Druggy roadtrips, soul-searching drama and stylish gangland flicks go head to head on the French Riviera next week as a galaxy of stars and directors converge for the Cannes film festival.
David Cronenberg, Ken Loach and Michael Haneke headline the pick of 22 international filmmakers vying for the Palme d'Or award at the 65th edition of the world's top cinema showcase from 16 to 27 May.
Star-wise, the 2012 line-up promises to dazzle with Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Kylie Minogue, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Brad Pitt just a few of the A-listers expected in town.
Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, who herself never walked the Cannes red carpet, was chosen as the face of this year's film-fest in a tribute 50 years after her death.
Palme d'Or-winner Nanni Moretti of Italy heads the jury, with help from eight jurors including the actor Ewan McGregor and fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier.
Festival general delegate Thierry Fremaux, who cherry-picked the selection from among almost 1800 entries, was particularly excited about this year's American crop.
"These past few years American cinema has been split between two extremes, with big studio blockbusters on one side, and small independent movies on the other," he told AFP.
"There used to be a culture of mainstream auteur cinema, of grown-up auteur cinema. That's the cinema we should be seeing again this year."
US director Wes Anderson strikes a joyous keynote with Wednesday's opening film Moonrise Kingdom, a pre-teen elopement story whose star-packed cast includes Bruce Willis as a small-town cop.
Two US auteurs are running for Cannes gold: Lee Daniels' keenly awaited The Paperboy stars Kidman opposite John Cusack and Zac Efron in the tale of a reporter investigating a death row case.
The second is Jeff Nichols, whose Mud, about two teenage boys who form a pact with a fugitive, was a surprise entry.
American stories loom large throughout the line-up, though often told by foreign directors.
Canada's Cronenberg brings Manhattan thriller Cosmopolis, adapted from Don DeLillo's novel. It stars Robert Pattinson as a billionaire asset manager journeying through the city in a stretch limo.
Brazil's Walter Salles has adapted Jack Kerouac's cult novel On the Road, while Australians John Hillcoat and Andrew Dominik bring two US-set works: bootlegging drama Lawless and the mobster flick Killing Them Softly.
Among the European giants, Austria's Haneke will show Amour (Love), starring Isabelle Huppert as the daughter of a woman hit by a stroke.
In the absence of Lars Von Trier -- banned from last year's festival after incendiary remarks about Hitler -- fellow Dane Thomas Vinterberg injects a dose of icy Nordic drama with The Hunt.
Britain's Loach returns for the 17th time with comedy The Angel's Share, about ex-offenders who turn to whisky-making.
One of three French filmmakers in the race, Jacques Audiard has cast Cotillard as a killer-whale trainer hit by a tragedy in Rust and Bone.
Romania's Cristian Mungiu, who scooped the 2007 Palme for a Communist-era abortion drama, returns with Beyond the Hills about two orphans, while Italian Matteo Garrone takes on TV culture with Reality.
Asia gets a look-in with two South Koreans: Im Sang-soo with erotic thriller Taste of Money, and Hong Sang-soo with In Another Country.
And Palme-winning Iranian Abbas Kiarostami returns at 71 with Like Someone in Love, a Japan-set tale about a student who works as a prostitute.
Cronenberg father and son will both be in Cannes, with Brandon Cronenberg showing his debut Antiviral in parallel new talent section "Un Certain Regard", chaired by British actor and director Tim Roth.
Seventeen directors show work in that section, including the only two women in competition.
Buzz-making films being screened out of competition include Philip Kaufman's Hemingway and Gellhorn, with Kidman playing the writer's war reporter third wife opposite Clive Owen.
Likewise, a documentary on Roman Polanski, one about Woody Allen, and another about the Libyan war by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.
The Artist star Berenice Bejo hosts the opening and closing ceremonies of the filmfest, which ends with Claude Miller's Therese Desqueyroux, a tribute to the French director who had just finished editing it when he died last month.
Cannes triples in population during the festival to 200 000 people, with film buffs homing in on the competition and sidebar events Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Week, and 10 000 industry professionals attending a giant film market.