Cannes countdown begins as first stars hit Riviera

The stars and starlets began rolling into Cannes Tuesday as the sun-kissed Riviera resort readied for the annual movie frenzy where glittering careers are launched and cinema legends born.

Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Robert Pattinson are among the Hollywood royalty that will grace the red carpet for 12 days starting Wednesday alongside high-brow film-makers at the 65th edition of the world's top film showcase.

This year's bash features druggy roadtrips, soul-searching drama and stylish gangland flicks and sees the return of such Cannes grandees as David Cronenberg, Ken Loach and Michael Haneke.

Star-wise, the 2012 line-up promises to dazzle with Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Kylie Minogue, Kristen Stewart, Pattinson and Pitt just a few of the A-listers expected in town.

In the bowels of the festival palace, in the posh hotels on La Croisette seafront and in beach pavillons, hordes of movie executives will also wheel and deal in a marketplace that showcases hundreds of works.

French actress Berenice Bejo, star of the Oscar-winning "The Artist" who hosts Wednesday's opening ceremony, was among the first to land in the chic Mediterranean resort along with British actor and director Tim Roth.

Marilyn Monroe was there too, beaming down from a giant poster over the entrance to the squat concrete building that hosts the festival which this year pays tribute to the Hollywood legend 50 years after her death.

The thousands of accredited journalists and film critics were queueing up for the badges that will get them access to watch the 22 films vying for the coveted Palme d'Or award at the glitzy gala finale on May 27.

US director Wes Anderson will strike a joyous keynote Wednesday with the opening film "Moonrise Kingdom", a pre-teen elopement story whose star-packed cast includes Bruce Willis as a small-town cop.

Two US mavericks are running for Cannes gold: Lee Daniels's 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.

Canada's Cronenberg brings Manhattan thriller "Cosmopolis", adapted from Don DeLillo's novel. It stars 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.

Britain's Loach returns for the 17th time with the 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".

Politics holds a slot in the Palme d'Or race with "After the Battle" by Egypt's Yousry Nasrallah, about the Arab Spring, while French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy shows an out-of-competition documentary on the Libyan war.

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.

The official competition line-up was slammed for failing to include a single woman director, but festival host Bejo said Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux had simply picked the best out of the nearly 1,800 films submitted.

"You don't pick a film because it was made by a man or a woman," she told reporters.

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.

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