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PARIS (Reuters) - Movies starring Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman will premiere in Cannes this year, as the world's biggest film festival held on the glamorous French Riviera promises a strong North American accent in 2012.
Films from U.S. director Wes Anderson and Canada's David Cronenberg will be among 22 films vying for the coveted "Palme d'Or", the top prize at the glitzy cinema showcase which can significantly boost a picture's box office and awards potential.
Officials will be hoping that the blend of Hollywood star power and auteurs from around the globe will help the festival recover from last year's controversy when Danish director Lars Von Trier was expelled for making Nazi jokes during a press conference.
"Killing Me Softly," from New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik, and co-starring "The Sopranos" James Gandolfini, sees Pitt investigating a heist during a mob-protected poker game.
Anderson's 1960s drama "Moonrise Kingdom," starring Ed Norton and Bill Murray, is set to kick off the May 16-27 festival, while Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis," starring "Twilight" hearthrob Robert Pattison, is also in the main running.
Conenberg's son Brandon is in the smaller "Un Certain Regard" selection with his debut, "Antiviral."
And Twilight fans will also be keen to get their teeth into "On the Road," the adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic novel from Brazilian director Walter Salles. Its cast includes Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart as well as Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.
Contenders from host country France include "Vous N'Avez Encore Rien Vu," from veteran European festival favourite Alain Resnais, 89, and Jacques Audiard's "De Rouille et D'Os" ("Rust and Bone") starring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, a former Palme d'Or winner, is also competing with his French film "Amour" starring Isabelle Huppert.
At a press conference held in the grand salon of a Paris hotel flanked by this year's festival poster of Marilyn Monroe, organizers saluted great filmmakers from around the world.
"In a world that sacrifices everything to what's superficial, to the new-best-thing, to the lowest common denominator ... what counts, what makes us strong, is our passion for cinema and for those who make it: the great auteur filmmakers," said Cannes President Gilles Jacob.
Berenice Bejo, star of "The Artist" and winner of a French Cesar award, will host the festival's official ceremonies.
The silent movie, winner of the 2012 best picture Oscar, debuted at Cannes last year and thrust Bejo and co-star Jean Dujardin - winner of a best actor Academy Award - into the international spotlight.
Other previous Palme d'Or winners up again for the main prize include Britain's Ken Loach ("The Angel's Share") and Romania's Cristian Mungiu ("Beyond the Hills").
Italy's Matteo Garrone, director of 2008's "Gomorrah," the gritty portrait of the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples, will be competing with the film "Reality."
The growing influence of Middle Eastern cinema is represented by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah's "Baad el Mawkeaa" and Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's Japanese film, "Like Someone in Love."
Competing from Asia are South Korea's Hong Sangsoo with "In Another Country" and Im Sang-soo with "The Taste of Money."
Films outside of the main competition include the third instalment of the hit animated "Madagascar" film series, the 3D "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," as well as a new Ken Burns documentary "The Central Park Five" about the 1989 Central Park jogger case in which five minors were convicted of assault and rape but their convictions later thrown out.
Nicole Kidman could appear on the Cannes red carpet to promote U.S. director Philip Kaufman's "Hemingway & Gellhorn", which is also being shown out of competition.
The closing film in 2012 will be Claude Miller's "Therese Desqueyroux", in honour of the French director who died shortly after completing the picture.
This year's jury deciding the awards in the main competition will be led by Italian actor/director Nanni Moretti, who won the Golden Palm in 2001 with "The Son's Room". Presiding over the "Un Certain Regard" jury will be English actor Tim Roth.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage; writing by Mike Collett-White and Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato