I've been holding off announcing this, and I've been crossing my fingers like crazy, but it appears that the process has been completed and I am indeed heading to this year's Cannes Film Festival, the first time I've ever attended, and it feels like if I had to pick a year to go, this is the right one.

Yes, I'm excited about "The Tree Of Life."  After all, it's Terrence Malick, and by my personal estimation, he has yet to make a bad film.  I revere "Days Of Heaven" and "Badlands," and I think "The Thin Red Line" is remarkable.  I have my problems with "The New World," but there's still a lot about that film I find hypnotic and beautiful.  For me to get a chance to see the new Malick film in an environment like Cannes?  That's very exciting.  That sounds like exactly the sort of film I hope to see at a festival like this one.

Now, there are some very big commercial movies playing there this year, as seems to be the standard now.  For example, the photo you see illustrating this story is Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena the Mermaid, one of the two young leads in the sequel "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," and there's quite a bit riding on just how much an audience ends up liking her.  They're also showing "The Beaver," which I saw at SXSW.  Woody Allen's going to kick the festival off with "Midnight In Paris," his latest, and I'm looking forward to it.  With Allen, it's hit or miss, and I'm always willing to at least give his films a try, because the ones I love, I love dearly.  I'd say the last one that I have huge affection for is "Vicki Christina Barcelona," and I'm always hoping the next one will hit me that same way.

Beyond that, though, prioritizing what I want to see becomes a terrifying prospect.  There are titles that jump out at me immediately, but I'm genuinely stressed about missing something because I'm not familiar with someone's work or because I don't recognize a title.  I've been digging into the line-up as they've been announcing movies, section-by-section, and I think I've got a broad-strokes plan now.  The reason for publishing this is two-fold.  First, I want to start the conversation with you guys, my readers, and let you know what to expect in May.  Beyond that, though, I'm hoping for suggestions to help me fine-tune my plan for what I'll be seeing.  If you know something about any of the films playing, or if you're representing them, please get in touch with me and tell me.

For now, these are the titles I'm anticipating most.

OUT OF COMPETITION

I mentioned "Midnight In Paris," "Pirates 4," "The Beaver," and "Kung Fu Panda" already, but there are two other out-of-competition movies as well.  Michel Hazanavicius is bringing his new film "The Artist," and Xavier Durringer is bringing "La Conquete."  Now, Michel Hazanavicius is hardly a household name in America, but I adore both of his "OSS 117" comedies, parodies of the spy movies of the '60s that are anchored by a visible love of the genre and the amazing work of Jean Dejardin.  This new film is in black-and-white and also stars Dejardin, but it's set in Hollywood in 1927, so there are a number of American stars as well, including James Cromwell, Missy Pyle, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, and more.  If it's another comedy, I'm in.  Durringer's "The Conquest" is a look at the way Nicolas Sarkozy rose to power, and since I'm not a huge biopic fan under the best of circumstances, this may be the one out-of-competition titles I skip.

UN CERTAIN REGARD


I'm very curious about Gus Van Sant's new film "Restless," primarily because I believe Mia Wasikowska is one of the best young actors working, and the story of a teenage girl with a serious illness striking up a relationship with another quirky teen played by Henry Hopper sounds like a real showcase for just how good she can be.  I missed "Martha Marcy May Marlene" at Sundance, but I heard enough raves about it that I won't be making that mistake a second time.  I have loved Korean director Kim Ki Duk for about as long as I've known his work, and I am hoping and praying that "Ariang" represents a major entry in his filmography.  I love that one of the few synopses I've found for the film reads "The bad guy who used to wander around the empty houses now awakes from a dream, and faces up the reality of life."  Okay.  I'm in.  Sounds great to me.  And if we're basing our picks on prior pictures by people, then I have to put Joachim Trier's "Oslo, August 31st" on my short list.  His last film "Reprise" was a charming and fascinating take on the way you can start from the same place as someone else, but fate has different plans for all of us.  Eric Khoo's animated "Tatsumi" looks intriguing, as well, an animated take on the short stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, which served as a sort of social x-ray of life in a post-WWII Japan.  Robert Guediguian's "Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro" sounds brutal and timely, the story of a home invasion that also deals with the fall-out from decisions about downsizing made these days, loosely inspired by a Victor Hugo poem.  "The Yellow Sea" sounds like a cool riff on the whole "hired killer" genre, from Korean director Na Hong-jin.

IN COMPETITION

Nicolas Winding Refn's become one of the most interesting guys working, and I'm excited to see what "Drive" is, especially with Ryan Gosling starring in the film.  Refn's movies are marked by interesting ideas about machismo and violence, and this sounds like a '70s take on action filmmaking, stripped down and soulful even amidst all the car chases.  The Dardenne Brothers are beautiful filmmakers who love to microfocus on matters of human nature, and they're also two-time Palm D'or winners, so people will be hyper-curious to see if they can make it a three-peat with their latest film, "The Kid With The Bike."  Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty" looks like it was designed to provoke and upset, and with Emily Browning starring as a young woman who is drugged during her encounters as an escort so she has completely unconscious sex, I'd say 2011 is the year of really creepy sleeping Browning imagery in a big, big way.  Every single time I see a picture of Sean Penn playing what appears to be a guy who ate the lead singer of The Cure, I burst out laughing, and so I will have to check out "This Must Be The Place."  I have no choice.  I know almost nothing about Terrence Malick's "The Tree Of Life," and I'm going to try to keep it that way.  I figure we're only ever going to get a handful of films out of this guy, so why ruin even a moment of one before I make it to the theater?  Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin That I Inhabit" looks like the master of Spanish melodrama is dipping his toe into psychological horror for the first time, and I love it when he works with Antonio Banderas.  If this one ends up being half as lunatic as their earlier collaboration "Matador," I'll be a happy man.  Takasi Miike's most recent film proved that he's got a serious Kurosawa streak in him, and the idea of him making "Harakiri," another samurai movie, and working in 3D is too deliciously batshit to pass up.  Lars Von Trier imagining the end of the world is all the reason I need to put "Melancholia" at the very top of my list.  Well, almost the very top.  I must admit that one of the things I'm most excited about is Lynne Ramsay's new film "We Need To Talk About Kevin," starring Tilda Swinton as a mother to a young man who snaps and shoots up his school.  If it's anything like the book, with an artist like Ramsay at the helm, this could be one of the toughest emotional sits of the year.  And those are just the competition titles I'm already excited about… I'm sure there are more worth my time and attention.

DIRECTORS' FORTNIGHT LINEUP

Here's where it starts to get really tricky and, in my opinion, really exciting as well.  I know next to nothing about the various titles in the director's fortnight, and even the names of the directors don't help much.  The only person in this entire section whose work I know just by glancing at the names is Sion Sono, whose films "Suicide Club," "Love Exposure," and "Cold Fish" qualify him as an exciting talent and an emotional terrorist.  Great combination, and it makes "Guilty Of Romance" sound like one of the can't-miss movies of the entire festival.  Wait, I take it back.  Andre Techine has a film in this line-up this year.  I liked "Wild Reeds," and Beyond that, I'm going to just wait for the official descriptions of the films to go live, and I'll wing it the way I do at most festivals, looking for descriptions or photos or word-of-mouth that excites me.  There's only one US entry in the entire selection, a movie called "Return," starring Linda Cardellini as a soldier returning from being stationed overseas, also starring Michael Shannon, John Slattery, and Talia Balsam.  So, you know… "Mad Men" fans should be happy, if nothing else.

CRITICS' WEEK

I didn't see "Take Shelter" at Sundance either, since my job at Sundance this year was evidently to get in near fistfights and miss all the buzziest of buzz hits.  I do, however, like "Shotgun Stories" quite a bit, so a new film directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Michael Shannon is fairly exciting, especially since it's an end-of-the-world story that should make a nice match for the Von Trier.  I love that Nichols is one of the modern Malick disciples, and now he's in the same festival as Malick.  I'll bet he's doing cartwheels at this point.  "17 Filles," a film by Delphine and Muriel Coulin, deals with 17 girls who make a pact to all get pregnant at the same time.  "The Slut" is an Israeli film about Tamar, a sexually aggressive woman in her 30s who has made peace with her bad reputation in a small village until she meets Shai, a veterinarian, and starts to contemplate a real commitment to a single partner.  "Snowtown" is based on a true story about John Bunting, a notorious serial killer from Australia, and his relationship with a 16-year-old boy.  It sounds positively nightmarish, and I can't wait.  I'm also very curious to see "Walk Away Renee," the second film from Jonathan Caouette, whose "Tarnation" is one of the most unusual approaches to documentary I've ever seen.  That film was all about his relationship with his mother Renee, and it sounds like this new one is about moving her across country while grappling with her mental illness.

As you can see, it's a dense line-up, and as we get closer and see the actual schedule, and as I figure out the festival once I'm there, we'll get a better idea of how many of these films I might actually see.
One thing's for sure, though… I'm going to enjoy it all.  I've always dreamed of going to this particular festival, and even now, even after all I've done and all the places I've gone and all the festivals I've been part of, I am not remotely jaded.  I'm excited to have a new experience and to be part of what I've always considered one of the most important events in the film year.

And I get to take all of you along with me?  I couldn't ask for anything more.

The 2011 Cannes Film Festival will run from May 11 to May 22nd.