Robert Altman


Robert Bernard Altman (February 20, 1925 – November 20, 2006) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. A five-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director and an enduring figure from the New Hollywood era, with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, and David Lynch. Altman was considered a “maverick” in making films with a highly naturalistic but stylized and satirical aesthetic, unlike most Hollywood films. He is consistently ranked as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers in American cinema.

His style of filmmaking covered many genres, but usually with a “subversive” twist which typically relied on satire and humor to express his personal views. Altman developed a reputation for being “anti-Hollywood” and non-conformist in both his themes and directing style. However, actors especially enjoyed working under his direction because he encouraged them to improvise, thereby inspiring their own creativity.

He preferred large ensemble casts for his films, and developed a multitrack recording technique which produced overlapping dialogue from multiple actors. This produced a more natural, more dynamic, and more complex experience for the viewer. He also used highly mobile camera work and zoom lenses to enhance the activity taking place on the screen. Critic Pauline Kael, writing about his directing style, said that Altman could “make film fireworks out of next to nothing.” His most famous directorial achievements include M*A*S*H (1970), with Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall; McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie; The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975), with Ned Beatty, Ronee Blakley, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Henry Gibson, Michael Murphy, and Lily Tomlin; Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), with Paul Newman, Chaplin, Will Sampson, Joel Grey, Harvey Keitel and Burt Lancaster; 3 Women (1977), with Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule; Secret Honor (1984), with Philip Baker Hall; The Player (1992), with Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson, and Vincent D’Onofrio; Short Cuts (1993), with Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Tom Waits, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand, and Jack Lemmon;, and Gosford Park (2001), with Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emily Watson.

In 2006, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Altman’s body of work with an Academy Honorary Award. He never won a competitive Oscar despite seven nominations. His films MASH (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and Nashville (1975) have been selected for the United States National Film Registry. Altman is one of three filmmakers whose films have won the Golden Bear at Berlin, the Golden Lion at Venice, and the Golden Palm at Cannes (the other two being Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Michelangelo Antonioni).

Other notable films include Countdown (1968), with James Caan, Duvall, and Ted Knight; Brewster McCloud (1971), with Bud Cort; Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), with Paul Newman, Harvey Keitel, Will Sampson, and Burt Lancaster; A Wedding (1978), with Desi Arnaz Jr., Carol Burnett, Paul Dooley, Vittorio Gassman, Mia Farrow, Lillian Gish, Geraldine Chaplin, Howard Duff, Nina Van Pallandt, Amy Stryker, and Pat McCormick; Popeye (1980), with Robin Williams, Duvall, Paul L. Smith, Dooley, and Ray Walston; Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), with Sandy Dennis, Cher, Mark Patton, Karen Black, Sudie Bond, and Kathy Bates; Fool for Love (1985), with Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, Harry Dean Stanton, and Randy Quaid; Beyond Therapy (1987), with Julie Hagerty, Jeff Goldblum, Glenda Jackson, Tom Conti, and Christopher Guest; Vincent & Theo (1990), with Tim Roth and Paul Rhys; Kansas City (1996), with Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Michael Murphy, and Steve Buscemi; The Gingerbread Man (1998), with Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Downey Jr., Tom Berenger, Daryl Hannah, Famke Janssen, and Duvall; and A Prairie Home Companion (2006), with Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, and Tomlin.

Each review will be linked to the title below.

(*seen originally in theaters)

(**seen rereleased in theaters)

  • The Delinquents (1957)
  • The James Dean Story (1957) – documentary, co-director
  • Countdown (1968)
  • That Cold Day in the Park (1969)
  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • Brewster McCloud (1970)
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
  • Images (1972)
  • The Long Goodbye (1973)
  • Thieves Like Us (1974)
  • California Split (1974)
  • Nashville (1975)
  • Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976)
  • 3 Women (1977)
  • A Wedding (1978)
  • Quintet (1979)
  • Health (1980)
  • Popeye (1980)
  • Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
  • Streamers (1983)
  • Secret Honor (1984)
  • Fool for Love (1985)
  • O.C. & Stiggs (1985)
  • Beyond Therapy (1987)
  • Aria (1987) – directed with Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Franc Roddam, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell, Charles Sturridge, & Julien Temple – anthology
  • Vincent & Theo (1990)
  • The Player (1992)
  • Short Cuts (1993)
  • Ready to Wear (1994)
  • Kansas City (1996)
  • The Gingerbread Man (1998)
  • Cookie’s Fortune (1999)
  • Dr. T & the Women (2000)
  • Gosford Park (2001)
  • The Company 2003)
  • A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Other notable New Hollywood filmmakers: