Short Cuts (1993) Poster


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A different kind of L.A. Story
FilmOtaku22 March 2005
Robert Altman has never shied away from casting every actor known to mankind in his films, and this is certainly true with his 1993 film "Short Cuts", a film set in Los Angeles over the course of a couple of days. In terms of primary actors, ones that had a substantial enough part to merit a supporting tag, I count at least 22; but more impressive than the sheer number of the cast is the fact that the film does not suffer from character overload, nor do their intertwining stories (and they are all separated by no more than one or two degrees).

I started this review by going through each character and the story each brings to the table, but after about three paragraphs worth of explanation, it is clear that it is not only a bad idea, but probably counterproductive to the review itself. "Short Cuts" is simply about human relationships, all of which seem to be completely unhealthy. The beauty of Altman's script and direction is that this isn't imminently apparent in all cases. Something as subtle as a sigh and a minor roll of the eyes speaks volumes in a film this well done. The acting in the film is, to be expected, great in most cases. Andie MacDowell, though not quite as insipid as usual, is still pretty bad, but gems like Lyle Lovett, Peter Gallagher, Tom Waits (who I am really biased toward) and a fairly fresh and new Julianne Moore more than make up for any minor acting mishaps.

There are not many films that are so involved that I simply throw up my hands at the prospect of doing my standard summary review for them, but "Short Cuts" is one of them. The script is compelling enough to easily sit through all 187 minutes of the film, the ending doesn't disappoint, and the film contains a cool jazz score. If you're a fan of ensemble films, this should be on your list. If you're an Altman fan, this should be on your short list because I consider it to be one of his best. 8/10 --Shelly
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Six degrees of separation
csm2318 May 2002
In front of a group of fishermen, a waitress bends over for a slab of butter. They take in the image like hungry wolves gulping meat, as her skirt rises high, revealing everything. They like what they see, so they ask her, `Can we have more butter, please?' The double meaning is obvious.

In a nightclub, a singer languishes over a sultry little song about `a good, punishing kiss.' The conversation in the foreground -- ex-cons relating cruel, violent stories from prison -- moves to the rhythm of the jazz saxophone, a dissonant snare-drum-prose accompaniment to the song. It's a deliberate ambiguity that binds the viewer in the scene's artistic tension.

In an upscale home with a breathtaking view of the city of angels, a struggling artist is being questioned about her relationship with another artist. She's naked from the waist down, suggesting both sexual aggressiveness, and vulnerability, simultaneously. She's seductively defiant with her husband. She confesses to an affair; but she does so angrily, indignant for being asked. It's sweet and sour, light and dark, truthful but deceptive, all at once. More double entendres.

Robert Altman's Short Cuts weaves all these disconnected scenes together like common strands of rope. It's the interplay of opposites that firmly holds them all together. The title itself, `Short Cuts,' has dual meaning: it's an interconnected mixture of `short cuts,' as in `off the cutting room floor' or `film clips;' and, it's an unmistakable reference to the web of human life, the social short cuts between ourselves and everyone else, as in the famous `six degrees of separation,' which tells us that we are only six personal relationships away from everyone else in the world. Set in LA, this idea makes for a lovely irony: although the main characters are completely absorbed in their individual worlds, they are intimately connected to each other. They just don't know it.

Short Cuts is one of Altman's masterpieces. See it if you can.
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This then, is a rare gem: A Hollywood movie of artistic enormity.
Scorsese-26 March 1999
After watching this film one thing I was left with was a feeling of tremendous euphoria, a glowing feeling which lasted well into the next morning. I could not help but think that this collage of events in the lives of 22 people in sunny LA was realism. Not the harsh gritty realism of 'Taxi Driver', but a different realism. This movie is who we are, as people. This movie chronicles the emotions we may have when confronted with a persistent crank caller, or the lingering suspicion of a partner's affair. And the acerbic intelligence of the script is tempered with director Altman's stunning technical virtuosity.

The style is very pastiche, and one scene cuts to another, as the title suggests, with reckless abandon. This lends a very fresh and watchable quality to what is by any standards a long film. While most of the characters never meet, the movie is given shape by the connections between scenes. The connections are of two kinds: thematic connections for which the credit goes to the script, and also visual connections whereby the direction and editing employed by Altman allow him to create recurring imagery with which he weaves the sprawling, kicking constituent bits and pieces of this movie together. This style works very well indeed and at the end of the film, miraculously you are left not with the impression of having just watched a series of 'short cuts', but something entirely more holistic in nature.

There was not a false note in the acting and the star-studded cast did great justice to a remarkable script. The casting is flawless, from Tim Robbins' adulterous cop to Julianne Moore's adulterous painter. The camera-work is refreshing in its fluidity and control, transmitting an intense watchability. However many feelings there are in the human emotional vocabulary (and I am sure there are a fair few), it seems that 'Short Cuts' is somehow able, in the course of three hours, to display (in the actors) and evoke (in the audience), each and every one of them. For those who are of the belief that modern Hollywood is unable to produce films of artistic merit, watch this movie now or hold your peace forever.
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One of my all time favorite films.
nonexistent26 October 1999
Well, I've watched this film about seven times now, and I feel quite certain that I can add it to the list of my favorite films alongside Dr. Strangelove and The Red, White and Blue Trilogy.

The casting is flawless, with fantastic performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, Peter Gallagher, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey, Jr. and many (I mean *many*) more. The camera floats around the world of these characters with perfection, tapping each on the shoulder and providing precious and oh-so-interesting insight into their happiness (or lack thereof, for the most part), sadness and their emotions.

See this film. You will not regret it. I have my fingers crossed for a special edition DVD of Short Cuts.
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"I Hate LA...all they do here is snort coke and talk."
DaveTheNovelist19 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The many residents of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" do so much more than that: they lie, cheat, steal, kill, ache, long, burn-out, shine bright, fade in the background, sing, dance, drink, make love, screw, shout, scream, fight, and purge their souls-though few ever really listen or watch closely. "Short Cuts" is arguably Altman's finest film (with nods to "MASH," "Nashville," "The Player," and "Gosford Park"). It's also probably the best of the sub-genre of intertwining vignette films, the overlapping mosaics that Altman trail-blazed. It's odd, because had I seen "Short Cuts" before I viewed P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia" (which I loved upon first view but not so much the second time around), I would've realized that film was an eerie knockoff of this Altman classic--right down to the casting of Julianne Moore and Jack Lemmon. "Magnolia" is full of nervousness, operatic melodrama, and ham-fisted symbolism, whereas "Short Cuts" is full of smooth transitions, hyper-realism, and keen insights into human behavior. I'll take the earthquake at the end of "Short Cuts" over the raining frogs of "Magnolia" any day. Altman's film runs well over three hours and features nearly twenty main characters. As such, it's one of those movies where everyone will have their personal favorite bits and characters. I found Lori Singer's cello playing daughter of a booze-hound jazz singer, Anne Archer's empathy riddled clown, and Frances McDormand's young son who insists on telling everyone about how he feels about his toys (which are showered on him in the absence of real love) though no one ever pays him any direct attention, to be the most compelling. There's also some great bits involving a dog and Tim Robbin's adulterous cop, and a hilariously disturbing mix up at a photo hut involving Lilly Taylor and a fisherman. With Mr. Altman now passed, one wonders, will anyone ever be able to make a film like this again? Surely not. "Short Cuts" is nothing short of a masterpiece and a testament to Altman's unique brand of film-making and humanistic view of the misanthropic world he inhabited.
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A Brilliant expose on life in America
Stu-531 January 1999
Robert Altman has made a three hour work of art. It revolves around 22 characters, each with their own problems, and intertwines them via various occurrences. Each character is delightfully contrived, each plot point seamless.

Without spoiling anything, all that can be said about Short Cuts is that the satire is first class, the comedy is brilliant, the drama powerful and the character study impeccable. Do not miss this one if you're a fan of the drama genre.

Ten out of ten.
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4 stars
matt caccamo11 January 2001
Wonderful, beautifully acted film about lives interweaving in Los Angeles against the backdrop of an invading poisonous bug. Ensemble cast is perfect, with standout performances by Robbins and Downey Jr. Altman succeeds in bringing us a film examining the coincidence of everyday life that we are too busy to notice. Shows a keen sense for relationships and the hardships of loss.
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Altman's greatest?
David18 September 2003
When Altman is good he's among the greatest, and SHORT CUTS is among his best (M*A*S*H, BREWSTER McCLOUD, NASHVILLE). Adapted from Raymond Carver's collection of stories, SHORT CUTS offers a roving, restless glimpse into the lives of several Los Angelinos. The characters aren't completely real - in an 'I-can-relate-to-these-people' sense (I never expected this from this movie anyway), but are presented in a slightly hyperreal sense with Altman highlighting the everyday lives of characters who try valiantly to maintain their public personas (cutting across class boundaries in the process), even when things are spinning out of control beneath the surface (literally symbolized by the ending, though at least he didn't stoop to throwing in a rain of frogs...).

Los Angeles is famously mocked as a place that's all surface and no depth (see ANNIE HALL), and the slight exaggerations seen here characters plays with this, even as the isolation and instability of certain characters humanizes them. Through it all there's plenty of humor - though, as is usual with Altman, even the humor packs a wallop. Annie Ross' deadpan complaint gets to the heart of it all: "I hate L.A. - all they do is snort coke and talk." The irony in such nastiness becomes a bit more apparent when you consider where that assessment is coming from, within Altman's tragi-comic variant upon the notion that California's trends become America's truisms a decade or two down the road.

There are so many great moments here - Chris Penn's growing befuddlement (and seething, simmering murderous anger) with his wife's phone sex operator job; Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin as a boozy working class couple; Peter Gallagher and Frances MacDormand's marriage, collapsed into tantrums and furniture vandalism; the Tim Robbins/Huey Lewis confrontation; Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore and Matthew Modine all deliver strikingly memorable performances. Every time I watch this, I get something new out of it - though it requires a bit of patience, SHORT CUTS is really worth checking out.
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Space Jazz
tedg18 March 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Altman is uneven, and not all of his failures are interesting. But he does one thing better than anyone else. And so far as I know, he invented it. Most filmmakers start with someone else's vision, and then make it real. The better ones have their own vision, and the story is a framework for their art. But either way, the work is divided between the creative talent (the writer and director and other supporting trades) and the performers.

Altman does things the other way around. He starts with large groups of exceptionally talented actors, gives them little direction, shoots mountains of takes, and then weaves it all together. The life of the film emerges from the actors. Then Altman takes that motion, those rhythms and plays them against one another. It is as close as one can get to cinematic jazz, at least jazz from actors.

P T Anderson is first a writer. His primary creation is the script. So while `Magnolia' bears some superficial resemblance to `Short Cuts.' it is a completely different beast. Chamber music compared to jazz. A more apt comparison is to `The Thin Red Line,' which works with the same sort of jazz weave, except the focus in `Line' is on remembrances through sounds and voiceovers. Here the focus is on the immediate miniensembles.

This is quite simply one of the most important films of the decade.

It must be sort of a Rorschach test to report which characters impressed the most. In terms of the character for me it was Lori Singer's character. Strange. She really is playing the cello, and with passion. She really is playing something `totally, absolutely real, but not.' But her career otherwise seems to not have taken off.

Moore and Downey are among the best actors alive, and it really shows. Robbins, McDormand and Leigh sometimes are extraordinarily great, but not so here -- they apparently need guidance. Tomlin and Waits are a gas. What fun.

My only complaint is that sometimes Altman puts together shockingly long and complex tracking shots, and they are missing here. They would detract from the players.
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Well acted but emotionally lacking
bob the moo1 October 2001
A classic bit of Altman - the story of cross-cutting lives over several days in LA. Featuring an all-star cast featuring a host of great character actors including Tim Robins, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh to name a few.

The performances are wonderful without exception (even Andie McDowell does OK). The intertwining stories are interesting up until the end - three hours goes past almost effortlessly and unnoticed. My only problem with the film is the lack of any real emotional punch or meaning in all of the stories. The majority of the stories have the potential for strong emotions to draw the audience in but the majority don't let it out too much (like real life I suppose), the one story that does let the characters feel (the story of McDowell's child) is not that convincing. Some of the stories don't make a lot of sense and don't feel based in reality. Compared to Magnolia, Glengarry Glen Ross, 12 Angry Men and other ensemble pieces this engages on an interest level but lacks an emotional involvement. I know that this is often on critic's top-ten lists but I felt that interesting stories and great acting do not make up for the lack of an emotional centre to the film. And the conclusion makes very little sense in relation to one of the stories in particular.
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