- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Pedro Almodovar’s story of a plastic surgeon bent on exacting vigilante justice and Terrence Malick’s period piece about three Midwestern brothers, starring Brad Pitt, are among 19 movies vying for the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The lineup announced Thursday for the 64th edition of the festival is exceptionally strong, with much-anticipated new films by the creme de la creme of auteur filmmakers.

They include Denmark’s Lars von Trier, with “Melancholia,” Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” and Belgium’s Dardenne brothers, with “Set Me Free.” Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s “Le Havre,” Italian Nanni Moretti’s “Habemus Papam” and French-Romanian filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu’s “La source des femmes” also looked like early strong contenders for the coveted Palme d’Or.

Festival managing director Thierry Fremaux told a news conference Thursday he expected this year to be “quite a rich and fruitful edition” of the famed festival. Submissions for the festival, which fell last year to 1,665 films, were back up to 1,715 this year, he added.

Gilles Jacob, the festival’s president, said this edition aimed to explore the future of filmmaking in the age of the i-Pod, the i-Pad and other mobile devices.

It’s about “asking questions about cinema’s future _ particularly the future of movie theaters _ at this time when people are consuming more and more images on small screens, computer screens, laptops,” he told Thursday’s news conference, held at a gilded Paris hotel. With the new technology, “we’re going to have an ever-increasing need for content.”

Rumor has it that Malick’s “The Tree of Life” was initially meant to premiere at last year’s edition of the festival but that it wasn’t finished in time. The latest film by the acclaimed “The Thin Red Line” director is billed as a story of the loss of innocence, and also stars Sean Penn. Malick won Cannes best director prize in 1979 for “Days of Heaven.”

Festival regular Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” starring Antonio Banderas as the plastic surgeon, follows on the director’s 2009 melodrama “Broken Embraces,” which screened at the Riviera festival. The salt-and-pepper haired director won Cannes’ best director award in 1999 for “All About My Mother” and took best screenplay in 2006 for “Volver.”

Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver” is to be screened out of competition, as will the latest installment in the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, and Rob Marshall’s “On Stranger Tides.”

The festival’s opening film, “Midnight in Paris,” is also showing out of competition. Set in the City of Light, the latest Woody Allen movie includes French first lady and former supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in a bit part. Hopes are high that Bruni-Sarkozy and her husband, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will turn out for the inaugural screening to add an extra dollop of glamor to the high-wattage festivities.

American actor Robert De Niro presides the jury for this year’s main competition, with other jury members to be announced shortly, organizers said.

Serbian director Emir Kusterica has been appointed to preside the “Un Certain Regard” jury, which showcases lesser-known filmmakers than the main competition. Gus Van Sant’s “Restless” is the selection’s opening film. Other top entries include Frenchman Robert Guediguian’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and South Korea’s Hong Sangsoo, with “The Day He Arrives.” Hong’s “Hahaha” took the “Un Certain Regard” selection’s top prize last year.

Michel Gondry, the French director of 2004 hit “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” is to preside over the short film competition.

The Riviera festival runs May 11-22.

Last year, the hypnotic Thai film “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” won Palme d’Or, while Academy Award winners Juliette Binoche and Javier Bardem earned acting honors.

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The i-Pod and i-Pad are made by Apple Inc.

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Associated Press writers Camille Rustici in Paris and Jenny Barchfield in Vienna contributed to this report.