May 16, 2007 09:45 AM

Giant movie posters line the Croisette, vacuums are whirring on the red carpet at the Grand Palais theater and the local hotels have jacked their rates sky high – all sure signs the Cannes Film Festival is about to launch.

The festival, which celebrates its 60th birthday this year, kicks off Wednesday night with the world premiere of My Blueberry Nights. Singer Norah Jones plays a waitress who hits the road, crossing paths with characters played by Jude Law and Rachel Weisz.

Nights is directed by festival favorite Wong Kar Wai, the Chinese director of such earlier international hits as Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. And it’s just the first of more than two dozen films I’ll see in my week here. (I’m leaving early; the festival runs through May 27.)

Here are 10 other reasons I’m especially looking forward to Cannes this year:

1. The Return of the Coens

The Coen brothers – that would be Ethan and Joel – are debuting their latest film, No Country For Old Men. It’s a crime drama starring Tommy Lee Jones and, based on the Coens’ track record (Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski), I have high expectations.

2. Quentin Goes Solo

Mr. Tarantino is showing his half of the Grindhouse double bill, the car-chase thriller Death Proof, as a solo film in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Palm. Will the global audiences show more patience with Tarantino’s homage to the trashy exploitation flicks of his youth than American audiences did when the longer, two-movies-for-one version flopped stateside earlier this spring?

3. Angelina’s Mighty Heart

As you’ve heard, Jolie plays Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, in A Mighty Heart. It could be a moving look at a brave woman caught up in tragic world events, or merely a high-wattage version of a Lifetime biopic.

4. Ocean’s Third Time a Charm?

George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt reunite to make up for their critically panned sequel, this time joined by a sexy Ellen Barkin and the curiously blond Al Pacino. The film will have its premiere on May 24, and Ocean’s opens wide in the U.S. on June 8.

5. Moore to Love

Provocateur Michael Moore is back in Cannes with Sicko, his new documentary about the ailing American healthcare system. Last time he was here was in 2004, when his controversial film Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Golden Palm. Sicko is showing out of competition; it opens in theaters in the U.S. on June 29.

6. Leo’s Green Dream Continues

DiCaprio and Gore

Leonardo DiCaprio wants to save the planet. He narrates and co-produced The 11th Hour, a documentary advocating greater environmental protection. Will Al Gore be presenting an Oscar to DiCaprio at next year’s ceremony for best doc?

7. Bono Blows Up

What’s the next best thing to seeing U2 live? Seeing ’em in 3-D. That’s exactly what U2 3D is – a reach-out-and-touch-The-Edge viewing experience showcasing one of the Irish supergroup’s live performances.

8. One Word: International

Cannes is the perfect chance to see what moviemakers all around the globe are up to. For the last few years, Asian directors have come on strong. The new guys to watch: the Romanians.

9. Hawk and Schlock

I plan to wander through the Markets section of the festival, where companies from around the world hawk films and hold screenings for potential distributors. If you’ve been wondering what happened to that TV hunk you had a crush on back in high school, chances are he’s starring in a low-budget, schlocky action film on sale here, which will most likely will never be seen by English-speaking audiences.

10. Fireworks

Okay, okay, it has nothing to do with seeing movies, but they’re visible from nearly anywhere in town, are shot off as part of the festival on several nights and are dazzlingly beautiful.

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