The Tree Of Life
The Film: A study of a 1950s Midwestern family. Plus how the universe started.
Why It Should Win: It’s a major film from a major filmmaker that’s majorly good (with some minor flaws). Sure, Terrence Malick has another movie on the go already, but who knows when that’ll be ready?
This is an opportunity for De Niro and co to award the top prize to one of the greatest living auteurs (who’s been in Competition before with The Thin Red Line and Days Of Heaven , winning Best Director for the latter).
It may have split the critics, but it’s the film on everyone’s lips.
Plus if Tree wins, we may finally get to hear the reclusive genius talk in public. Stranger things have happened…
Standout scene: The 20-odd-minute sequence depicting the birth of the Earth.
Awe-inspiring, transcendent, epiphanic… our thesaurus simply can’t do justice to the beauty, majesty and mystery of Malick’s vision of How It All Began.
Although the dinosaurs are slightly disappointing.
The Film: A hard-hitting look at the cases and officers in a French police Child Protection Unit.
Why It Should Win: A brave yet measured film, based on real cases of child abuse from French police files.
The film not only has an outstanding ensemble cast - any of whom could easily be among best actor nominees - but also a maverick director in the form of Maïwenn (pictured - she also plays photographer Melissa).
Standout Scene: The heart-wrenching moment when a young boy is separated from his mother, who abandons him to the care of the Child Protection Unit.
His screams resonate right through you - his pain is so real you wonder what the director said to him to spark such a performance.
We Need To Talk About Kevin
The Film: A mother grapples with guilt over her son, the problem child to end all problem children.
Why It Should Win: From Mickey Rourke to Mr Spock, everyone loves a comeback. And what a pleasure to see that, nearly a decade after Morvern Callar (and an abortive attempt to make Lovely Bones), Lynn Ramsay has still got it.
The Scottish director re-tells Lionel Shriver’s book her own way: fragmentary, impressionistic, intensely cinematic (check out that opening shot).
As such, it’s Ramsay’s personal vision – and Cannes loves a personal vision.
She’s won several smaller prizes at the fest before, and with Tilda Swinton a shoo-in the for the Best Actress shortlist, Kevin could easily go for gold.
Standout Scene: Lots to choose from, but let’s stick with that opener – a startling God’s eye view of a slo-mo scrum soaked in red pulp (at Spain’s Tomatina Festival) that’s both sensual and scary.
Le Gamin Au Velo
The Film: Unwanted by his dad, an 11-year-old boy becomes the wary ward of a young woman.
Why It Should Win: History would be made if siblings Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne took home the Palme d’Or for a third time (after Rosetta and L’Enfant ).
Sure, the Belgian bros’ previous success may incline the jury to give someone else a go.
But the warm, humanistic Le Gamin Au Velo is also that cherished thing, a return to form after the disappointing-by-their-standards The Silence Of Lorna (2008).
If there’s a slight sense of the Dardennes sticking with what they know, it’s also the kind of movie everyone can agree on – handy when there’s a jury involved.
Standout Scene: An extended side-view of the boy pedaling furiously on his bike – no cuts, no embellishments, pure Dardenne.
The Film: Two sisters come to terms with the end of the world in very different ways, as the planet Melancholia sets a collision course with Earth.
Why It Should Win: Lars von Trier's first "unhappy ending", it's no surprise that this is a bit of a downer. Nonetheless, it's a beautifully composed, often compelling (for the first hour at least) apocalypse movie that draws strong performances from the likes of Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland.
True, it can't maintain the momentum through the ponderous last act and it's nowhere near as provocative as some of his other works ( Antichrist , anyone?), but von Trier and Cannes go way back: he won the Palme d'Or for 2000's Dancer In The Dark and this is his ninth nomination.
Standout Scene: The opening montage - birds fall from the sky, Dunst floats down a stream and two worlds collide, all in sumptuous slo-mo.
The Film: A morally suspect student earns money as a sleeping beauty - paid to sleep while men have their way with her.
Why It Should Win: A breakout performance from Sucker Punch star Emily Browning, who transcends her previous fare as the wayward Lucy in this dark fairy tale.
Director Leigh is a first timer - also competing for the Camera d'Or - and her bold, no frills, confrontational debut could be rewarded by the jury, and make her the first female to take the gong.
Standout Scene: In the chamber for the second time, Lucy's client for the night doesn't want to play nice…
The camera is an unflinching voyeur as 'Man 2' gets down to business - a shocking, disturbing scene that makes you fear for both character and actress.
The Film: A silent-movie superstar is dealt a career blow when sound comes to the pictures.
Why It Should Win: Last year the top gong went to the black sheep of the festival: the singular Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives . What’s to stop the jury awarding novelty once again?
The Artist is a salute to silent cinema, shot in Academy ratio (1.33:1) in black and white – the sort of thing multiplexes weren’t made for, but international film festivals were.
Michel Hazanavicius’ film is a cinephile’s delight, but it’s also funny, accessible and features an adorable dog.
Something to tickle every voter’s fancy, then. The critics cheered, the premiere crowd went nuts, chances are the jury will love it too.
Standout Scene: When The Artist plonks down a glass… and it makes a sound! It’s the beginning of the end! Possibly the best glass tumbler moment in cinema since Jurassic Park .
The Skin I Live In
The Film: A plastic surgeon works on developing a new, tougher form of synthetic skin, but there are dark secrets behind his work...
Why it should win: A blistering return to form after the indulgent Broken Embraces , Almodóvar's thriller is suitably tense, darkly comic and wonderfully weird - not unlike much of his earlier work.
Brilliant performances - including a career high from the director's former go-to guy, Antonio Banderas - help power the twisty/turny plot, making this one of our faves of the fest. Almodóvar has never won the Palme d'Or - could this be his year?
Standout Scene: To tell you would be to ruin the enjoyment of going in cold, so we'll just say two words: operating table.
The Film: A part-time stuntman makes extra money as a getaway driver, but finds himself turning protector when he gets involved with a young mother.
Why It Should Win: The nearest thing to a crowd pleaser at this year's festival, Drive had them whooping, cheering and clapping in the aisles.
Nowhere near as weighty as the rest of the competition slate, the jury may still find room to reward Refn's stylish direction, or emerging Cannes stalwart Gosling's cool transition into stone cold killer.
With nods to both Walter Hill's Driver and Michael Mann's Thief, Drive is a retrofit crime thriller not lacking in style nor substance, but it deserves the Palme d'Or for the electronic score alone.
Standout Scene: Gosling's wheelman springs into action after a heist, pulling some audacious moves to out run a vehicle in pursuit. The boy can drive...
This Must Be The Place
The Film: A washed up rock star sets off on a road trip to meet the man who killed his father - a Nazi war criminal hiding in the US.
Why it should win: This doesn't screen until today - check Twitter for our reaction - but director Sorrentino scored big at Cannes in 2008 with Il Divo - and headed up the "Un Certain Regarde" jury in 2009 - so he has previous form.
And by the looks of him, Penn has turned in another classic performance, which could be the deciding factor.
Standout Scene: We'd imagine it involves Sean Penn looking a bit like Robert Smith and doing something kooky…