans may be scarcer this time around, Brits and other Anglos should have a strong presence, with competition stalwarts Mike Leigh and Ken Loach both expected to unspool their latest efforts. The former will premiere Mr. Turner, featuring Timothy Spall as the famous 19th century British painter J.M.W. Turner, while Loach will screen what he says will be his last movie, Jimmy’s Hall, about a deported Irish activist who returns to his homeland to start a dance hall.

Another U.K. veteran, John Boorman, will show his Hope and Glory prequel Queen and Country, in the Directors' Fortnight, while Croisette regular Stephen Frears could show up with his untitled Lance Armstrong biopic, starring Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd and Dustin Hoffman.

Canadian auteur David Cronenberg will also be back in competition with Maps to the Stars, his Hollywood-set celebrity satire slated for French release mid-May and starring Robert Pattinson (in his second Cronenberg collaboration after 2012’s Cosmopolis), Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. Fellow Canuck and Cannes regular Atom Egoyan should also be returning with his thriller The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds as a father searching for his kidnapped daughter.

Other auteurs could include Australian writer-director David Michod (Animal Kingdom), playing in competition with his dark outback tale, The Rover, starring Pattinson and Guy Pearce, while fellow Aussie Rolf de Heer may screen his aborigine drama Charlie's Country in Un Certain Regard. Another Australian, Julius Avery, could debut his Ewan McGregor starrer Son of a Gun in one of the sidebars.

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Women, Dragons and Other Contenders

With Palme d’Or winner Jane Campion heading up the official competition jury, Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) taking charge of the Critics’ Week feature prize and Rebecca Zlotowski (Grand Central) the shorts prize, the festival could have a particularly distaff vibe this year, responding to past charges that Cannes hasn’t been all that female-friendly.

Alongside French films by Ferran, Hansen-Love and Letourneur, other women-made movies could include: Cold Souls director Sophie Barthes’ take on Madame Bovary, starring Wasikowska and Paul Giamatti; Still the Water, from Japanese auteur Naomi Kawase (The Mourning Forest); Anne Hui’s portrait of 1930s writer Xiao Hong, titled The Golden Era; Liv Ullmann’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, starring Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell; and Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou, about the German poet Heinrich von Kleist.

While it looks like this year’s lineup could favor French- and English-language fare, there are still plenty of filmmakers from across the globe expected to show up in various selections.

Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who won the Jury Prize with 2011’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, will likely be back with his four-hour drama Winter Sleep. Zhang Yimou is set to screen his Cultural Revolution drama Coming Home, starring regular Gong Li. Swedish director Roy Andersson (You, the Living) may unspool his latest dramedy, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Existence. And filmmakers Christian Petzold (Phoenix), Abderrahmane Sissako (The Pain of Birds), Pedro Costa (Horse Money), Christian Levring (The Salvation) and Andrey Zvyaginstev (Leviafan) could all be granted competition slots.

Finally, Cannes usually features at least one Hollywood blockbuster per year, with past red-carpet rollouts including Up, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Since an animated film looks like a good bet, one strong possibility is DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is due out worldwide in mid-June. Another potential candidate is Doug Liman’s sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow, slated for release just after the festival and offering the chance for Liman to return to the Croisette after premiering Fair Game there in 2010. As for star Tom Cruise, this would mark his first Cannes entry since 1992’s Far and Away, which co-starred opening-night headliner Kidman.

The Cannes Film Festival will announce its Official Selection on Thursday at 11 a.m. Paris time. The Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight sidebars will unveil their lineups on Monday, April 21, and Tuesday, April 22, respectively.

Todd McCarthy, Pamela McClintock, Leslie Felperin, David Rooney, Neil Young, Boyd Van Hoeij, Stephen Dalton and Clarence Tsui contributed to this report.