Cannes 2014: Our picks of the Competition programme

The finishing touches are now underway on the world famous Croisette and the Palais du Cinema in preparation for the 67th Cannes Film Festival, which opens tomorrow (14 April) with Nicole Kidman's geographically apposite Grace Kelly biopic, Grace of Monaco. Co-starring Frank Langella, Robert Lindsay and Tim Roth, and directed by French director Olivier Dahan (best-known for 2007's La Vie en Rose), the drama looks a far more spiky and assured affair than that other recent real-life princess picture we're all desperately trying to forget. However, once the competition proper kicks off the day after, what else stands out in this year's programme? Here, our regular Cannes correspondent John Bleasdale offers his picks from the four themes running through the festival. What are your highlights?

The British are coming
British master filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach will go head to head in this year's Palme d'Or race, eschewing their more regular contemporary social realism for Irish drama Jimmy's Hall and the Timothy Spall-starring J.M.W. Turner biopic Mr. Turner respectively (with Spall already favourite with the bookies for the Best Actor prize). Both acclaimed directors have had success in the past on the Cannes Croisette and also are hugely appreciated in Europe (more so than in their native British, so the festival's organisers would have us believe) and they've also both proved themselves adept at handling the discipline of historical drama. It may end up being more Leigh and Loach than Leigh versus Loach, but it's still great to see two of the UK's finest directorial veterans flying the flag for our own industry.

Will the West be winning
Despite the genre's flagging commercial appeal, remarkably there are three self-described 'westerns' in Competition at Cannes this year. Two-time Palme d'Or winners the Dardenne brothers return with their cheekily characterised 'Belgian western' Two Days, One Night, starring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (with Dahan's La Vie en Rose no less) as a woman who must persuade her colleagues to give up their bonuses so she can save her job; a kind of credit crunch High Noon. Meanwhile, Mads Mikkelsen rides again (following last year's Michael Kohlhaas) as a Danish exile who must avenge the killing of his family in Kristian Levring's The Salvation. Elsewhere, Hollywood royalty comes to town with Tommy Lee Jones' second directorial outing, The Homesman. With Hilary Swank starring alongside Jones, word is already positive on his film being a possible Palme contender.

Actors behind the camera in Un Certain Regard
While TLJ duking it out in the main competition, Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling (in attendance at Cannes last year with Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives) will be joining the ranks of thespians trying their hand behind the camera in the Un Certain Regard section. Previously known as How to Catch a Monster, Lost River is reportedly a dark fantasy starring Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes, Saoirse Ronan and Matt Smith. Also in the Un Certain Regard section is Italian actress Asia Argento (daughter of giallo director Dario), who returns with her third feature, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama Incompresa, starring indie darling Charlotte Gainsbourg. Finally, it wouldn't be Cannes without Mathieu Amalric, who stars in and directs thriller The Blue Room (Le Chambre Bleu).

The arthouse heavyweights
Turning away slightly from last year's more commercial lineup, the Croisette will naturally be hosting some strong arthouse contenders. Abel Ferrara unveils his Dominique Strauss-Kahn drama Welcome to New York, starring Gerard Depardieu as the disgraced former IMF head. David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars will vie with Clouds of Sils Maria by Olivier Assayas, as will Julianne Moore/Juliette Binoche as the fading stars beset by younger rivals Mia Wasikowska and Kristen Stewart (with Robert Pattinson also lurking in the former). Already a hot favourite for the Palme d'Or, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep may be the longest film of the festival, but also arrives with grand expectations following his mesmerising Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Likewise, celebrated Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan also has many critics in a lather. Set in an unnamed country and based on the Book of Job, Zvyagintsev's is the last film to screen in competition and could prove a tricky obstacle for any frontrunner.

The 67th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 14-25 May 2014. For more Cannes coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale

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