PARIS – A wartime rampage by Quentin Tarantino and a trip to Woodstock with Ang Lee will square off with Ken Loach's latest outing in a heavyweight battle for the top prize at next month's Cannes film festival.
Big names such as Loach and Spain's Pedro Almodovar dominate the race for the coveted Palme d'Or at the Riviera festival, opposite hot new Asian talent, from the banned Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye to thriller master Johnnie To.
"All the great names of world cinema are here this year, and the old dogs have some fine new tricks in store," Thierry Fremaux, artistic director of the May 13-24 festival, told reporters Thursday.
In a break with recent years, Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" (sic), a World War II saga starring Brad Pitt, is the sole US contender in a competition with a strong Asian and European tilt.
Asked about the shortage of US fare in the lineup -- picked among 1,670 works from 120 countries -- Fremaux suggested last year's Hollywood writers' strike prevented many US directors from wrapping up in time for Cannes.
But US studios are still set to make a splash at the 62nd edition of the film industry's biggest annual fest, which opens with Pixar's new 3D animation movie "Up."
Heath Ledger's last screen role, in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" by US director Terry Gilliam, will also get an out-of-competition screening.
Gilliam's hotly-anticipated premiere is expected to bring a raft of A-list stars to Cannes, including Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. They all stepped in to play parts of Ledger's role after the actor died last year.
Representing the Middle East is Elia Suleiman's "The Time That Remains," the story of a Palestinian family catapulted from the 1940s to the present.
On the Asian front, French rock icon Johnny Hallyday takes the lead role in "Vengeance," the new crime flick by Hong Kong's To, while Malaysia's Tsai Ming-liang draws on an all-star French cast for his entry "Face."
Chinese filmmaker Lou, who was banned from making films in China for five years when he submitted "Summer Palace" to Cannes without Beijing's approval in 2005, returns with an erotic tale of three-way love, titled "Spring Fever."
Korea's Park Chan-wook, whose "Old Boy" wowed Cannes in 2004, is back with a vampire tale called "Thirst." The Philippines' Brillante Mendoza is running with "Kinatay."
Festival goers will get a taste of the heady 1960s with Lee's latest offering, "Taking Woodstock," set during the epoch-defining US rock festival.
New Zealand's Jane Campion, the first woman to win the Palme d'Or for "The Piano" in 1992, returns with a film about romantic poet John Keats, "Bright Star."
She is joined in the race for Cannes gold by two European women directors: Spain's Isabel Coixet with "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" and young British director Angela Arnold with "Fish Tank."
Oscar-winning Spaniard Almodovar is running with "Broken Embraces," a multi-strand drama starring Penelope Cruz, an Oscar-winner herself. Loach's offer is "Looking for Eric," starring former footballer Eric Cantona.
The British director will go head to head with several fellow Palme winners, including Denmark's Lars von Trier who directed Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg in the horror film "Antichrist."
Austrian Cannes laureate Michael Haneke is running with "The White Ribbon," a film about fascism in early 20th-century Europe, while "Vincere" by Italy's Marco Bellocchio tells the story of Benito Mussolini's illegitimate son.
Nouvelle Vague veteran Alain Resnais is one of four French directors chosen to run, with "Les Herbes Folles" (Wild Grasses), a year after social drama "The Class" clinched France's first Palme d'Or in two decades.
Other French offerings include "Un Prophete" (A Prophet) by Jacques Audiard, who picked up a best screenplay award here in 1996 for "Un Hero Tres Discret."
And France's Gaspard Noe returns with "Soudain le Vide" (Enter the Void). His brutal 2002 drama "Irreversible" divided the critics at Cannes.
British novelist Hanif Kureishi and US filmmaker James Gray are on the eight-member jury, chaired by French actress Isabelle Huppert, which will hand out awards after 12 frenzied days of red-carpet screenings, showbiz parties and wheeling-and-dealing.