Following last year’s stellar lineup (The Artist, Midnight In Paris, etc), Cannes Film Festival general delegate and artistic director Thierry Frémaux had a tough task to come up with an equally ripe selection this year. It seems he succeeded given that words being tossed around the French film biz today include “impressive” and “sumptuous.” However, he tells me he didn’t feel pressure to outdo himself. “Last year at this time no one knew, even me, that it would be considered a very good year.” He’s still going to announce another 3 or 4 titles, but he says he doesn’t even know what they are yet.

Related: Full Lists Of The 65th Cannes Film Festival Selection

There’s a heavy presence of English-language films in this year’s vintage, but Frémaux points out that looks can be deceiving: there are features from 26 countries. He tells me, though, that he feels a renewed “presence of a certain type of American cinema that we no longer had.” It’s come back strong, he says, “but I also hope it’s a new existence for great American films on an international level.”

In the end, the competition selection didn’t provide many surprises. Widely expected films from veteran Cannes directors like David Cronenberg, Walter Salles, Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke are mixed in with relative newcomers to the international scene: Lee Daniels, Andrew Dominik, Jeff Nichols and John Hillcoat, whose films were also tipped. Nichols is the only one of that crop to have appeared in Cannes previously; he won the Critics Week prize for Take Shelter last year. Of those directors’ films, Dominik’s Killing Them Softly and Hillcoat’s Lawless have U.S. distribution locked, both through The Weinstein Co. FilmNation produced and is handling Nichols’ Mud and NuImage/Millennium Films has Daniels’ The Paperboy.

Salles makes a return to competition this year with the Kristen Stewart-starrer and Jack Kerouac adaptation On The Road. In what Frémaux called “a coincidence of the private and the public,” Stewart’s Twilight partner Robert Pattinson stars in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which brings the director back after 2005’s A History Of Violence.

Haneke is also back with Amour, which Sony Pictures Classics has domestically. It stars his muse Isabelle Huppert as a woman recovering from a stroke. Frenchman Audiard will bring Marion Cotillard to Cannes for fight drama Rust & Bone. Audiard last came to Cannes in 2009, taking the Grand Prize for A Prophet.

Other returning filmmakers include Italy’s Matteo Garrone with Reality; Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami with Like Someone In Love; Ken Loach with The Angel’s Share (a rare comedy for the competition); Sergei Loznitsa with In The Fog; 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days helmer Cristian Mungiu with Beyond The Hills; Carlos Reygadas with Post Tenebras Lux; Ulrich Seidl with Paradis: Amour; French master Alain Resnais with You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet; and two relatively young directors who haven’t been back to Cannes since the 90s: Thomas Vinterberg with The Hunt and Léos Carax with Holy Motors.

Along with Killing Them Softly, Amour and Lawless, three other films have US distribution: Moonrise Kingdom via Focus, Rust & Bone via SPC and Beyond The Hills via Sundance Selects. Sales outfit MK2 tells me a deal for On The Road is moving forward. Among the standouts that should be hotly traded on the Croisette are Cosmopolis, The Paperboy, Mud, The Angel’s Share (although the Scots accents will probably require subtitling) and The Hunt.

Despite a widely predicted appearance by Park Chan-wook’s Stoker, starring Nicole Kidman, the film was not among the titles announced today. The lineup is unusually light on Asian fare with only the returning South Korean helmers Hong Sangsoo (In Another Country) and Im Sangsoo (Taste Of Money) making the competition cut from the region. That said, Frémaux notes the presence of Asian films in Un Certain Regard and out of competition. “The choices reflect what we are proposed,” he tells me.

Kidman will be present in Cannes, however for the out of competition screening of Hemingway & Gelhorn co-starring Clive Owen. She’s also starring in The Paperboy with a lineup of talent to glam up the red carpet that includes Zac Efron, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey’s also in Mud with Reese Witherspoon. Lawless will bring Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Shia LaBeouf and Jessica Chastain. And for the umpteenth year in a row, Brad Pitt will be in Cannes, this time for Killing Them Softly.

After a couple of years that brought female directors to the competition, there’s not a lady in the 2012 bunch, although there are two women in Un Certain Regard. When I ask Frémaux about that, he says, “There were four last year and maybe next year there will be four again.”

Over in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, titles that pop include Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild, which premiered at Sundance, and Antiviral from Cronenberg’s son Brandon. Pablo Trapero’s White Elephant was also tipped coming in and landed. Omnibus film 7 Days In Havana from such directors as Trapero, Benicio Del Toro, bad boy Gaspar Noé and Laurent Cantet (whose Foxfire had been expected in competition) is also a curiosity. Finally, controversial Chinese director Lou Ye could again be banned from filmmaking in his home country after UCR screens Mystery, a murder tale involving corruption that’s set in contemporary China.

As for the other films, “friend of the festival” DreamWorks Animation is continuing its relationship with the premiere of Madagascar 3 and the two pictures screening at midnight should make a splash. Italian master Dario Argento has a place with Dracula 3D as does prolific Japanese veteran Takashi Miike with Ai To Makoto, which Frémaux billed as a teen musical comedy.