Getty; Abaca; Rex USA
Dana Kennedy
May 15, 2013 11:00 AM

Under unseasonably cloudy skies and dodging a few raindrops, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire kicked off the 66th Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday just hours before walking the red carpet for their blockbuster film The Great Gatsby, which opened the star-studded 12-day extravaganza of movies and parties on the French Riviera.

“Every time I go to Cannes it feels like I’m entering the helicopter scene in La Dolce Vita; it’s an insane experience,” said DiCaprio, who posed for photos on the fabled Croisette next to his Gatsby costars.

Emma Watson, who stars in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, premiering Thursday, was spotted among the early celebrity arrivals at Nice International Airport on Tuesday – along with Paris Hilton, Cannes jury member Nicole Kidman and British singer Florence Welch.

Other stars expected to walk the red carpet in support of their films this year include: Ryan Gosling (Only God Forgives); Justin Timberlake (Inside Llewyn Davis); James Franco (As I Lay Dying); Michael Douglas and Matt Damon (Behind the Candelabra); and Rooney Mara (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints).

The cast of The Great Gatsby, with director Baz Luhrmann (fourth from left), at Cannes
Francois Mori/AP

Many previous winners of the festival’s prestigious top award, the Palme d’Or, such as Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers and Roman Polanski, are also returning with new films this year.

On the party front, one of the most lavish soirees ever to grace the festival is expected to take place Wednesday night after the festival premiere of The Great Gatsby.

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A massive dome has been constructed at one end of the harbor for a 1920s-era gala – complete with sequins, feathers, Prada-clad dancers and cabaret-style entertainment.

This year, Steven Spielberg, who hasn’t had a film at Cannes in more than a decade, is serving as jury president and overseeing a group of fellow jurors who include Kidman, director Ang Lee and double Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz.

The festival will close with Zulu, which stars Forest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom, and is about two policemen investigating a crime in apartheid-era South Africa.

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