The Cannes Film Festival on Thursday unveiled a lineup studded with both high-profile veterans and intriguing newcomers — and that's before you even reached the vaunted competition section.
Woody Allen will unveil his existential comedy "Irrational Man" starring Joaquin Phoenix; Natalie Portman will premiere her Amos Oz adaptation and directorial debut "A Tale of Love and Darkness"; and "Senna" director Asif Kapadia will take the wraps off his Amy Winehouse doc "Amy" -- all in non-competition slots at the May film confab, organizers said in a press conference from Paris.
And Pete Docter, whose "Up" opened Cannes six years ago, will bring his animated inner-voice tale "Inside Out" to the festival before Pixar releases it in July -- while a second English-language animated movie, Mark Osborne's "The Little Prince," will similarly play out of competition at the festival that begins May 13. Osborne, who previously co-directed "Kung Fu Panda," employs stop-motion animation and the voices of Jeff Bridges and Benicio del Toro for his spin on the French children's classic.
Yet the batch of competition titles at this year's festival will more than hold its own. Festival director Thierry Fremaux revealed Thursday the competition will include the latest films from Gus Van Sant ("Sea of Trees," an American-Japanese suicide story starring Matthew McConaughey); "Prisoners" director Denis Villeneuve (the crime drama "Sicario" starring Emily Blunt); and the Greek provocateur director of "Dogtooth" Yorgos Lanthimos (titled "The Lobster," his new movie comes "in the tradition of a film where you don't really understand everything," Fremaux said).
Also among the notables in competition is the Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien's new martial-arts movie "The Assassin"; the Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel's "Macbeth" starring Michael Fassbender; and "Our Little Sister," from Japanese mainstay Hirokazu Kore-Eda.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the 16 competition films announced Thursday (several more will yet be added) is Todd Haynes' "Carol." Starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett -- and adapted from a vintage Patricia Highsmith novel -- Haynes' new movie centers on a lesbian affair in 1950s America, returning the director to the same-sex thematic ground of his 2002 critical darling "Far from Heaven." Haynes will be coming to the Croisette for the first time in 17 years.
Judging the competition titles -- Cannes prizes are much coveted and discussed -- will be a jury headed by the Coen Bros. The seven jurors who will serve with them have yet to be named.
Cannes is regarded as the world's most prestigious film festival and a venue for both returning auteurs and new discoveries — a fact brought home last year, when the jury prize was shared by upstart Xavier Dolan and eminence grise Jean-Luc Godard. The festival also offers a launchpad for some of the most praised movies of the coming award season: "Mr. Turner," "Foxcatcher," "Red Army" and "Leviathan" all world-premiered at Cannes last year.
Cannes this year will open with Emmanuelle Bercot's French-language "La Tete Haute," about a troubled child coming of age. It was an unconventional choice -- Cannes opening night galas often come more in the vein of "The Great Gatsby" -- but in making the announcement the festival touted its female director (the first to kick off the festival in nearly three decades). An opening-night choice informed more by aesthetics than star power will also help organizers avoid the awkward situation it faced last year, when "Grace of Monaco" received some of the worst opening-night reviews in a long time.
Fremaux acknowledged the unconventional nature of the Bercot selection.
"Generally the opening-night films are more glamorous, wide, public-audience films," he said. "But this film talks about very modern subjects -- social justice and the handing down of traditions and children in difficult conditions. It was a beautiful film and we wanted to use it in our opening kickoff." The movie is screening out of competition, he said.
Fremaux also said he made a conscious choice to have actors-turned-directors like Portman play their movies out of competition, citing a backlash in recent years when films directed by James Franco and Ryan Gosling ended up in Un Certain Regard — a section just below the main competition slate that also hands out prizes.
"We're suspected of including people because they are known, so we're putting famous people in special [out-of-competition] screenings so people go because they want to see the movie," he said.
For those who look to Cannes slots as a sign of the health, or lack thereof, of American filmmaking, U.S. auteurs did decently if not swimmingly--they landed two spots in the main competition (Haynes and Van Sant).
Italy was very well-represented, with three out of the 16 competition films coming from natives of that country. Nanni Moretti, Paolo Sorrentino and Matteo Garrone will all debut new works (titled "Mia Madre," "Youth" and "Tale of Tales," respectively) -- though, in a sign of these global filmmaking times, the latter two are English-language movies with Hollywood stars. (Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz star in "Youth" and John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek in "Tales," bolstering the festival's always-stellar red-carpet quotient.)
The French did the Italians even one better in the competition category. Jacques Audiard, a Cannes favorite in recent years with "Rust and Bone" and "A Prophet," will make his return with "Dheepan," a story about a Tamil Tiger rebel who flees from Sri Lanka to France to start a new life. Audiard is one of four French directors in competition: the others are Stephane Brize, Valerie Donzelli and Maiwenn.
The latter two join with Alice Winocour -- whose "Maryland" was announced as part of the Un Certain Regard program -- to form a strong class of French female directors at Cannes.
Curiously, there were no Spanish-language movies in competition, though Fremaux said one could yet be added.
And despite the high French quotient, missing from the announcement was the auteur Arnaud Desplechin's much anticipated "My Golden Years," a prequel to his 1996 hit "My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument." Fremaux gave an elaborate answer about the nature of the competition category when asked at the press conference about its absence; it's unclear if it could still be a late-add to the competition category.
The reason for several unfilled slots on the customary April announcement Thursday, Fremaux said, was the advent of digital technology in filmmaking. The new tools have meant a lot more films are finished and then hurriedly submitted at the last minute-- a development he hailed as exciting, if stressful for programmers.
One technological change he seemed less enthused about was the now-standard practice of Cannes screening attendees and rubberneckers taking selfies on or near the festival's red carpets. Fremaux said the fest wouldn't go so far as to ban the activity, but would embark on an unspecified "campaign" this year to reduce the behavior. "It's a practice that's often ridiculous and grotesque," he said.