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Cannes 101: A film festival field guide

By Breeanna Hare, Special to CNN
The 63rd annual Cannes Film Festival will be held May 12 -- May 23 in Cannes, France.
The 63rd annual Cannes Film Festival will be held May 12 -- May 23 in Cannes, France.
  • The 63rd Cannes Film Festival will be held May 12 to May 24
  • 19 films up for the coveted and prestigious Palme d'Or
  • Festival offers screenings of both Hollywood blockbusters and art-house films
  • The one American contender for the Palme d'Or is Doug Liman's "Fair Game"

(CNN) -- It's that time of year again: The annual Cannes film festival is poised to kick off more than a week of glamour, prestige, and of course, some of the best in international cinema.

But before the jury selects the Palme d'Or -- given to the director of the best feature film -- there will be an opening night screening of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," which opens in the United States on May 14.

"Robin Hood" may seem like too huge a venture for a festival that highlights more obscure foreign films, but that's actually part of its charm. Now in its 63rd year, the festival has become a kind of theatrical democracy, giving space to both Hollywood's blockbusters and art-house cinematic creations, said Variety film critic Justin Chang, who spoke with CNN en route to festival.

"It's sort of a split-identity syndrome. It does attract the big Hollywood star wattage -- people like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Quentin Tarantino -- and yet at the same time, you have a showcase dedicated to the best and sometimes the most obscure of foreign art cinema," Chang said.

"You have very crowd-pleasing stuff like 'Da Vinci Code,' 'Kung-Fu Panda' and 'Indiana Jones,' and then you have a nine-hour Portuguese documentary."

Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" will also have their moment in the festival spotlight.

The eclectic cinematic menu is what makes Cannes special, Chang said.

The 12-day event, running from May 12 to May 23, features a slew of screening categories, including the official competition, in which films compete for that impressive Golden Palm, the out of competition films, and the films of "un certain regard."

This year, the official competition has only 19 films instead of the usual 20 to 22, a sign that perhaps festival director Thierry Fremaux had to scramble a bit to find worthy cinema.

"Last year, numerous important directors were at Cannes," Fremaux told the L.A. Times. "This year, most of these important filmmakers are writing or filming -- working, in any case. The selection process was, therefore, a delicate matter, given the absence of all these filmmakers. The selection is a nice one, one that forced us to use our imaginations."

Since the imagination was key to the selection process, it's quite fitting that the master of gothic whimsy himself, Tim Burton, will help decide the best feature film as the president of the Jury. Burton's presence is a symbolic choice representing the festival's desire to always keep an eye towards the future, Fremaux said on the website.

Doug Liman -- who directed and produced "The Bourne Identity" -- has the only American entry in this year's competition with "Fair Game." The thriller is based on Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose status was uncovered by the White House in 2004, with Naomi Watts cast as Plame and Sean Penn portraying Plame's husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

The Palme d'Or doesn't always mean commercial success, Chang said, but the award can be a launching pad for a feature, as was the case for Martin Scorcese's "Taxi Driver," Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies and Videotape," and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Cannes in a nutshell, Chang said, "is the Grande Dame of film festivals, [and] a great breeding ground for talent."

Here's the line-up:

In Competition

"Tournée" ("On Tour"), directed by Mathieu Amalric
"Des Hommes et des Dieux" ("Of God and Men"), directed by Xavier Beauvois
"Hors la Loi" ("Outside of the Law"), directed by Rachid Bouchareb
"Biutiful," directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
"Un Homme Qui Crie" ("A Screaming Man"), directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
"The Housemaid," directed by Im Sangsoo
"Copie Conforme" ("A Certified Copy"), directed by Abbas Kiarostami
"Outrage," directed by Takeshi Kitano
"Poetry," directed by Lee Chang-dong
"Another Year," directed by Mike Leigh
"Fair Game," directed by Doug Liman
"Route Irish," directed by Ken Loach
"Schastye Moe" ("My Joy"), directed by Sergei Loznitsa
"La Nostra Vita" ("Our Life"), directed by Daniele Luchetti
"Utomlyonnye Solnstem 2: Predstoyanie" ("Burnt By the Sun 2: Exodus"), directed by Nikita Mikhalov
"Szleid Teremtes -- A Frankenstein Terv" ("Tender Son -- The Frankenstein Project"), directed by Kornél Mundruzcó
"La Princesse de Montpensier" ("The Princess of Montpensier"), directed by Bertrand Tavernier
"Rizhao Chongqing" ("Chongqing Blues"), directed by Wang Xiaoshuai
"Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat" ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"), directed by Apichatpong Weersethakul

Un Certain Regard

"Blue Valentine," directed by Derek Cianfrance
"Les Amours Imaginaires" ("Heartbeats"), directed by Xavier Dolan
"O Estranho Caso de Angelica" ("The Stange Case of Angelica"), directed by Manoel de Oliveira
"Los Labios" ("The Lips"), directed by Ivan Fund, Santiago Loza
"Simon Werner a Disparu" ("Lights Out"), directed by Fabrice Gobert
"Film Socialisme," directed by Jean-Luc Godard
"Unter Dir Die Stadt" ("The City Below"), directed by Christoph Hochhäusler
"Ha Ha Ha," directed by Hong Sangsoo
"Hai Shang Chuan Qi" ("I Wish I Knew"), directed by Jia Zhang-Ke
"Rebecca H." ("Return to the Dogs"), directed by Lodge Kerrigan
"Pál Adrienn" ("Adrienn Pál"), directed by Ágnes Kocsis
"Udaan," directed by Vikramaditya Motwane
"Marti, Dupa Craciun" ("Tuesday, After Christmas"), directed by Radu Muntean
"Chatroom," directed by Hideo Nakata
"Aurora," directed by Cristi Puiu
"Life Above All," directed by Oliver Schmitz
"Carancho," directed by Pablo Trapero
"Octubre" ("October"), directed by Daniel Vega, Diego Vega
"R U There," directed by David Verbeek

Out of Competition

Grand Théâtre Lumière:

"You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger," Woody Allen
"Carlos," directed by Assayas Carlos
"Tamara Drewe," directed by Stephen Frears
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," directed by Oliver Stone

Salle du 60éme:

"Autobiografia Lui Nicolae Ceausescu" ("L'autobiographie de Nicolae Ceausescu"), directed by Andrei Ujica

Midnight screenings:

"Kaboom," directed by Gregg Araki
"L'Autre Monde" ("Black Heaven"), directed by Gilles Marchand

Special screenings:

"Inside Job," directed by Charles Ferguson
"Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow," directed by Sophie Fiennes
"Nostalgia de la Luz" ("Nostalgia for the Light"), directed by Patricio Guzman
"Draquila L'Italia Che Trema" ("Draquila-Italie Trembles"), directed by Sabina Guzzanti
"Chantrapas," directed by Otar Iosseliani
"Abel," directed by Diego Luna
"Countdown to Zero," directed by Lucy Walker
"5 X Favela Por Nos Mesmos," directed by Manaira Carneiro, Wagner Novais, Rodrigo Felha, Cacau Amaral, Luciano Vidigal, Cadu Barcelos, Luciana Bezerra

Closing film:

"The Tree," directed by Julie Bertucelli