It may be as much a question of lucky timing as one of programming genius, but at first glance the competition line-up of the 59th Berlinale, which was finalised this week, makes for an appetising buffet.

The opening out-of-competition film, global finance thriller The International, stars Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Festival director Dieter Kosslick quips that, in view of the ongoing economic crisis, 'This film has gone from being a movie to practically becoming a documentary.'

As well as boasting a timely subject matter, The International marks the second time its home-grown director Tom Tykwer will open the festival, following Heaven in 2002.

Shot mostly in Berlin as a Germany-US collaboration, The International is indicative of a resurgent German film industry which is out in force at this year's festival (see sidebar opposite).

Elsewhere in the official selection, actresses loom large among potential long-term awards contenders, with meaty roles for Renee Zellweger in Richard Loncraine's 1950s road comedy My One And Only; Parker Posey and Demi Moore in hot indie director Mitchell Lichtenstein's two-sisters drama Happy Tears; Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates in Stephen Frears' Cheri, a Christopher Hampton adaptation of Collette's 1920 novel about an affair between a pampered young man and an ageing courtesan; and Judi Dench in Sally Potter's satirical fashion-industry thriller Rage.

Confident selections

After the uneven vintage of 2008, sealed by the jury's unexpected decision to award the Golden Bear to violent Brazilian cop drama Elite Squad, this year's edition beams confidence and even a certain luxury of choice - at least on paper.

Partly this has to do with Kosslick's refusal to impose the kind of all-premiere policy that has distinguished Marco Muller's tenure at Venice.

The risks of Kosslick's open-door approach were brought home last year, when already-seen There Will Be Blood and Ballast were far and away the best US films in the official selection.

This time round, entries such as Oscar hopeful The Reader (which screens out of competition), and Iraqi war drama The Messenger, which debuted in Sundance, seem designed to bolster the selection's media interest without undermining its authority.

Of the three other already-seens in competition, only Lukas Moodysson's first English-language film, the global-village drama Mammoth, starring Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal - which opened on home turf in Sweden on January 23 to solid box office and mostly positive reviews - seems likely to galvanise the critics.

Chen Kaige's period Chinese opera biopic, Forever Enthralled, and Annette K Olesen's contemporary Danish women's drama, Little Soldier, both released in their home territories at the end of last year, have so far set neither audiences nor reviewers on fire.

It will be interesting to see if the rapturous reception given to Greek veteran Theo Angelopoulos' decades-spanning love story The Dust Of Time at Thessaloniki will be repeated at Berlin.

Other tasty-looking out-of-competition titles include Rebecca Miller's star-sprinkled mood piece The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee and Costa-Gavras' European immigration saga Eden Is West. And in competition, Bertrand Tavernier's fantasy-tinged New Orleans detective drama, In The Electric Mist, starring Tommy Lee Jones, looks intriguing.

Those searching for real arthouse revelations may find them in two left-field choices: supernatural revenge drama Katalin Varga by virtually unknown UK director Peter Strickland, which is set in the Carpathian mountains and co-produced with Romania and Hungary; and About Elly by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (Fireworks Wednesday), which was bumped up from Panorama to the competition section, with Kosslick announcing the film (about a group of Tehran families on summer holiday in northern Iran) represents a new genre for Iranian cinema. And after his return to form with Angel, all eyes will be on Francois Ozon's genre-bending Ricky, about a child with supernatural powers.

Of the two German-directed titles in competition, the one to watch looks like Maren Ade's Everyone Else, a drama about relationships between thirtysomethings. Ade picked up a Sundance Special Jury Award in 2005 for The Forest For The Trees.

According to Panorama director Wieland Speck, this year's 30th anniversary edition of the Berlinale sidebar will demonstrate the financial crisis is having a positive effect on independent cinema, making it 'more radical and audacious again'.

Titles that will hopefully prove his thesis include Panorama-opener Human Zoo, the directorial debut of Danish actress Rie Rasmussen, who also stars in this Paris-set post-Balkan-war drama; Julie Delpy's biopic of the bloodthirsty Hungarian aristo Elizabeth Bathory, The Countess; arthouse documentary director Michael Glawogger's fictional feature Kill Daddy Good Night; The Fish Child by Argentinian director Lucia Puenzo, which sees her pairing up again with her XXY lead Ines Efron; and director Jean-Paul Lilienfeld's directorial debut, Skirt Day, starring Isabelle Adjani as a neurotic teacher in a tough French school.

Documentaries also feature prominently in Panorama's 2009 line-up. Last year's Golden Bear winner, Jose Padilha, examines world hunger in Garapa, Tom DiCillo tackles the truth behind the legend of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison in Sundance title When You're Strange, and director Chema Rodriguez, whose The Railroad All-Stars was a highlight of the 2006 Panorama, looks at people-smuggling in Latin America in Coyote. The Shock Doctrine - Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' take on Naomi Klein's book about rampant global privatisation of public assets - is being presented as a work in progress.

Something special on the side

The eclectic Berlinale Special section also offers some potentially tasty world premieres this year. They include Claude Chabrol's 54th feature, the detective yarn Bellamy, starring Gerard Depardieu, and Italian director Ermanno Olmi's documentary Terra Madre, about the 'slow food' movement.

And as always, experimental sidebar Forum and under-18s section Generation are certain to contain talking points. Last year, Shane Meadows' Somers Town debuted in Generation. Among this year's selection, world premieres to watch include the German documentary Teenage Response, in which 13 teenagers are interviewed about their lives, and Swedish director Rene Bo Hansen's Mongolia-set coming-of-age story, The Eagle Hunter's Son.