Cannes, France (CNN) -- The 64th annual Cannes Film Festival kicked off in high gear Wednesday along a sun-drenched French Riviera.
City workers toiled into the eleventh hour on the festival's eve, adding finishing touches to the idyllic coastline, strategically laying colorful shrubbery and cementing white railings along the narrow Promenade de la Croisette.
The world's largest cinematic extravaganza starts Wednesday and runs till May 22. The festival lineup packs a punch on the first day, opening with Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."
Paparazzi stood poised in anticipation Tuesday night, hoping to capture shots of Hollywood heavyweights Jude Law and Robert De Niro, who were hosted at La Palme d'Or at the Hotel Martinez, a dining ritual for Cannes jury members. Actress Uma Thurman joins De Niro and Law on this year's panel of judges.
Young Lady Gaga fans trickled along the Croisette, holding up a sign "Mama Monster" and blasting her latest hit, "Born this Way" in anticipation of the pop diva's rumored "surprise" appearance.
Also spotted along the Croisette: Owen Wilson, Salma Hayek, Adrien Brody and Antonio Banderas.
This year, festival favorites Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are expected to walk the red carpet to promote "The Tree of Life," a story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s, directed by Terrence Malick.
Also in competition for the coveted Palme D'Or, the festival's top prize, is "Drive," starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in the criminal underworld. It's directed by Denmark's Nicolas Winding Refn.
Recent events in the Middle East play heavy in this year's festival, with a special documentary showing by Mourad Ben Cheikh about the Tunisian revolution and a screening of short films by Egyptian filmmakers, followed by a dinner with invited Egyptian dignitaries on May 18.
Stay tuned to CNN's The Marquee Blog for more updates from the Cannes Film Festival 2011.