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The 6 Robert Altman Movies You Must See Before You Die

Robert Altman was a risk-taker and a five-time Academy Award Best Director nominee. Screen these gems, all from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, to see the maverick’s very best work.

1. MASH (1970)
Altman’s irreverent anti-war film mixed black humor with the blood and gore in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital’s operating room. To lighten the mood, Altman focused on the escapades of irreverent surgeons behind the front lines, including pranks played on Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and his “Hot Lips” companion (Sally Kellerman). Quick-cut editing, rapid dialogue and a busy soundtrack make repeat viewings necessary. The film’s legacy was the long-running TV show of the same name.

2. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
This revisionist Western presents the American dream gone sour. Not-very-bright McCabe (Beatty) runs a whorehouse and gambling den in the frontier’s Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, the small-time entrepreneur believes that he and his enterprising, opium-addicted partner, Mrs. Miller (Christie), can compete with the zinc mining company capitalists that want to buy him out. McCabe decides to stand up to three hired killers—and dies alone in the snow.

3. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Altman was criticized for taking liberties with the familiar Raymond Chandler novel, shifting the ’40s time frame to the ’70s and drastically altering the ending—though he deflected audience outrage by claiming plot wasn’t as important as character analysis. Take note of Altman’s first-person and constantly moving camera work, especially in the scene introducing Philip Marlowe and his cat.

4. Nashville (1975)
Altman’s tragicomic study of American commercialism, show business, leadership and politics takes place over the course of five days leading up to the political rally of an independent party candidate. The director deftly juggles the differing agendas of his 24 protagonists, ranging from a shot at country music stardom to marital escape, and connects them via communication devices—phone calls, tape recordings, radio, TV and P.A. announcements.

5. The Player (1992)
This satire on Tinseltown morality stars Tim Robbins as Griffin Mill, a shallow, back-stabbing studio exec hounded by a disgruntled scriptwriter whom he murders. Of special note are the unedited eight-minute opening dolly-shot and four-dozen cameo appearances by Hollywood’s finest. The subtle opening and closing shots reveal the underlying joke of the premise—the movie is a film-within-a-film about how the movie came to be.

6. Short Cuts (1993)
The director seamlessly strings together the experiences of 22 angst-ridden Los Angeles residents. Sometimes the story lines intersect, but all of the characters are impacted by people whose paths they cross only briefly. Proving that life is even chaotic than we realize, Altman ends the movie with a massive earthquake.

See when The Player is playing on SundanceTV.

See the full schedule of 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die lineup on SundanceTV, or order a copy of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book.