The final Competition line-up of the 58th Berlinale confirms the German festival's preference for indie kudos over commercial clout and star power.

Once again - and in contrast to last year's Cannes and Venice festivals - few of the US entries are likely to tickle the critics.

The one exception looks to be Lance Hammer's directorial debut, the dark Mississippi Delta drama Ballast, which stockpiled critical plaudits on its Sundance debut.

Another US entry, Paul Thomas Anderson's oil saga There Will Be Blood, will ride the surge of Paramount's Oscar campaign.

But Berlin can hardly claim this as a discovery - and the fact six out of the 21 Competition films are not world premieres is hardly calculated to raise Berlin's first-look credentials in the eyes of seasoned festival hoppers.

British TV veteran Justin Chadwick's US-UK historical bodice ripper The Other Boleyn Girl boasts the star power of Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman and Eric Bana, but the advance word and the fact it is screening out of Competition suggests it is unlikely to push many artistic boundaries.

Another star-packed world premiere, Isabel Coixet's Elegy looks, on paper, as if it is taking the director further down the studio road of The Secret Life Of Words.

Perhaps the only real unknown quantity among the US entries is the widely pre-sold Fireflies In The Garden, written and directed by Dennis Lee, a name known until now only for the award-winning short Jesus Henry Christ.

Produced by Berlin-based Senator Entertainment, this family drama stars Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson.

In true Berlinale style, the 2008 festival has its heart in arthouse fare. At the wider end of the indie spectrum, at least in Europe, many critics will be looking forward to veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Oscar-nominated Katyn, which centres on a 1940 Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners of war, including the director's own father.

Aside from Wajda, the only 'vintage' auteur confirmed so far is Mike Leigh, with Happy-Go-Lucky, a London-set film that reportedly promises a return to the improv master's comic vein after the grim moral drama of Vera Drake.

Outside of the obvious studio vehicles, Leigh's latest name-brand offering looks like one of the few safe box-office bets in the line-up.

Other indie hits could emerge, though, from the raft of slightly younger festival favourites airing their latest creations.

French director Robert Guediguian returns to home turf for the Marseille-based gangster film Lady Jane; Chinese sixth-generation film-maker Wang Xiaoshuai's cancer drama In Love We Trust will touch down in Berlin after being touted for last year's Cannes and Venice fests; and Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo is lined up with the Paris-set Night And Day.

Among the other hotly anticipated Competition titles are Sparrow by Hong Kong genre genius Johnnie To; the new film by Hidden Blade director Yoji Yamada, the Second World War drama Kabei: Our Mother; and the international premiere of Jose Padilha's Brazilian drug-cartel thriller The Elite Squad (Tropa De Elite). Another film with curiosity value is Antonio Grimaldi's domestic drama Quiet Chaos, which stars Italian director Nanni Moretti as a recently widowed father.

This is one of several family dramas in the official selection - perhaps indicating a new desire for intimate, personal stories in contrast with the overly political themes with which the Berlinale is often associated.

The only potential political hotcake in this year's official selection is Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, about the Iraqi torture victims at Abu Ghraib prison.

In Panorama - a section that traditionally throws up at least a couple of Competition-worthy titles - expectations are running high for Brad Anderson's psychological thriller Transsiberian after his striking debut The Machinist.

The film pairs Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer as a couple caught up in a drug-smuggling drama on the Trans-Siberian Express. Another world premiere, Madonna's first directorial outing, the short Filth And Wisdom, is sure to be a talking point, regardless of its artistic merit.

Leftfield critical hopefuls among the other Panorama world premieres include Spanish film Tres Dias by Javier Gutierrez, which sounds like a European arthouse take on I Am Legend, and Drifting Flowers, from Taiwanese director Zero Chou, winner of last year's Teddy Award.

Finally, the Generations section (the successor to Kinderfest) confirms it is much more than a youth-oriented ghetto, with a series of high-profile premieres including Australian film The Black Balloon starring Toni Collette and Gemma Ward. Also debuting is Shane Meadows' medium-length black-and-white immigration drama Somers Town.