For starters, organizers recruited a 2009 jury that includes actress Robin Wright Penn, who is in the midst of divorcing the Academy Award-winning "Milk" star.
And to lead the panel, the festival opted for a French icon. Isabelle Huppert, who has starred in almost 100 films and twice won Cannes' best-actress prize, was its choice.
"It was not easy to find someone after Sean Penn," festival director Thierry Fremaux said Tuesday. "Sean was great as a president. We'll miss him this year."
Fremaux said he is confident Huppert would do a stellar job.
She is the first woman to head the jury since Liv Ullman did it in 2001. That year's jury awarded the festival's best actress prize to Huppert, for Michael Haneke's "The Piano Teacher."
"She is a very serious person, and she said that for her, being president of Cannes is like having a role in a film," Fremaux said.
Jurors get the royal treatment at Cannes as they choose prize-winners among the films in competition. This year, they'll be watching 20 films, including new works by Cannes favorites Quentin Tarantino, Lars von Trier, Ang Lee and Ken Loach.
Also included on this year's jury are edgy actor-director Asia Argento, American director James Gray, Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan and British novelist and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi.
The event opens May 13 and runs through May 24, when the winner of the top prize - the Palme d'Or - will be announced.
By Jill Lawless