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Omaha, Nebraska, has one. So does Brisbane, Australia; Beirut, Lebanon; and Thessaloniki, Greece. Nowadays, every city seems to have a film festival. Yet the one that reigns supreme is Cannes, the festival every critic wants to attend, where every filmmaker hopes to première his or her work. Now in its mid-sixties, Cannes bloomed in the early 1950s, when it became a byword for glamour—it was here, after all, that Grace Kelly met Prince Rainier III.

Although Hollywood’s magic may have dimmed over the years, the festival still shines bright every May because, in our age of globalized everything, Cannes is the movie world’s gaudiest crossroads. Here on the Côte d’Azur, mahogany-tanned moneymen make deals on their yachts; international icons like Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz shimmer on the red carpet; directors from Romania and Thailand emerge from nowhere to win the coveted Palme d’Or; and audiences line up at 7 a.m. to see movies so new there’s no advance buzz: Walking into The Artist last year, they never dreamed this offbeat French comedy would wind up dominating the Oscars. Immaculately organized—the screenings run as precisely as Japanese railways—Cannes is like a great chef who always gets the first pick of ingredients.

Quentin Tarantino once told me he likes bringing his work to Cannes because “it’s the ultimate smackdown—you’re competing against the whole world.” He’s right. It doesn’t matter how much your movie cost to make or how much it will bring in at the box office; what matters is how good it is. That’s why, when you win at Cannes, the whole world is watching. The 2012 festival runs May 16–27;


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