When the Corlisses first visited this Riviera resort in 1973 — we were practically infants then — the Cannes Film Festival was a comely 26. Back then, the cinema industry’s most famous “fortnight” lasted a full two weeks; the winners were announced in a brief press release the final afternoon; and the lingua franca was actually French. Though Cannes had begun supplying English subtitles for the French films in the competition, such as François Truffaut’s Day for Night and Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, the relatively few U.S. journalists who covered the Festival (the New York Times sent no critic or reporter that year) had to know the language well enough to understand the French subtitles for movies from other European and Asian countries.
At a stately, plump 66, Cannes is a different place. The number of journalists here has ballooned from 1,154 in 1973 to 4,000 today. Last year the Festival, which now lasts 12 days, accredited more than 27,000 “professionals” (producers, directors, distributors), who display their wares in the parallel Marché section (the Market). And while the selection of films intended for reviewers has remained the same size over the past two decades — with about 20 films competing for the Palme d’Or, and another 70 in sections called Un Certain Regard, Special Screenings, Critic’s Week and the Director’s Fortnight — the Marché slate has expanded in the same time from 436 films to nearly a thousand.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s first Cannes story for TIME, on the 1982 premiere of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial)
Most of the movies we’ll be writing about may share a rarified artistic intent, but plenty of horror movies and action pictures will grace the Marché. The business of Cannes is business. And the language of business is English: in the subtitles of foreign films, in the haggling over a movie’s sales price, in many of the special events and in the town’s restaurants. French is the language you hear when the locals stroll the Croisette on weekends looking for movie stars.
As we arrive for our 40th Cannes (we took the 1998 Festival off for medical leave), the view is of a slightly less celestial official selection. Last year’s opening-night choice was the world premiere of Wes Anderson’s warmly received Moonrise Kingdom. This year’s curtain-raiser, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, has already premiered in North America — though the opening-night party should be a gaudy delight, up there with the bash thrown a dozen years ago for Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! The Festival picked no early-summer Hollywood blockbuster sequel, like the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean episode two years ago or Madagascar 3 last year.
The star power is also diminished. Such young American hotties as Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Zac Efron, who made Cannes a paparazzi paradise when they showed up in support of their competition entries last year, will be absent this time. So will regular Festival luminary Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life in 2011, Killing Me Softly in 2012), who has a more important engagement at home, as Angelina Jolie’s supportive spouse. Indeed, the biggest star here may be on the Jury: Steven Spielberg, this year’s President, and Nicole Kidman, Christoph Waltz and Ang Lee — Oscar winners all.
(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby)
But reviewers like us come for the films, not the stars. Last year a very “young” movie, Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, and a very “old” one, Michael Haneke’s Amour, seemed to us the very best, not only of the Festival, but of the film year. Who knows what wondrous surprises await us at Cannes 2013?
And what hasn’t changed? We haven’t. The Corlisses are still younger than springtime, annually revived by coming to this cinema spa on the Côte d’Azur, still ensconced at the charming Hotel Splendid, and ever eager to bring TIME.com readers our views of the films in Cannes’ sumptuous banquet — or, as we say in French, La grand bouffe (another picture we saw our first year here). Below are 20 of the films on view at Cannes 66. Some may be great, others worth ignoring. And a few movies that arrive with minimum expectations may find their creators on the Lumière Theatre stage a week from Sunday, receiving prizes announced by M. Spielberg.
All Is Lost — Perhaps Life of Pi without the tiger but with Robert Redford: a man on a solo Pacific voyage wakes to find his 39-foot yacht damaged, and all communication disabled. Can his seafaring skills outlast the storms and the grueling sun? J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) directs.
As I Lay Dying — Scott Fitzgerald is a cinch to adapt for movies, compared to William Faulkner. The multi-semi-talented James Franco tries anyway, serving as star, director and adapter of this 1930 novel, which employs 15 different narrators to tell the story of a family’s efforts to bury their matriarch in her home town. With Danny McBride, Beth Grant, Richard Jenkins. (Monday the 20th.)
Behind the Candelabra — Steven Soderbergh, who won the Palme d’Or as a 26-year-0ld with sex, lies, and videotape in 1989, is 50 now, and says he’s done directing films for a while. His swan song is this sex-lies-and-white-piano bio-pic of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his young lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). The movie premieres on HBO five days after it plays Cannes. (Tuesday the 21st.)
Blind Detective — Johnnie To, Hong Kong’s premier crime-film director since The Mission in 1999, casts Andy Lau (his 12th movie with To) and Sammi Cheng (her ninth) as two cops who take on the cold chase of Cheng’s missing friend. (Monday the 20th.)
The Bling Ring (pictured) — Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette showed a pampered French teen obsessed with her worldly goods. In Coppola’s new film, adapted from a 2010 headline, Emma Watson leads a teen girl gang that heists jewelry from L.A. zillionaires. It sounds like Coppola’s Spring Breakers. (Thursday the 16th.)
Blood Ties — The grimy New York City crime dramas of the ’70s get a French makeover from director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One). It’s about two brothers, a cop (Billy Crudup) and an ex-con (Clive Owen), and their renegade father (James Caan). Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis provide emotional support. (Monday the 20th.)
Fruitvale Station — Ryan Coogler’s first feature, about a 22-year-old (Michael B. Jordan) who awakes one New Year’s Eve morning resolving to be a better son, boyfriend and father, won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize “for its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency.” With Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. (Thursday the 16th.)
The Great Beauty — Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino has provided Cannes with some of its slyest, most unforgiving comedies of the past decade: The Consequences of Love, The Family Friend and Il Divo, the political satire that took the Jury Prize here five years ago. Sorrentino’s favorite actor, Toni Servillo, returns as an observer of Italian society, still whirling amid financial collapse. (Tuesday the 21st.)
The Immigrant — James Gray is Cannes’ favorite youngish U.S. director; the Festival has shown his three previous films (The Yards, We Own the Night and Two Lovers), all starring Joaquin Phoenix. This time, Phoenix plays a charming no-good who takes advantage of a new arrival to 1920s New York (Marion Cotillard). With Jeremy Renner and Dagmara Dominczyk. Gray also co-wrote the script for Blood Ties. (Friday the 24th.)
Inside Llewyn Davis — In their first film since the 2010 True Grit, Joel and Ethan Coen return to their indie roots with a tribute to, or perhaps takedown of, the ’60s Greenwich Village folk scene. Oskar Isaac (Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive), as a singer-gruitarist in the spirit of the late Dave Van Ronk, is supported by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake. (Sunday the 19th.)
Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian — The middle-aged (52), midlevel French auteur Arnaud Desplechin based this English-language film on the memoir by Hungarian-French ethnologist and psychoanalyst Georges Devereux (played by Quantum of Solace villain Mathieu Amalric), who treated an Amerindian (Benicio del Toro) for mental illness after World War II. (Saturday the 18th.)
Max Rose — Thirty years after Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, Jerry Lewis returns to Cannes in Daniel Noah’s debut feature about a retired jazz pianist who learns that his beloved wife, recently deceased, may have had a secret affair. Claire Bloom, Mort Sahl, Dean Stockwell and Kerry Bishé costar with the 86-year-old Jer. (Thursday the 23rd.)
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight — That would be Clay vs. United States, in which the heavyweight champ sued for certification of his conscientious-objector status during the Vietnam War. The boxing ring here is the chambers of the Supreme Court, with Frank Langella as Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Christopher Plummer, Danny Glover, Barry Levinson and Harris Yulin as Justices Harlan, Marshall, Stewart and Douglas. Stephen Frears directed from Shawn Slovo’s script. (Wednesday the 22nd.)
Nebraska — A cranky father (Bruce Dern) travels from Montana to visit his son (Will Forte) and claim a sweepstakes prize. The director, Alexander Payne, showed About Schmidt here in 2002. Since then, he’s made Sideways and The Descendants, so expectations are high. (Thursday the 23rd.)
Only God Forgives — Two years after he won Cannes’ Best Director prize for Drive, director Nicholas Winding Refn and his star Ryan Gosling go to Bangkok for this tale of a drug smuggler and his vindictive mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Also starring Oscar Isaac. (Wednesday the 22nd.)
Only Lovers Left Alive — In 1984 Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise won Cannes’s Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature (though it was actually his second). He returns with a drama about two vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) whose centuries-long love is tested by Eve’s kid sister (Mia Wasikowska). Also starring John Hurt and Anton Yelchin. (Saturday the 25th.)
The Past — Asghar Farhadi, the winner of the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Film (A Separation), directs Bérénice Bejo, the female lead of the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Picture (The Artist). Bejo plays the estranged French wife of an Iranian man (Ali Mosaffa) who returns to France to finalize their divorce. (Friday the 17th.)
Seduced and Abandoned — Two familiar figures at last year’s Festival were Alec Baldwin and writer-director James Toback, chatting up stars, directors and distributors about trying to raise the money to make a film. This “meta-documentary” could be a primer on the art of the movie hustle.
Shield of Straw — The insanely prolific and bracingly weird Takashi Miike directed about 80 features before finally being invited into Cannes’ official selection a few years ago. Miike’s new film, about has two cops transporting a killer across Japan as bounty hunters chase them, will show whether his wonderful wild-and-crazy days are behind him.
Venus in Fur — In the 2011 Carnage, Roman Polanski put an Anglo-American cast in his film of a French play. Now he turns David Ives’ Broadway play into a French film. Mathieu Amalric is the stage director looking for an actress for his new play, and Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski’s wife) is the actress who materializes to tantalize and test him. Cannes is also showing a Polanski short, A Therapy, with Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter, and Frank Simon’s Weekend of a Champion, a documentary about Polanski’s encounter with Formula One driver Jackie Stewart at the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix and their reunion 40 years later.
Let the Festival commence!