Sam Riley, Tom Sturridge, on the Road
“On the Road” - dir. Walter Salles - U.S/France/Brazil
Synopsis: Long-time-coming adaptation of Jack Kerouac's famous Beat Generation novel. Drifter poets Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty travel across the country in search of themselves, colliding with a rigid and impermeable society along the way.
What You Need To Know: Over thirty years in the making, director Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to get this picture made since the mid 1970s. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles signed on to make the picture in 2005, with Coppola exec producing, but none of it became a reality until early 2010 when casting and financing finally coalesced. Starring Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley as the two leads and Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, Terrence Howard and more in support, it's certainly got a mean cast (even if the two leads are relatively unproven quantities), and Salles, as the man behind "The Motorcycle Diaries," seems to be as strong a fit for the material as you could hope for. But will one of the great unfilmable novels give in to the attempt, or will it serve as nothing more than a good stab at a tricky piece? Fingers crossed, it'll be the former.

The Paperboy Zac Efron Matthew McConaughey Nicole Kidman David Oyelowo
"The Paperboy" - dir. Lee Daniels - USA
Synopsis: A journalist and his college drop-out brother dig into the possible wrongful conviction of a death-row inmate who was found guilty of killing a sheriff.  
What You Need To Know: It's been three years since Lee Daniels took Sundance, Cannes and the Academy by storm with "Precious," and returning to the Croisette with a film in competition isn't a bad way to come back to the limelight. Based on the novel by Pete Dexter, this looks like a bit of a potboiler on the surface, with a cast including Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack, none of whom have exactly been the mark of quality in recent years. But then, all seem to be making conscious efforts to work with better material and filmmakers, and this was, after all, at one point set to be Pedro Almodóvar's English-language debut, so we're hopeful it'll be a gripping, twisty piece of American gothic. We've not been massively enamored of Daniels' directing skills to date, but the Cannes selection committee must see something in this other than star names on the red carpet, right?

Post Tenebras Lux
"Post Tenebras Lux" - dir. Carlos Reygadas - Mexico
Synopsis: Juan and his young urban family live in the countryside of Mexico. There, they enjoy and suffer a world that understands life in a different way. Juan wonders if those worlds are complementary or if they fight unconsciously to eliminate one another.
What You Need To Know: If there's any director who should be set free of structural shackles, it has to be Carlos Reygadas. His signature loose narratives have always allowed him to really explore the small and the weird, and coming from what seems to be a deep personal well, his latest film, "Post Tenebras Lux," should prove to be a true work of art. Described as an "expressionist painting," this is apparently a semi-autobiographical tale about the director's feelings, memories, dreams, hopes and fears. Coming off the incredible Cannes Jury prize winner and Martin Scorsese favorite, "Silent Light," there are plenty of reasons to be excited for his one, not least the glorious-looking images that have appeared in the build-up to Cannes.

Rust And Bone Marion Cotillard
“Rust & Bone” - dir. Jacques Audiard - France
Synopsis: An adaptation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson's 2005 short story about the relationship between a homeless man and a marine park worker.
What You Need To Know: While French filmmaker Jacques Audiard illustrated he was one to watch with internationally accepted fare like “Read My Lips" and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," it perhaps wasn’t until 2010’s striking and near-perfect “A Prophet,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, that he was recognized as one of the most exciting foreign film talents working today. Described as a mix of a suspense story and a love story, it looks as though he's weaving a couple of stories from Davidson's collection into one, with "The Dark Knight Rises" star Marion Cotillard as a woman who loses her legs in an accident, and the relationship she forges with the homeless Matthias Schoenaerts of "Bullhead" fame. The central conceit is a curious one, but the film debuted a very strong trailer recently, and Audiard is one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world right now, so we'll have a little faith in him. Indeed, this might be our single most anticipated film of the festival.

“Sightseers” - dir. Ben Wheatley - U.K.
Synopsis: A sheltered couple (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) attempt to relax on a holiday in the countryside, only to find themselves pushed over the edge by irritants and inconvenience.
What You Need to Know: Ben Wheatley certainly made an impression with his darkly funny family crime dramedy “Down Terrace” in 2010, and he followed that up with the bold, unnerving hitman thriller “Kill List,” which has become a cult hit since premiering at SXSW last year. So it’s little stretch to realize that Wheatley’s attempt at something lighter than either of those nonetheless turned out to be a serial-killers-in-love lark heavily improvised by stars Oram and Lowe (a.k.a. Liz on “Garth Marenghi's Darkplace”). The director has already proven himself terrifically adept at wringing suspense out of his concepts, and the fact that this is reported to have more of a darkly comedic tone makes it that much more alluring; he's promised a lighter tone than his last film, but that wouldn't exactly be hard... Oh, and did we mention that Edgar Wright is serving as executive producer on the project as he did with the great “Attack the Block”? (Lowe starred in his “Hot Fuzz,” but let’s face it: all hilarious Brits know one another anyway.) The film's still fairly heavily under wraps, but a slot in the Director's Fortnight is a big vindication of Wheatley's talents, and we should know much more soon enough.

The We & The I
"The We & The I" - dir. Michel Gondry - France/U.S.
Synopsis: A drama/fantasy following students on a Bronx high-school bus on the last day of the school year.
What You Need To Know: It has been over a year since Michel Gondry's ill-fated Hollywood experiment "The Green Hornet" landed, but the filmmaker didn't spend too long licking his wounds. Instead the French helmer got underway on production of "The We & The I," a smaller-scale film born out of meetings with the publishers of his "Be Kind Rewind"-tied book about community filmmaking. Starring a group of non-professional Brooklyn school kids, and with the same focus on community that much of the director's best recent work has had, this seemingly won't just be some kitchen-sink flick, with the film reportedly containing sci-fi elements as well. It opens the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, which marks the filmmakers' first appearance at the festival, and we've got our fingers crossed hard for a return to form.

Honorable Mentions:  We could have gone on all day, but we wanted to keep this list digestible, so we've kept it only to fifteen must-sees, but there's plenty of others that we've got our eye, first and foremost among them "Holy Motors," the long-awaited return of Leos Carax, an out-there, time-hopping film that could either be this year's "Southland Tales" or the glorious retun of a much-missed auteur. Also in competition and anticipated: "Beyond The Hills" from Cristian Mungiu, "The Hunt" from Thomas Vinterberg, "In Another Country" from Hong Sang-Soo, the long-in-the-offing "Paradies; Liebe" from Ulrich Seidl, Alain Resnais' "Vous N'Avez Encore Rien Vu," and "Reality" from Matteo Garrone.

Elsewhere, there's Bernardo Bertolucci's "Io E Te," HBO drama "Hemingway & Gellhorn" directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, and omnibus picture "7 Days In Havana." Genre fans will have their itch scratched by "Antiviral," the debut of Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, POV-horror remake "Maniac" with Elijah Wood, and Dario Argento's 3D "Dracula," along with Chris O'Dowd-starring Australian comedy "The Sapphires." And finally, we're intrigued both by Rufus Norris' "Broken" in Critic's Week, with Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth, and "Elefante Blanco" from Pablo Trapero ("Carancho"), while rock star Pete Doherty stars with Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Confessions Of A Child Of The Century," and there are short documentaries from Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Fatih Akin out of competition too.