Influential Filmmakers of the 1970s: Robert Altman

Robert Altman was a pioneer in the 1970s filmmaking. He was highly prolific during this decade often directing one to two films a year. His unique style included making films with multiple interwoven storylines in an episodic television-like format. His large ensemble casts often improvised their performances, which included overlapping dialogue. This process created a naturalistic and quirky feel to his films. He also took traditional genres, skewing and reworking their narrative structures, and producing ambiguous endings to many of his films. In addition, a number of his movies included his own strong social commentaries on the events of the day.

Source: Indiewire ‘Robert Altman’s Top 15 Films’ October 13, 2014

Altman was very much an actor’s director, directing Sally Kellerman, Julie Christie, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith in Oscar nominated performances. Altman himself was nominated five times for the Best Director Oscar and was awarded a honourary Oscar in 2006. He won a Primetime Emmy award in 1989 for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for the mini-series Tanner ‘88 (1988).

Altman began his filmmaking career directing documentaries, as well as employee training, industrial and educational films. He later moved into television in the 1950s and 1960s, directing TV movies and episodes of shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62), The Millionaire (1955-60), Whirlybirds (1957-60), Maverick (1957-62), Lawman (1958-62), Surfside 6 (1960-62), Peter Gunn (1958-61), Bonanza (1959-73), Route 66 (1960-64), Bus Stop (1960-61) and Kraft Mystery Theater (1960-63).

He made his feature film debut with Countdown (1967) with James Caan and Robert Duvall. He was fired during the editing process, as he refused to comply with studio demands. His next film That Cold Day in the Park (1969) was a critical and commercial failure.

Altman hit his stride as a notable film director with the breakthrough, dark comic-satire M*A*S*H (1970). The movie tells the story of the outrageous antics of a field hospital’s eccentric staff during the Korean War. Altman received his first Best Director Oscar nomination for the film. He was also nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe and a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award. In addition, Altman won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie itself was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Sally Kellerman) and Film Editing. It won one Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also nominated for six Golden Globes (1970), including Best Actors in a Comedy or Musical (Elliot Gould & Donald Sutherland), Supporting Actress (Kellerman) and Screenplay. The movie won the Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Golden Globe that year. It also won a Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.

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That same year, he directed the off-beat, surrealistic comedy Brewster McCloud (1970) about a reclusive young man (Bud Cort) living in the Huston Astrodome who is fashioning a pair of wings to help him fly.

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Altman’s next major work was the acclaimed revisionist western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Set in the late 1800s, a gambler (Warren Beatty) and a prostitute (Julie Christie) run a high-class brothel and experience problems when competitors try to purchase the business. Christie received her second Best Actress Oscar nomination for the movie. The movie was also nominated for a WGA Award for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium. The film initially received poor reviews upon its release and did not do well at the box office. It achieved critical acclaim and recognition in later years.

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The next year, Altman directed Images (1972) a psychological thriller about a vacationing, mentally unbalanced children’s books author (Susannah York) who becomes increasingly caught up in her delusions and fantasies with dire consequences. Altman was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and York took home the Best Actress Prize. Altman was also nominated for a WGA award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen. The film itself was nominated for a Best English-Language Foreign Film Golden Globe and was nominated for one Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score (John Williams).

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Altman followed that film with the acclaimed, re-fashioned film noir The Long Goodbye (1973) about a private detective (Elliott Gould) who gets involved in a complicated murder investigation after helping a friend flee the country for Mexico.

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The next year, Altman directed two movies Thieves Like Us (1974) and California Split (1974). A re-imagined, depression-era caper movie, Thieves Like Us tells story of two men (Keith Carradine and John Schuck) who, after escaping from prison, go back to robbing banks with the help of a new accomplice (Bert Remsen). The National Board of Review selected the movie as one of the Top Ten Films of 1974.

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California Split (1974) was a buddy comedy about two gamblers (Elliott Gould and George Segal) who get involved in increasingly dark misadventures as they win and lose large amounts of money together.

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Altman’s next movie Nashville (1975) is considered by many as his masterpiece.It is a dark satirical comedy, which skews the American way of life and its obsessions with fame and commercialism. Shot under 45 days, the film follows multiple storylines featuring various people involved in the country music industry and a political fundraiser. Altman received his second Best Director Oscar nomination for the movie. He was also nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe. The film itself was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Supporting Actresses (Ronee Blakley & Lily Tomlin) and winning for Best Original Song (I’m Easy). The movie was also nominated for eleven Golden Globes and won for Best Original Song. The film’s other Golden Globe nominations were for Best Motion Picture Drama, Supporting Actor (Henry Gibson), Supporting Actresses (Blakley, Tomlin, Geraldine Chaplin and Barbara Harris), Screenplay and Acting Debuts (Blakley and Tomlin). In addition, the movie was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen and for five Best Actress British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Film Awards.

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Altman followed the success of Nashville with the satirical, comedic, revisionist western Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976) which was poorly received by both critics and audiences. The movie’s story focuses on a fictional account of Buffalo Bill (Paul Newman)’s attempt to enlist Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts) to participate in Bill’s Wild West Show, which features negative portrayals of Indigenous Americans. Despite the film’s largely negative reception, the movie won the Golden Bear at the 26th Berlin International Film Festival.

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Altman next directed the surrealistic psychological study 3 Women (1977) about two very different physical therapists (Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek) who become obsessive friends and roommates in an apartment building owned by an enigmatic pregnant woman (Janice Rule) and her drunken husband. The movie was praised by critics, but did not do well at the box office. Altman was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Duvall took home the Best Actress Prize. Duvall was also nominated for a Best Actress British BAFTA Film Award and was awarded Best Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Sissy Spacek took home the New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actress award for the movie.

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Altman returned to the style of filmmaking he was most famous for in the satirical black comedy A Wedding (1978) with multiple storylines and a large ensemble cast. The story takes place over a single day during the wedding between a young bride (Amy Stryker) from a nouveau riche Kentucky family and the young groom (Desi Arnaz Jr.) from a wealthy Chicago family with suspected ties to the mafia. Altman was nominated for two BAFTA Film Awards for Best Director and Screenplay (sharing the latter nomination with John Considine, Patricia Resnick and Allan F. Nicholls). They also received a WGA nomination for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen. In addition, Altman was nominated for France’s César Award for Best Foreign Film. Carol Burnett received a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globes nomination for playing the bride’s mother. The movie marked Lillian Gish’s 100th film.

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Altman ended the decade with two very different movies: the dystopian science fiction film Quintet (1979) and the romantic comedy A Perfect Couple (1979). The negatively reviewed, box office flop Quintet presented a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vision of the earth during a new ice age where a group of surviving humans is playing a deadly version of a game called ‘Quintet.’

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A Perfect Couple was also negatively received by both audiences and critics. The centers on an older, repressed man (Paul Dooley) who is romancing a younger, bohemian musician (Marta Heflin).

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Altman worked directing both theatre and motion picture productions in the 1980s. His film work during this decade began with two big budget disasters: the satirical comedy HealtH (1980) and the musical Popeye (1980) with Robin Williams. Later films during this decade included filmed treatments of theatrical productions such as Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) with Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black, Streamers (1983) with Matthew Modine, Michael Wright and David Alan Grier, and Fool for Love (1985) with Sam Shepard, Kim Basinger, and Harry Dean Stanton. Altman was nominated for his fourth Palme d’Or for Fool for Love.

In the 1990s to the early 2000s, Altman’s filmmaking career had a revival due in particular to three critically acclaimed films: The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001). Altman received Best Director Oscar nominations for all three movies. For The Player, Altman also won a BAFTA for Best Director and was awarded the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. He was also nominated for a DGA Award and a Golden Globe for Best Director. For Short Cuts, he received a Best Screenplay Golden Globes nomination and won the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Director. Finally for Gosford Park, he won the Best Director Golden Globe and was nominated for a David Lean Award for Direction at the BAFTAs. Julian Fellowes won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park.

Altman’s last film was A Prairie Home Companion (2006) with Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep and Woody Harrelson.

In his personal life, Altman was married three times and had five children. Robert Altman died on November 20, 2006, at the age of 81 from leukemia.

Altman’s influence on filmmaking continues to be recognized today with his films M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973) and Nashville (1975) being selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The Film Independent’s Robert Altman Award has been awarded to the ensemble cast, director and casting director of independent films since 2009.

~Terry Gale

Critics’ Choice Awards for 2012

On Thursday, January 10, 2013, the Broadcast Film Critics Association handed out their annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards.Argo

Here are the winners and nominees:

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Top Grossing Specialty Films of 2012

According to Indiewire, here are the top grossing “Specialty films” of 2012. Only films both released in initially limited screen counts (under 1,000 screens) and by specialty distributors were included.

Movie Studio Gross


The Best Exotic Margiold Hotel Fox Searchlight $46,385,112


Moonrise Kingdom Focus Features $45,512,466


2016 Obama’s America Rocky Mountain $33,449,086


Silver Linings Playbook Weinstein Company $28,682,072


The Perks of Being a Wallflower Summit $17,311,829


To Rome With Love Sony Classics $16,685,867


The Master Weinstein Company $15,956,662


Beasts of the Southern Wild Fox Searchlight $11,249,128


Anna Karenina Focus Features $10,705,866


The Intouchables Weinstein Company $10,140,608


Bernie Millennium $9,206,470


Salmon Fishing In The Yemen CBS Films $9,047,981


Arbitrage Roadside $7,902,573


Friends With Kids Roadside $7,251,073


Casa De Mi Padre Lionsgate $5,909,482


For Greater Glory Arc Entertainment $5,672,846


The Sessions Fox Searchlight $5,514,701


October Baby Samuel Goldwyn $5,157,886


Hitchcock Fox Searchlight $4,985,679


Jeff, Who Lives at Home Paramount Vantage $4,269,426

Countdown to the 100 Best Scary Movies of All-Time (100 to 96)


The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Though I was not initially a big fan of this movie with its jerky handheld camera work and incredibly whiny characters, its impact on scary movies cannot be denied (i.e., Paranormal Activity). The film, shot as a pseudo-documentary, tells the story of three film students making a documentary about the legend of the Blair Witch in the woods of Maryland. The film is told through the three’s discovered footage–found after they go missing.  Pieced together, the footage initially tells of the making of the documentary. What follows though gets increasingly bizarre and scary, leading up to a highly creepy climax. Shot on a budget of $50,000 in just eight days, the movie went on to gross over $200 million thanks to extensive internet buzz generated by the filmmakers. 


 Silver Bullet (1985)

Starring the late Corey Haim and Gary Busey, the movie, based on a novella by Stephen King, tells the story of a girl (Megan Follows) and her paraplegic brother (Haim). Set in small town Maine, the town is plagued by a series of gruesome murders that Haim’s character believes is the work of a werewolf. Unfortunately, no one believes him but his sister and his alcoholic uncle (Busey) when Haim’s character discovers the true identity of the killer. A low-budget, underrated movie that garnered mixed reviews upon release, the movie is worth a look thanks to the strong performances and the suspenseful storyline narrated by Follow’s character.


Insidious (2011)

The best scary movie to come out of 2011. This film directed by James Wan (Saw) tells the story of a family that moves into a large creepy house. Soon strange things begin to happen, leading to the eldest boy falling into a mysterious coma. The mother (Rose Byrne) and father (Patrick Wilson) have to come to grips with the supernatural happenings and enlist the help of a paranormal team to save their son from evil spirits holding their son prisoner in an astral realm. The movie features solid performances, a creepy Poltergeist movie-like atmosphere and some great jump in your seat moments.


Frailty (2001)

An atmospheric and creepy suspense film directed by and starring Bill Paxton, as a religious fanatic father who believes he has been commanded by God to kill people who are demons. The story centres on his relationship with his two young sons, as seen in flashbacks. In the present day, Matthew McConaughey plays one of the grown sons who believes his brother has now taken on their father’s demented calling.  The movie’s strengths are its depiction of the complex and twisted relationship between the father and his two sons along with the plot twists and turns, leading up to a twisted surprise ending. 


Saw (2004)

The first film in the successful film franchise, this independent feature directed by James Wan(Insidious) and written by and starring Leigh Whannell is the best film in the Saw series. Also featuring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover and Monica Potter, the film focuses on two men being held prisoner in an underground bathroom, chained to pipes by a madman, known as Jigsaw Killer, who is set on playing a perverse game with them. The movie builds to a dark climax as the story moves between the two men, who must decide whether to play the game to stay alive and/or save the lives of their loved ones, and the police trying to track down the madman. This low-budget flick was shot in just 18 days, but went on to gross over 100 million at the box office. Critics were mixed in their reviews.

My Ratings of Top Films of 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are my ratings of the top box films of 2011:

Movie My Rating


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Excellent *****


Transformers: Dark of the Moon Not Seen


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Poor **


The Hangover Part II Poor**


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Poor **


Fast Five Not Seen


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Excellent *****


Cars 2 Poor **


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Good ****


Thor Excellent *****


Rise of the Planet of the Apes Excellent *****


Captain America: The First Avenger Good ****


The Help Excellent *****


Bridesmaids Good ****


Kung Fu Panda 2 Good ****


Puss in Boots Excellent *****


X-Men: First Class Excellent *****


Rio Good ****


The Smurfs Bomb *


Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Not Seen


Super 8 Good ****


Rango Good ****


Horrible Bosses Good ****


Green Lantern Fair ***


Hop Fair ***


Paranormal Activity 3 Not Seen


Just Go With It Bomb *


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) Excellent *****


Bad Teacher Fair ***


Cowboys & Aliens Fair ***

Best Holiday Movies of All-Time

In selecting my list of favourite Holiday Season movies of all-time, I leaned more towards traditional and classic films. 

I also looked for some common themes. To me, Christmas is all about spending time with family and friends through holiday rituals. It is about giving, sharing, love, hope, joy and celebration.  It is about good feelings towards each other and peace on earth. Christmas is also about finding redemption, second chances and miracles. People have a chance to rediscover a new self-awareness and learn what is truly important in their lives. There is a renewal of hope and even the possibility of finding romance. It is about discovering the beauty of humankind.

Here are my top Holiday films of all-time:

# Film Year
1 It’s a Wonderful Life  1946
2 Miracle on 34th Street  1947
3 Meet Me in St. Louis  1944
4 A Christmas Carol  1951
5 A Christmas Story  1983
6 The Shop Around the Corner  1940
7 White Christmas  1954
8 The Bishop’s Wife  1947
9 Holiday Inn  1942
10 Christmas in Connecticut  1945

# Film Year
11 Remember the Night 1940
12 Holiday Affair 1949
13 Joyeux Noel 2005
14 Scrooged 1988
15 The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993
16 Love Actually 2003
17 The Polar Express 2004
18 A Christmas Carol 1938
19 A Christmas Tale 2008
20 The Family Stone 2005

Honourable mention (in order): The Snowman (1982), Arthur Christmas (2011), Home Alone (1990), Gremlins (1984), Scrooge  (1970), Babes in Toyland (1961), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Tenth Avenue Angel (1948), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), Bundle of Joy (1956), Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), One Magic Christmas (1985)