10 Best Robert Altman Movies

Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

These 10 best Robert Altman movies feature ensemble casts, brilliant satire, and plenty of zoom shots. Most of Altman’s films never gained mainstream popularity. But he remains a talented filmmaker who managed to imbue each of his motion pictures with incisive commentary about American life and the human condition. His films were nominated for Best Picture on two occasions, and Altman received Best Director nominations five time. In 2006, the same year as his death, he was presented with an Academy Honorary Award for his overall body of work.

In addition to his feature films, Altman directed a number of television episodes that included Combat!, Route 66, Bonanza, Whirlybirds, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and M Squad. A fan of opera, he also headed up a number of these musical productions at the University of Michigan.

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MASH (1970) – One of the greatest war movies ever made, even if it also happens to be an anti-war film. Based on the Richard Hooker novel and released while Vietnam was still making headlines, Altman’s darkly humorous satire depicts the absurdity and horror of combat through the eyes of the doctors at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt, and Elliott Gould star as the resident pranksters and anti-authority figures, and the rest of the cast includes Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Fred Williamson, and Gary Burgh off (who reprised his role as “Radar” O’Reilly in the long-running TV series). Nominated for five Academy Awards, MASH was Altman’s greatest box office success.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) – Warren Beatty stars as John McCabe, a gambler who arrives in the small mining town of Presbyterian Church and opens a ramshackle brothel. But business really begins to boom when he takes on a partner in Constance Miller (Julie Christie), an English madam with a love for opium. But then agents from a powerful mining company come calling, looking to buy out McCabe’s interest in the town. When he botches the negotiations, he soon faces a gang of hired killers led by a massive figure (Hugh Millais) wielding an elephant gun. An inventive Western that co-stars Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, and William Devane.

The Long Goodbye (1973) – To pull off his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s classic crime novel, Altman was fortunate enough to work from a screenplay by Leigh Brackett, one of the writers of 1946’s The Big Sleep. It pays off, too, as private eye Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is seamlessly transplanted into ‘70s Hollywood and surrounded by cutthroats, scam artists, and sexy ladies. When his pal is accused of murder, and he takes a case involving a missing alcoholic novelist, Marlowe is drawn into a web of deceit that can only be torn down by grim determination, hot lead, and lots of cigarettes. Mark Rydell stands out as vicious criminal Marty Augustine, and Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an early appearance as one of his henchmen. The running gag about Marlowe’s absentee cat is a hoot, and check out the musical theme recycled throughout the film.

California Split (1974) – George Segal and Elliott Gould co-star as pals who bond over a mutual love of gambling. This culminates with a trip to Reno, a showdown with legendary poker player Amarillo Slim, and a complete burnout for one of the characters. While it’s presented as a comedy, Altman’s film also manages to take an insightful look at the perils of gambling addiction.

Nashville (1975) – Fans of country and gospel music will love this Altman masterpiece about the Nashville music scene and an upcoming political rally. Always a lover of the ensemble cast, Altman outdoes himself by featuring 24 main characters–including Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, and Lily Tomlin–plus an entire hour of musical numbers packed into the 2 hour and 40 minute runtime. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976) – Ever the fan of satire, Altman takes a look at the Old West and concentrates on dispelling the myth of righteous Americans beating back the savage tide of angry Native-Americans. Paul Newman stars as Buffalo Bill, Frank Kaquitts is the noble Sitting Bull, and Geraldine Chapman is Annie Oakley. Also starring Will Sampson, Shelley Duvall, Burt Lancaster, and Harvey Keitel. If you’ve ever wanted to see Paul Newman play a narcissistic buffoon, then this is the film for you.

Quintet (1979) – While largely forgotten, any sci-fi film directed by Robert Altman and starring Paul Newman is worth a look. Newman plays Essex, a seal hunter wandering the barren landscape of a new ice age. When those close to him are murdered by a seemingly random occurrence, he soon uncovers a group of gamblers dedicated to playing a most deadly game with human lives at stake.

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) – Adapted from the play by Ed Graczyk, this Altman film is set in small-town Texas and centered around a James Dean fan club meeting inside a Woolworth’s in 1975. As the women dish on various topics, a series of secrets are revealed dating all the way back to 1955. Starring Sandy Dennis, Cher, Kathy Bates, and Karen Black.

The Player (1992) – Described by Altman as a “mild satire” of Hollywood, The Player stars Tim Robbins as a movie exec who murders a screenwriter he suspects of sending him death threats. The opening tracking shot is a marvel to behold, as are the sheer amount of celebrity cameos (around 60). Some familiar faces to look for include Cher, Bruce Willis, Patrick Swayze, Jack Lemmon, Buck Henry, Burt Reynolds, and Julia Roberts.

Gosford Park (2001) – When a group of wealthy Brits and Americans gather for a weekend of snobbish fun at an English country home, a murder sets off an investigation viewed from the perspective of both the staff and the guests. One of Altman’s biggest box office successes, this tale of class struggles stars Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Maggie Smith, Richard E. Grant, Emily Watson, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Those are my picks for the 10 best Robert Altman movies. If you disagree, make your voice heard in our comments section.

See also:

  1. Warren Beatty Movies
  2. Woody Allen Movies
  3. Darren Aronofsky Movies
  4. Marlon Brando Movies
  5. PT Anderson Movies
  6. Wes Anderson Movies
  7. Judd Apatow Movies

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 13th, 2011 at 1:53 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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