By Adam B. Vary
May 15, 2012 at 02:00 PM EDT

Since its inception in 1947, the Cannes Film Festival has been the ne plus ultra of international cinema, but rarely has the festival featured quite so many American filmmakers and Hollywood movie stars. The 2012 Cannes festival gets underway on Wednesday with the opening film, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and over the course of the subsequent 11 days, the festival will premiere films starring (deep breath) Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Stewart, Zac Efron, Shia LaBeouf, Robert Pattinson, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Hardy, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, and Matthew McConaughey (in two movies!), with filmmakers like Anderson, Lee Daniels, and John Hillcoat screening their films in competition for the first time. Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and the HBO TV movie Hemingway & Gellhorn are both premiering out of competition.

EW’s Owen Gleiberman will be detailing all his thoughts on the great and not so great at Cannes, but here’s a quick primer on what’s likely to light up the famed Croisette, in chronological order of their big premieres inside the cavernous Grand Théâtre Lumière. 

IN COMPETITION

New films from Palme d’Or winners Michael Haneke (Love) and Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills), and Cannes mainstays Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone), Abbas Kiarostiami (Like Someone in Love), Ken Loach (The Angels’ Share), and Alain Resnais (You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) made the cut this year to compete for the Palme d’Or. The Cannes jury is headed by director Nanni Moretti (The Son’s Room), and includes filmmaker Alexander Payne, actors Ewan McGregor and Diane Kruger, and fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. 

Moonrise Kingdom

Directed by Wes Anderson

Amazingly, Wes Anderson’s seventh feature film is his first to screen in competition at Cannes. It chronicles two 12-year-olds whose decision to run away together mobilizes their small New England town into action. Starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman.

Lawless

Directed by John Hillcoat

Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke star as the real-life Bondurant brothers, famed Virginia bootleggers during Prohibition. Musician Nick Cave adapted Matt Bondurant’s based-in-fact novel The Wettest County in the World for director John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road). Costarring Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, and Mia Wasikowska.

Killing Them Softly

Directed by Andrew Dominik

Brad Pitt re-teams with the director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford for this contemporary tale of an enforcer (Pitt) charged with hunting down the thieves who robbed a mobbed-up poker game. Costars Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, and Sam Shepard.

On the Road

Directed by Walter Salles

Jack Kerouac’s seminal semi-autobiographical novel — which presaged the rise of the Beat Generation — finally gets a big screen adaptation some 60 years after Kerouac famously typed out his novel on a single 120-foot roll of paper. Stack onto that cultural significance the fact that star Kristen Stewart and her Twilight compatriot and Cosmopolis star Robert Pattinson will be in Cannes practically at the same time, and the cognitive dissonance is staggering. Costarring Sam Riley (as the Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise), Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen.

NEXT PAGE: Robert Pattinson, Josh Hutcherson, and Two! Times! The McConaughey!

The Paperboy

Directed by Lee Daniels

Daniels’ follow-up to Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire concerns two brothers (Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron) who try to help a convict (John Cusack) they’ve been led to believe is innocent by his girlfriend (Nicole Kidman, and yes, she’s the blonde in that photo above).

Cosmopolis

Directed by David Cronenberg

Adapted by Cronenberg from the Don DeLillo novel, the film follows a day in the life of financial whiz kid Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he struggles to cross Manhattan in his limo en route to get a haircut. Cronenberg headed the Cannes jury in 1999, and his last film at the festival, 2005’s A History of Violence, won wide acclaim. Costarrring Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and Jay Baruchel.

Mud

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Two boys (The Tree of Life’s Tye Sheridan and newcomer Jacob Lofland) encounter a mysterious drifter on a Mississippi island named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), whose tales about his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and bounty hunters out to get him appear to come true. Nichols proved quite adept at casting a spooky, off-kilter mood with last year’s Take Shelter, and this clip makes clear this film aims to be equally unsettling.

Click here for a full listing of the films playing in competition.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

This parallel competition at Cannes often features first-time filmmakers, and films that have already made their mark in other major festivals. These films screen in the slightly-less-immense Salle Debussy. A few highlights:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed by Benh Zeitlin

The big question facing the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner is how this plot-averse moody fantasia populated with non-professional actors will fare when facing the far more unforgiving Cannes audiences.

7 Days in Havana

Directed by Benicio del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Julio Medem, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar Noé, Juan Carlos Tabio, Laurent Cantet

As the title suggests, this anthology is made up of seven films, each covering a single day in a week of the Cuban capital. The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson stars as a young actor touring the city in “El Yuma,” the first film, directed by del Toro.

Gimme the Loot

Directed by Adam Leon

This SXSW sensation celebrates two Bronx graffiti artists out on a wild two-day adventure in the city.

Click here for a full listing of the films playing in Un Certain Regard.

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