LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - There are still three weeks to go before the Cannes Film Festival unveils its official-selection lineup, but so far, the latest Pixar 3D animated extravaganza and new films from Woody Allen, Todd Haynes, Jeff Nichols, Denis Villeneuve and Arnaud Desplechin appear to be securing their positions in the event's 68th annual edition (May 13-24).
In keeping with his longtime habit of avoiding festival accolades, Allen will likely receive an out-of-competition berth for his 45th feature, "Irrational Man," starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone (who starred in the director's "Magic in the Moonlight"). Among other U.S. fare, Cannes will get an early start on the summer blockbuster season with Disney/Pixar's feature toon "Inside Out," marking a second trip to the Croisette for director Pete Docter (who co-helmed with Ronaldo Del Carmen) after his "Up" opened the festival in 2009. As already announced, George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road," starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, will screen on May 14 in an out-of-competition slot. (Watch the trailer here)
Looking to represent North America in competition are Haynes' "Carol," a 1950s lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and Villeneuve's "Sicario," a south-of-the-border crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Slots may also be reserved in the official selection for Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special," a science-fiction chase thriller starring Adam Driver and Michael Shannon, and Gus Van Sant's "The Sea of Trees," a suicide drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos ("Dogtooth") looks like a sure bet for competition with his starry English-lingo sci-fier "The Lobster," featuring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly. Elsewhere, Natalie Portman's feature directing debut, the Jerusalem-shot drama "A Tale of Love and Darkness," could be headed for a slot in Un Certain Regard.
On the international side, Cannes looks to have its strongest Asian competition presence in years with Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Assassin," Hirokazu Koreeda's "Kamakura Diary" and "Love in Khon Kaen," from Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Italy will also enjoy a robust showing with not only the latest from Palme laureate Nanni Moretti ("Mia madre"), but also new English-language works by perpetual Palme bridesmaids Paolo Sorrentino ("Youth") and Matteo Garrone ("The Tale of Tales"). As usual, there are numerous French auteurs conceivably vying for a handful of competition slots, including but not limited to Desplechin ("Nos arcadies"), Jacques Audiard ("Erran"), Gaspar Noe ("Love"), Xavier Giannoli ("Marguerite") and Maiwenn ("Mon roi").
The festival's opening-night berth still appears to be up for grabs. Allen, who previously opened Cannes with "Hollywood Ending" (2002) and "Midnight in Paris" (2011), might well be called on to do the honors again with "Irrational Man." Still, some observers have noted that, in a year when two Americans (Joel and Ethan Coen) are presiding over the main competition jury, festival topper Thierry Fremaux may opt to kick things off with a French entry -- a strategy that might favor Mark Osborne's "The Little Prince," an English-lingo, Gallic-produced stop-motion-animated adaptation of the Antoine de Saint-Exupery classic that Paramount is distributing Stateside.
Several titles that will not be ready in time for Cannes, earlier reports and rumors to the contrary, are Sean Penn's "The Last Face," starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem; Romanian director Cristi Puiu's "Sierra-Nevada," which only just began filming; Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke's futuristic drama "Mountains May Depart," which has yet to shoot the third of its three chapters, set in 2025 Australia; Brady Corbet's "The Childhood of a Leader," a historical drama starring Robert Pattinson, Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham; Adam Smith's "Trespass Against Us," an outlaw thriller starring Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson; and U.K. helmer Sarah Gavron's "Suffragette," a look at the British women's suffrage movement with Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Romola Garai.
As usual, there are still many films to be seen and many decisions to be made by Fremaux and his selection committee, who will announce the full official-selection lineup on April 16. Still, even with the slate in flux, here's a closer look at a number of films expected to appear on the Croisette:
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel about a lonely young department-store clerk who falls for an elegant older woman in 1950s New York. Haynes' recent films ("Far From Heaven," "I'm Not There") have played the fall festival circuit, and "Carol," which the Weinstein Co. is releasing this fall, would mark his first appearance at Cannes since 1998's "Velvet Goldmine," which received a prize for artistic contribution from the jury. (Sales: HanWay Films)
(Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen)
Only a couple of studio toons (DreamWorks' "Shrek" and "Shrek 2") have had the honor of screening in competition at Cannes. While its status is still unclear at this point, a Palme berth could be in the cards for this comic fantasy about the emotional life of a young girl, featuring voice work by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Diane Lane. A Cannes rollout will precede the film's June 19 theatrical release.
Allen's 45th feature, said to be one of his darker, more serious-minded entries in the vein of "Match Point," stars Joaquin Phoenix as a small-town college philosophy professor who begins a relationship with one of his students (Emma Stone). The Sony Classics release opens July 24 Stateside. (Sales: FilmNation)
The Little Prince
Osborne is no stranger to Cannes, having co-directed "Kung Fu Panda" (with John Stevenson), which screened out of competition in 2008. His feature follow-up is reportedly one of the most expensive French animated features of all time (with an $80 million budget), and features voice work by Marion Cotillard, Riley Osborne, James Franco, Mackenzie Foy, Jeff Bridges and Benicio Del Toro. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
One of those old-school American classicists beloved by the French, Nichols was previously in Cannes with his competition entry "Mud" (2012) and his Critics' Week prize winner "Take Shelter" (2011). His fourth feature, fully financed by Warner Bros. (which will release the film in November), stars Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton, and is said to owe an artistic debt to John Carpenter.
The Sea of Trees
(Gus Van Sant)
Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe play two men who meet by chance in Japan's "Suicide Forest," where both have gone to end their lives. Naomi Watts also stars in Van Sant's latest, which could earn him his first Cannes berth since "Restless" opened Un Certain Regard in 2011. Before that, he won the Palme d'Or and a directing prize for "Elephant" (2003), and was also in competition with "Last Days" (2005) and "Paranoid Park" (2007), which won a special 60th anniversary prize from the festival.
The Canadian director is no stranger to Cannes, which screened his films "Cosmos" (1996, Directors' Fortnight), "August 32nd on Earth" (1998, Un Certain Regard) and "Polytechnique" (2009, Directors' Fortnight). Since then, Villeneuve has become one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood, and he looks set to crack the competition for the first time with "Sicario," a crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Jon Bernthal, and set against the backdrop of the Mexican drug trade. Lionsgate is planning to release the film Stateside in September. (Sales: Lionsgate Intl.)
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Likely to be the highest-profile contender for the Camera d'Or this year, Portman's debut is an adaptation of the bestselling autobiography by the Israeli writer Amos Oz, chronicling his years growing up in Jerusalem during the 1940s and '50s. The actress-director herself plays the role of Oz's mother. (Sales: Voltage/CAA)
Untitled Malala Yousafzai Project
An out-of-competition or Special Screenings berth looks like a sure thing for this portrait of the Pakistani student activist who survived a Taliban attack and became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in history. Guggenheim was previously at Cannes with "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006).
Also in the mix: While "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Inside Out" already ensure a strong Hollywood blockbuster presence, the festival could also offer an out-of-competition slot to Brad Bird's sci-fi adventure "Tomorrowland," which Disney is releasing May 22. Cary Fukunaga's Netflix-acquired child-soldier drama "Beasts of No Nation" (sold by WME Global) has been seen by the selection committee and could find a home somewhere in the official selection.
Latin American Directors
A strong contender for Un Certain Regard and possibly even competition, the Mexican helmer's first English-language feature stars Tim Roth as a depressed nurse who assists terminally ill patients. Roth boarded the project after serving as head of the Cannes jury that awarded the Mexican helmer the top Un Certain Regard prize for "After Lucia" (2012); before that film, Franco landed in Directors' Fortnight with his disturbing incest-rape drama "Daniel and Ana" (2009). (Sales: Wild Bunch)
This fact-based drama features Argentinean star Guillermo Francella as the patriarch of the notorious Clan Puccio, a wealthy Buenos Aires family responsible for a string of horrific kidnappings and murders in the 1980s. Trapero has had three previous films screen in Un Certain Regard: "El Bonaerense" (2002), "Carancho" (2010) and "White Elephant" (2012); if selected for competition, "The Clan" would be his first Palme contender since 2008's "Lion's Den." (Sales: Film Factory Entertainment)
A remake of Daniel Tinayre's 1960 film of the same title, this Walter Salles-backed thriller examines the repercussions of a brutal attack on a lawyer who has just returned to her hometown from Buenos Aires. Argentinean helmer Mitre scored an international critics' hit in 2011 with his debut, "The Student," and this sophomore effort is said to be on the radar of both the official selection and Directors' Fortnight. (Sales: Versatile)
Wheatley's darkly comic "Sightseers" (2012) played Directors' Fortnight, and he'll be back on the Croisette with this Tom Hiddleston-starring adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel -- a project that producer Jeremy Thomas has been trying to get made for decades, and which was once intended to be directed by Nicolas Roeg. (Sales: HanWay Films)
Once floated as a possibility for last year's festival, Frears' latest looks set to make its world premiere in a noncompetitive slot, like his recent Cannes outings "Tamara Drewe" (2010) and "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" (2013). Ben Foster plays disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, while Chris Dowd plays David Walsh, the dogged Irish sports journalist who helped bring him down.
A competition slot looks certain for this long-gestating adaptation of Scottish novelist Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1932 classic (pictured above). One of the most revered English directors of his generation, Davies was previously at Cannes with his out-of-competition documentary, "Of Time and the City" (2008); he was in competition with "The Long Day Closes" (1992) and "The Neon Bible" (1995), and he won the Fipresci prize for his 1988 Directors' Fortnight entry, "Distant Voices, Still Lives." (Sales: Fortissimo Films)
The Brand New Testament
(Jaco van Dormael)
Van Dormael won the Camera d'Or for "Toto the Hero" (1991) and placed in competition with "The Eighth Day" (1996), but was passed over for a competition slot for his ambitious sci-fi epic "Mr. Nobody" (2009). He'll be back on the Croisette with this low-cost, high-concept religious satire in which God (played by Benoit Poelvoorde) accidentally sets off a panic after his disgruntled daughter (Yolande Moreau) leaks the apocalyptic plans he had stored on his computer. Catherine Deneuve also appears. (Sales: Le Pacte)
Cannes seems an ideal spot to unveil this French Riviera-set thriller, starring Mathias Schoenaerts as a French Special Forces soldier suffering PTSD after fighting in Afghanistan, and Diane Kruger as the wife of his new employer. Winocour's previous film, "Augustine" (2012), premiered in Cannes Critics' Week. (Sales: Indie Sales)
The French auteur has proven himself a specialist in gritty stories from Paris' underbelly, and his latest, already acquired by IFC's Sundance Selects for Stateside release, stars Vincent Rottiers as a Sri Lankan Tamil fighter working as a caretaker on a council estate in the city. Audiard was previously in competition with 1996's "A Self-Made Hero" (which won a screenplay prize), 2009's "A Prophet" (which received the Grand Prix) and 2012's "Rust and Bone"; assuming his latest is finished in time, expect it to turn up in competition. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
More than a decade after making "Innocence" (2004), her critically acclaimed debut feature set in an all-girls' boarding school, Hadzhihalilovic returns with a strange fantasy set in a seaside village where the boys are subjected to bizarre medical experiments. Max Brebant, Roxane Duran and Julie-Marie Parmentier star. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
Cannes faves Tahar Rahim ("A Prophet," "The Past") and Adele Exarchopoulos ("Blue Is the Warmest Color") star in this drama about a police sergeant who infiltrates an anarchist group in late-19th-century Paris. It's the sophomore feature by France-based director Wajeman, whose 2012 debut, "Aliyah," screened in Directors' Fortnight. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
The bad boy of extreme French cinema has a history of shocking Cannes audiences, starting with his Critics' Week prize-winning debut, "I Stand Alone" (1998), and continuing his notorious competition entries, "Irreversible" (2002) and "Enter the Void" (2009). His fourth feature, "Love," reportedly a sexually explicit triangle involving two girls and a guy, could be another Cannes scandale in the making. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
Catherine Frot plays an aspiring opera singer with a terrible voice in this drama set in 1920s Paris, loosely based on the life of the American chanteuse Florence Foster Jenkins. It's not the first time Giannoli has focused on the life of a musician: His 2006 drama "The Singer," starring Gerard Depardieu, played in competition at Cannes, as did 2009's "In the Beginning." (Sales: Memento Films Intl.)
The actress-director received a Cannes jury prize in 2011 for her ensemble comedy-drama "Polisse," and she could wind up back in competition with her fourth feature, a years-spanning love story starring Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel. (Sales: Studiocanal)
One of the surest French contenders for the Palme d'Or. Mathieu Amalric reprises his role as Paul Dedalus in this prequel to Desplechin's celebrated three-hour talkfest "My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument," which bowed in competition at Cannes in 1996. The French auteur has previously been up for the Palme d'Or four other times, with "La Sentinelle" (1992), "Esther Kahn" (2000), "A Christmas Tale" (2008) and "Jimmy P." (2013). (Sales: Wild Bunch)
The White Knights
The highly regarded Belgian helmer previously landed in Un Certain Regard with his powerful family tragedy "Our Children" (2012), and his sixth feature, starring Vincent Lindon as a humanitarian worker trying to rescue 300 children from war-torn Chad, could see him upgraded to competition. The film also stars Yannick Renier, Reda Kateb, Valerie Donzelli and Louise Bourgoin. (Sales: Indie Sales)
Other strong possibilities: There are two French female directors who, in addition to appearing in Cannes-bound films, could bring their own recent directing efforts to the Croisette. One of these is Emmanuelle Bercot, who stars in Maiwenn's "Mon roi," and recently completed "La Tete haute" (Elle Driver); like Bercot's "Clement" (2001), the new film will likely play in Un Certain Regard. Another is Valerie Donzelli, who appears in "The White Knights" and could earn an official-selection berth for "Marguerite and Julien" (Wild Bunch), starring Jeremie Elkaim and adapted from a 1971 script almost made by Francois Truffaut.
Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert play parents reuniting after the death of their son in "Valley of Love" (Le Pacte), which could mark a Cannes debut for Guillaume Nicloux after his Berlin premieres "The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq" and "The Nun." The official selection could also find a home for 82-year-old Jean-Paul Rappeneau's "Belles familles" (ARP), starring Mathieu Amalric, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Nicole Garcia, Gilles Lellouche, Andre Dussollier, Karin Viard and Marine Vacth, and for Barbet Schroeder's "Amnesia" (Les Films du Losange), a drama set against the techno-music scene on the Spanish island of Ibiza.
In her third collaboration with Moretti, Margherita Buy plays a filmmaker weathering a number of behind-the-scenes crises in this sardonic tragicomedy, also starring John Turturro. In addition to his Palme d'Or-winning "The Son's Room" (2001), Moretti has had five previous films in competition at Cannes: "Ecce bombo" (1978); "Dear Diary" (1994), which won him a directing prize; "Aprile" (1998); "The Caiman" (2006); and "We Have a Pope" (2011). (Sales: Films Distribution)
The Tale of Tales
A two-time Cannes Grand Prix winner for "Gomorrah" (2008) and "Reality" (2012), Garrone ventures into the realm of English-language horror/fantasy with this f/x-heavy adaptation of a collection of fairy tales by the 17th-century Italian author Giambattista Basile. Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and John C. Reilly star. (Sales: HanWay Films)
Sorrentino's English-language drama stars Michael Caine as a retired orchestra conductor who receives an invitation to perform for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. If selected, it will mark the Italian auteur's sixth film in competition, after "The Consequences of Love" (2004), "The Family Friend" (2006), the jury prize-winning "Il Divo" (2008), "This Must Be the Place" (2011) and "The Great Beauty" (2013). (Sales: Pathe)
This Tang Dynasty-era martial-arts epic, starring Shu Qi and Chang Chen (the lovers in Hou's "Three Times"), is the Taiwanese auteur's first film since "Flight of the Red Balloon," which opened the festival's Un Certain Regard sidebar in 2007. It will be his seventh time in competition, after 1993's "The Puppetmaster" (which received a jury prize), "Good Men, Good Women" (1995), "Goodbye, South, Goodbye" (1996), "Flowers of Shanghai" (2008), "Millennium Mambo" (2001) and "Three Times" (2007). (Sales: Wild Bunch)
Journey to the Shore
This adaptation of a novel by Kazumi Yumoto, starring Eri Fukatsu as a woman whose husband returns three years after his disappearance, could earn the Japanese genre specialist his first Cannes placement since his Un Certain Regard entry "Tokyo Sonata" (2008). Kurosawa was also in competition with "Bright Future" (2003) and Un Certain Regard with "Seance" (2000). (Sales: MK2)
A strong Japanese female cast, led by Masami Nagasawa, Haruka Ayase and Suzu Hirose, headlines this adaptation of Akimi Yoshida's popular serialized comic about four sisters living in the eponymous city. Kore-eda received a jury prize and an ecumenical prize at Cannes just two years ago for "Like Father, Like Son," and he was previously in competition with "Nobody Knows" (2004) and "Distance" (2001). His 2009 film "Air Doll" premiered in Un Certain Regard. (Sales: Wild Bunch)
Love in Khon Kaen
Formerly titled "Cemetery of Kings," this dreamlike, romantic drama, about a lonely housewife who tends a soldier suffering sleeping sickness, is the first feature from Weerasethakul (aka Joe) since his Palme d'Or-winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (2010). The Thai director previously won the festival's Un Certain Regard prize for "Blissfully Yours" (2002) and a jury prize for "Tropical Malady" (2004). (Sales: Possibly the Match Factory)
Sweet Red Bean Paste
Kawase is a Cannes regular, having won the Camera d'Or for "Suzaku" (1997) and the Grand Prix for "The Mourning Forest" (2007); she was also in competition with "Shara" (2003), "Hanezu" (2011) and last year's "Still the Water." Her latest film is a relationship drama adapted from Tetsuya Akikawa's novel "An," about a man and a woman working in the same bakery. (Sales: MK2)
With a six-hour-plus running time, this three-part experimental effort from the Portuguese auteur ("Tabu") is likely to clock in as the longest entry in Cannes this year. Filtering his country's social and financial woes through the perspective of a contemporary Scheherazade figure, the film would mark Gomes' first return to the Croisette since "Our Beloved Month of August" (2008) premiered in Directors' Fortnight. (Sales: The Match Factory)
Lanthimos won the 2009 Un Certain Regard prize for his attention-grabbing "Dogtooth," and wound up bypassing a second Un Certain Regard slot in favor of a Venice competition berth for "Alps" (2011). This time, he looks set to crack the big leagues with this love story set in a dystopian future where single people are arrested and forced to find a mate within 45 days. Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, Lea Seydoux and John C. Reilly star in the mostly Irish-financed production. (Sales: Protagonist Pictures)
Louder Than Bombs
Trier was previously in Un Certain Regard with his well-received "Oslo, August 31st" (2011), and he could return with this drama about the secrets that come to light about a war photographer (Isabelle Huppert) three years after her death in a car accident; Gabriel Byrne and Jesse Eisenberg star as her husband and son, respectively. (Sales: Memento Films Intl.)
Also in the mix: Greek helmer Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Chevalier," a follow-up to her Venice-premiered "Attenberg," looks likely to screen in the official selection, as does Aleksandr Sokurov's "Francofonia: Le Louvre sous l'Occupation," apparently a French companion piece to his 2002 one-shot wonder, "Russian Ark." Besides Portman's "A Tale of Love and Darkness," the festival could launch another film addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Amos Gitai's "Le dernier jour de Rabin," a dramatization of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, makes the cut. Another possibility for the official selection or one of the parallel sidebars is Nicolas Saada's sophomore feature "Taj Mahal," a thriller set against the backdrop of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai; it stars Stacy Martin, Alba Rohrwacher, Gina McKee and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing.
Finally, the Romanians are never to be counted out at Cannes, and at least three of them have films that should be ready in time: Radu Muntean's road movie "One Floor Below," a follow-up to 2010's Un Certain Regard entry "Tuesday, After Christmas"; Corneliu Porumboiu's "The Treasure," which could mark his first Cannes appearance since "Police, Adjective" (2009); and Florin Serban's relationship drama "Box," his first feature since his 2010 Berlin jury prize winner, "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle."
(Peter Debruge, Scott Foundas, Nick Vivarelli and John Hopewell contributed to this report.)