The 66th Cannes Film Festival. Photo: Eugene Hernandez

The Cannes Film Festival, the most important event of its kind in the world, will kick off Wednesday in the South of France.

Cinephiles set their clocks by Cannes because it introduces audiences to the meatiest movies of the year. These are the films that international critics, film programmers and industry executives will be talking about for the next few months and many of these movies are likely to land on festival rosters and then in theaters later this year and into the next. As an aside, I can't help but wonder which will make their way into the lineup for the 51st New York Film Festival, curated by a committee of my colleagues at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

It all begins in Cannes.

Yet, for Americans making the trip to the Cote d'Azur, this year's Opening Night is rather anticlimactic. The 66th edition of the festival gets underway with Baz Lurmann's The Great Gatsby, which opened to mixed reviews in the USA over the weekend. It's a rare Cannes opener that has already debuted Stateside. In recent years, Cannes opening night selections—Up (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012)—not only had their World Premieres here, but also went on to receive Oscar nominations. Critics seem skeptical that Gatsby will find similar success. Of course, time will tell.

In recent weeks, since the announcement of the lineup, and then over the weekend in Paris, insiders have been buzzing about this year's roster even as some sampled early screenings of Cannes Film Festival entries. I've chatted with lots of folks about the films they are seeing and hearing about from their colleagues.

Naturally, the thrill of Cannes is discovery. Finding the film that no one was even looking for is what makes the experience special. Before we start down that road, here's a subjective list of movies that have risen to the top of my list based purely on pre-fest buzz. They are listed below in the order of their debut date here at the festival.

Emma Watson in Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring

Thursday, May 16

The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola was famously booed at this festival a few years ago for her twist on French history, Marie Antoinette, so naturally folks are wondering how she'll fare this year. No worries Coppola, there's a rich history of films that have been catcalled by the notoriously finicky Cannes audiences (in fact there's a whole Booed at Cannes series unspooling in Brooklyn this week). Buzz on The Bling Ring, Coppola's true story of teens on a crime spree in Los Angelesis strong and the director will be at the Film Society for a free conversation about the film next month. The Bling Ring opens the Un Certain Regard section of the festival this week and will hit U.S. theaters this summer. Can't wait.

Heli, directed by Amat Escalante
Last year Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas stirred Cannes with his latest, Post Tenebras Lux. This year, one of his collaborators will be at the festival with a film that insiders tell me could be just as divisive. Early word is that the Mexican entry, set amidst the regional violence in Escalante's home country, will shake up festival attendees. It's playing in the very first competition slot tomorrow night as The Great Gastby unspools in the adjacent theater, so watch Twitter to get the early word on the movie.

Friday, May 17

Le Passe (The Past), directed by Asghar Farhadi
In Paris over the weekend, where Le Passe (The Past) opens concurrent with the Cannes festival, a French film insider told me that this one is an early front-runner for the Palme d'Or. The film, starring Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), seals Farhadi as a major director, the industry executive praised.

Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewelyn Davis

Saturday, May 18

Blue Ruin, directed by by Jeremy Saulnier
This new American indie entry has buyers buzzing because it's one of the few U.S. films arriving at the festival on the market (that is, available for acquisition). Saulnier's second feature, the story of familial revenge, is being praised as a discovery by Directors' Fortnight brass, where it will debut this weekend.

Sunday, May 19

Borgman, directed by Alex Van Warmerdam
A Dutch film hasn't competed for the Palme d'Or in nearly 40 years. That fact alone is creating palpable anticipation for this entry that Dutch film insiders are calling a “dark, malevolent fable.” Observers in Paris this weekend said that this is a film to pay attention to.

Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
The new film from the Coen Brothers, situated within the New York City and Chicago music scenes, arrives in Cannes with strong buzz from a select group of folks who've seen it. The last time the Coens were here in 2007 with No Country For Old Men, this festival launched it into an orbit that lead it to a Best Picture Oscar. Hopes are high.

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra

Monday, May 20

Seduced and Abandoned, directed by James Toback
Filmed in Cannes last year, Toback's doc collaboration with Alec Baldwin is described as “a cinematic exploration of several interconnected subjects: The Cannes Film Festival and cinema art, money, glamor and death.” This curious entry apparently features Bertolucci, Coppola, Polanski, Scorsese, Gosling, Chastain and more.  Toback and Baldwin even had their cameras inside the Film Society's Walter Reade Theater Reade Theater last year. Did we make the cut?

Tuesday, May 21

Behind The Candelabra, directed by Steven Soderbergh
After stirring audiences at Sundance in January of 1989 with the debut of his first feature, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Steven Soderbergh was introduced to cinema's world stage in Cannes a few months later (where the film won the Palme d'Or). This year he's back with his farewell to the movies, a film that some are calling “the gayest movie ever to play in Cannes.” Insiders tell me that Behind The Candelabra, an HBO film about Liberace and his lover, features bold, revealing performances by Michael Douglas, Matt Damon and Rob Lowe that will have audiences talking.

Les Salauds, directed by Claire Denis
Of course it's unfair to expect Claire Denis to bear the burden of the dearth of women in competition in Cannes. But, when the lineup for this year's festival was unveiled last month, many observers wondered aloud why this master of French cinema would screen her film in the festival's Un Certain Regard sidebar section rather than in the festival's main competition. Grousing continued this weekend in Paris. Countering the criticis, festival head Thierry Fremaux told Hollywood Reporter last week: “As a citizen, me as a private person, it is a fight for equality which I think is very important in society. But for Cannes, it's different. We select films; we don't select people. We have one woman; we had none last year; we had four the year before. It's a reflection for sure that female directors are few, and too few, unfortunately.”

Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pêra's 3X3D

Thursday, May 23

3X3D by Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pêra
Godard + Greenaway. Together at last? How can you resist the chance to see what the master of the French New Wave will do with 3D for a film, apparently about the creative process, that explores the question: “How does 3D affect the audience and its perception of images?”

Friday, May 24

The Immigrant, directed by James Gray
James Gray is back with his fifth feature, the story of a Polish woman making her way to America in the early 1920s. Buzz from a pre-fest Paris screening is strong for this new film, starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner.

Michael Kohlhass, directed by Arnaud des Pallières
Screening near the very end of the festival, Arnaud des Pallières' film about a 16th century horse merchant is generating strong buzz on the eve of the festival. An insider told me not to miss it.

Eugene Hernandez, the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is covering Cannes daily in France. For the latest, follow him on Twitter at: @eug.