By Stephen Robb
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, in Cannes
The Cannes jury is notoriously difficult to predict, but buzz about films being potential Palme d'Or winners still starts early at the festival.
Director Stephen Frears and actress Toni Collette are on this year's jury
The presence of two-time winner Emir Kusturica in competition - a third triumph would be a record - highlights the widely-accepted fact that the festival has "favourite sons".
This could bode well for the Americans with past wins to their high-profile
names: The Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Gus Van Sant.
There are particularly high expectations surrounding Joel and Ethan Coen's modern-day Western, focusing on the violent aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong.
"I think there is a feeling that this could be the Coen brothers' return to form after a couple of sort of wobbles," says Jamie Graham, associate editor of Total Film magazine.
"You read the plot and it's got Coen brothers written all over it."
Van Sant won the Palme d'Or in 2003 with Elephant, inspired by the Columbine High School massacre in the US.
His new film Paranoid Park, about an accidental killing by a teenage skateboarder, is seen as a companion-piece to the earlier film.
The recent Virginia Tech shootings have made it "incredibly timely, in a horrible sense", suggests Graham.
As for Tarantino, the feeling seems to be that nothing can be deduced about Death Proof's chances following the disappointing box office performance of the Grindhouse double-bill in the US.
Quentin Tarantino won the Palme d'Or with Pulp Fiction in 1994
Grindhouse enjoyed positive reviews, and the version of Death Proof getting a world premiere in Cannes adds about 40 minutes to the running time.
But with the showings of these films dispersed later in the festival schedule, two other competition films have generated early word-of-mouth in the sales market.
Screen International editor Michael Gubbins says excitement surrounds The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, directed by American Julian Schnabel, and the Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
The French-language The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, which tells the true story of magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby left communicating by blinking after suffering a stroke, will be screened for the press and competition jury next week.
The Romanian film, a harrowing story in the last days of Communism about two college girls seeking an illegal abortion, has already been enthusiastically received by critics.
Actress Laura Vasiliu stars in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
This is demonstrated by an urgent phone call, as Gubbins speaks to me, to a Screen International colleague advising them to see the film - "It's going to be big."
There is far less general enthusiasm for Wednesday's opening night film, My Blueberry Nights, despite director Wong Kar Wai's own "favourite son" status as a former jury president and best director prize-winner.
"It's not really been the powerhouse start that everyone might have hoped Wong Kar Wai would deliver," says Gubbins.
"It was received politely rather than enthusiastically."
But the road movie, starring Norah Jones and Jude Law, is still not out of the running completely, insists Graham.
"I don't think it's got a hope in hell, but you cannot discount it," he says.
My Blueberry Nights, with Jude Law and Norah Jones, opened the festival
"Every time I have been to Cannes, a real buzz builds up about what's going to win it - then something else always does."
Presiding over the jury this year is Britain's Stephen Frears, Oscar-nominated director of The Queen and The Grifters.
The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw believes the film-maker may be unlikely to favour showy, "auteured" films that are drastically different from his own more understated work.
"You almost have to consider the jury, more than the films, when thinking about who is going to win," says Bradshaw.
Gubbins' feeling is that it could shape up into a classic competition worthy of the festival's 60th year.
"They have gone for a really big slate of exciting competition films," he says.
"On paper it looks like a vintage year."