By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Rising stars will compete against established Hollywood names for the limelight at this year's Cannes film festival, with Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron, Kristen Stewart and Shia LaBeouf all appearing in highly anticipated movies.
They will rub shoulders with the likes of Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman, as well as some of the great names in directing, at the world's biggest and most glamorous cinema showcase.
"I think there's a whole new wave of acting talent that has come in on to the scene literally in the last couple of years," Australian director John Hillcoat told Reuters.
His competition movie "Lawless", a Depression-era gangster tale, features Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Labeouf and Mia Wasikowska among others, and he also singled out Michael Fassbender as an example of fresh talent coming to the fore.
"It's been a while since we've had (young) actors that have that kind of range, depth, gravitas and intensity that this wave of actors do."
Cannes organizers will be keen to avoid the controversy that overshadowed last year's edition -- Danish director Lars Von Trier was banned after making Nazi jokes at a press conference, a decision criticized by many festival goers.
Film critics have at least given organizers the thumbs up for their selection of movies in 2012, although what looks promising on paper does not always make for a good festival.
Opening the whirlwind fortnight of screenings, parties and publicity campaigns on Wednesday is the glitzy world premiere of Wes Anderson's children's fantasy "Moonrise Kingdom", starring Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Tilda Swinton.
For Anderson, the walk down the famous red carpet-cum-fashion catwalk, flanked by showbiz media from around the globe, may be as daunting as for the debutant child actors in his cast.
"I've never been before, so for me just going to Cannes at all is exciting," the director told Reuters in an interview.
"What I know about Cannes is from still photographs of people walking up those steps and paparazzi images, so I don't really have any expectations."
Asked whether he would be busy on the crowded party circuit, he replied: "I haven't received any invitations yet."
SALLES ADAPTS KEROUAC CLASSIC
In the main competition of 22 films eligible for awards, Brazilian director Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation novel "On the Road" has generated plenty of buzz, not least because Stewart takes on a leading role.
Best known as Bella Swan from the "Twilight" vampire blockbusters, the 22-year-old American will be joined on the sun-kissed French Riviera by Twilight co-star Pattinson.
The British actor appears in another competition movie "Cosmopolis", directed by Canada's David Cronenberg, a topical tale of corporate greed that follows a successful New York financier whose world disintegrates around him.
Previous winners of the coveted Palme d'Or prize for best film who are in contention again are Austria's Michael Haneke with "Amour" (Love), Iran's Abbas Kiarostami ("Like Someone In Love"), Briton Ken Loach ("The Angels' Share") and Romanian Cristian Mungiu ("Beyond the Hills").
Efron, Matthew McConaughey and Kidman all star in Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" and Pitt appears in Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly".
Among the favorite European film makers in Cannes this year are Jacques Audiard with "Rust and Bone" featuring Marion Cotillard, and 89-year-old French director Alain Resnais with "You 'Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet!".
Hot topics on the big screen include the Arab uprisings, with Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah's "After the Battle" in competition, and the pitfalls of celebrity culture in "Antiviral", the debut feature from Cronenberg's son Brandon.
British rocker Pete Doherty, famous for his run-ins with the law and relationship with supermodel Kate Moss as much as for his music, stars alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Confession of the Child of a Century".
Animated blockbuster "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" comes in 3D, while British comic Sacha Baron Cohen will give a provocative in-character appearance as General Aladeen to promote his latest satire "The Dictator".
MAKE OR BREAK
The stakes for hundreds of directors and performers from around the world who walk the famous red carpet into the Grand Theatre Lumiere cinema are high.
Cannes is an ideal launchpad for a film, as last year's Oscar darling "The Artist" proved, but it can be a cinematic graveyard if notoriously picky critics and journalists leave the crammed press screenings unimpressed.
It is also a key event for thousands of financiers, studio bosses and producers who wheel and deal at the giant film market or over champagne and caviar aboard the expensive luxury yachts anchored offshore.
Despite the veneer of wealth and wellbeing, conversations over cocktails in Cannes are as often about economic uncertainty, internet piracy and falling DVD revenues as they are about lucrative deals and awards glory.
But it remains the one event on the crowded film festival calendar that the big players most want to attend.
"Showbusiness loves to get its heart revving, and that's what Cannes is all about," said David Linde, head of Lava Bear Films and former chairman of Universal Pictures.