In total, 22 films will vie for the Palme d'Or, including five directed by Americans.
Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" will run in competition, albeit in an altered version and without its "Grindhouse" companion piece, Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror." This marks the second time that Tarantino will tread the red carpet to the Palais des Festivals; he won the top prize with "Pulp Fiction" in 1994.
Also returning are Joel and Ethan Coen with "No Country for Old Men," starring Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Woody Harrelson.
Gus Van Sant marks his third turn with "Paranoid Park," while James Gray comes back for the second time with a film starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes, "We Own the Night." The other American in competition, David Fincher, is the only newbie with "Zodiac," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.
Harmony Korine, meanwhile, is the only American in Un Certain Regard with "Mister Lonely."
Out-of-competition screenings are sure to ramp up the glamour factor with the previously announced "Ocean's Thirteen" from Steven Soderbergh as well as Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart," starring Angelina Jolie, and Michael Moore's U.S. healthcare documentary, "Sicko." The controversial director, who won the Palme d'Or in 2004 for "Fahrenheit 9/11," expressly asked Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux not to put "Sicko" in competition.
Out of competition, documentaries have a strong presence this year with Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington's "U2 3D" screening in the 3-D format, the nearly 15-hour opus "The War" from Lynn Novick and Ken Burns, which will be shown in its entirety, and the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced environmental treatise "11th Hour."
Fremaux commented on the high American profile. "It's the movies that work," he said. "The Tarantino is a special Cannes version, the Coens' movie is very good, and James Gray hasn't made a film since 'The Yards.' "
In keeping with what Fremaux calls the festival's "policy of renewal," the rest of this year's competition crop is a mix of old and new talent. Wong, last year's jury president, last came to Cannes in 2004 with "2046," which barely made it in time for its official screening. This year, however, Fremaux assures that "Blueberry Nights" is finished and that the festival held off on confirming it until three days before Thursday's announcement just to be sure. "Blueberry Nights" is singer Norah Jones' acting debut and also stars Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz.
Only one film in the main competition — Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's "Persepolis," which features the voices of Gena Rowlands and Catherine Deneuve — is a first film. Sony Pictures Classics already has North American rights to the adaptation of Iranian author Satrapi's comic books.
Still, Fremaux told reporters at Paris' Crillon hotel on Thursday morning that the French films selected for competition — Christophe Honore's "The Love Songs" (Les Chansons d'amour), Catherine Breillat's "An Old Mistress" and Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" — were chosen in part because the directors had never been up the famed red carpet to the Palais, where competition films are screened.
Other competition films hail from such heralded international talent as Emir Kusturica ("Promise Me This"), German director Fatih Akin ("The Edge of Heaven"), Alexander Sokurov ("Alexandra"), Kim Ki-duk ("Breath") and Carlos Reygadas ("Silent Light").
The main competition jury will be presided over by Stephen Frears. Joining him are Toni Collette, Sarah Polley, Maggie Cheung, Michel Piccoli, Maria de Medeiros, Marco Bellocchio Orhan Pamuk and Abderrahmane Sissako.
Among the special events will be a tribute to the late Henry Fonda with Jane Fonda in town for the occasion, and master classes will be given by director Martin Scorsese, composer Howard Shore and actor Sergio Castellitto.
Although this is the festival's 60th birthday, there seems to be little associated fanfare apart from the anniversary film "Chacun Son Cinema," a compilation of 33 shorts from such directors as Jane Campion, Michael Cimino, Ken Loach, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Takeshi Kitano and Lars von Trier.
Regarding the relatively low-profile anniversary, Fremaux said, "I think that there will be a lot of little details that will be noticeable, but we didn't want to keep repeating every day that it was the 60th anniversary. On May 20, we'll stop to celebrate with the screening of 'Chacun Son Cinema' and a special evening event."
The festival runs May 16 to 27 and closes with Canadian director Denys Arcand's out-of-competition "The Age of Darkness."