We take our hats off to the programmers: from more than 1,700 films submitted for this year’s Dubai International Film Festival, someone had to cherry-pick the line-up of 171 movies – from 56 countries and in 32 languages, from Catalan to Cantonese – that make up this year’s schedule.

The emirate’s eighth annual celebration of film, running from December 7-14, has inevitably been touted as the best yet. In terms of A-listers on the red carpet, it certainly packs a punch – in case you’ve been on another planet for the past month, Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise will be in town for the festival’s opening night, while starlet Scarlett Johansson, Oscar winner Colin Firth, Bollywood heavyweight Shah Rukh Khan and strong-nosed comic Owen Wilson will all step out in front of the paps. Directors Peter Weir (The Truman Show) and Werner Herzog (Bad Lieutenant) are also confirmed guests, while at the time of going to press we were trying to firm up rumoured stop-offs by George Clooney, George Lucas and even Kermit the Frog.

In the words of festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma, ‘the red carpet is the most beautiful thing, but behind that is an engine room’ – and this year the cogs and pistons are firing harder than ever. The number of films has grown from 157 last year to 171 this edition: the schedule features everything from big-budget blockbusters to arty shorts and probing documentaries. Meanwhile, the number of world-firsts has rocketed, from just one world premiere hosted at the festival’s 2004 debut, to 46 world firsts this year.

There are also more red-carpet gala screenings, including the world premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Oscar-tipped The Descendants, and family-friendly The Muppets. What’s more, Rhythm & Reels, the free open-air programme of music-themed movies at JBR, will screen a restored version of 1929 silent film Pandora’s Box – accompanied by the 60-piece UAE Philharmonic Orchestra.

To help you navigate your way around this cinephile’s paradise, we’ve picked the top 20 films to watch, chatted to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Werner Herzog, and celebrated Dubai’s burgeoning film heritage. So sit back, relax and watch the credits roll. Oh, and as you delve into the popcorn, spare a thought for those poor programmers.

The lowdown
Vox, Mall of the Emirates; First Group Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah; Madinat Arena; JBR beach; The Walk at JBR

All tickets are Dhs30 (Dhs10 for students), except JBR and Rhythm & Reels screenings, which are free. All gala screenings except for the opening night are open to the public, but tickets are likely to be limited.
For more details and to buy tickets, see www.dubaifilmfest.com or call 04 363 3456.