Short Cuts

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Short Cuts
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Altman
Screenplay by
  • Robert Altman
  • Frank Barhydt
Based onCharacters
by Raymond Carver
Produced byCary Brokaw
CinematographyWalt Lloyd
Edited byGeraldine Peroni
Music byMark Isham
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date
  • October 3, 1993 (1993-10-03)
Running time
188 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$6.1 million[2]

Short Cuts is a 1993 American comedy-drama film, directed by Robert Altman. Filmed from a screenplay by Altman and Frank Barhydt, it is inspired by nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver. The film has a Los Angeles setting, which is substituted for the Pacific Northwest backdrop of Carver's stories. Short Cuts traces the actions of 22 principal characters, both in parallel and at occasional loose points of connection. The role of chance and luck is central to the film, and many of the stories concern death and infidelity.

The film features an ensemble cast including Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Robert Downey Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, Lori Singer, Andie MacDowell, Buck Henry, Lily Tomlin, actress and singer Annie Ross, and musicians Huey Lewis, Lyle Lovett, and Tom Waits.


A fleet of helicopters sprays for medflies and reveals all the characters along the path of their flight. Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife, Marian (Julianne Moore), meet another couple, Stuart (Fred Ward) and Claire Kane (Anne Archer) – an out-of-work salesman and a party clown respectively – at Zoe Trainer's (Lori Singer) cello concert and make a spontaneous Sunday dinner date.

Marian's sister, Sherri (Madeleine Stowe), is married to philandering cop Gene (Tim Robbins), who invents unbelievable stories to hide his affair with Betty Weathers (Frances McDormand). Betty is in the process of divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy (Peter Gallagher). Waitress Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin) is married to an alcoholic limo driver, Earl (Tom Waits).

Television commentator Howard Finnigan (Bruce Davison) lives with his wife, Anne (Andie MacDowell), and their young son, Casey (Zane Cassidy), next door to Zoe and her mother, cabaret singer Tess (Annie Ross). Their pool cleaner is Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn), whose wife, Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh), works from home as a phone sex operator, tending to the children while she talks off strange men. Jerry and Lois are friends with Doreen's daughter, Honey (Lili Taylor), and her husband, Bill (Robert Downey Jr.), who works as a makeup artist.

The day before Casey's eighth birthday, Doreen hits him with her car as he is running to school. Casey appears fine and refuses Doreen's offer of a ride home, as she is a stranger. His mother Anne comes home from ordering his birthday cake to find him slumped lethargically on the couch. His father Howard convinces her to take Casey to the hospital, where he remains unconscious. The baker, Andy Bitkower (Lyle Lovett), calls the next day to inform Ann that the cake is ready, but Howard, wanting to keep the line free, briskly ends the conversation. The baker immediately calls back, incensed at being hung up on. While the Finnigans maintain their vigil, Bitkower continues to call and harass the couple. Howard's estranged father Paul (Jack Lemmon) turns up at the hospital and recalls that Casey's hospitalization reminds him of the day that Howard was in a car accident as a boy. When Howard's mother went to her sister's house, she found her undressed in the presence of her husband, who she was attempting to seduce. That led to the estrangement between father and son.

Stuart and his two friends, Gordon (Buck Henry) and Vern (Huey Lewis), harass Doreen at the diner before they head out on their three-day fishing trip. On the first day, they find a young woman's body, submerged near some rocks. After some debate, they decide to tie her to the rocks, continue fishing, and report the body when they are done. When he comes home, Stuart eventually admits to Claire what they had done, and she is disgusted that they could fish for days with the woman's body nearby. The body is identified as a 23-year-old woman who was raped and murdered, and Claire visits the funeral home out of a sense of guilt.

Stormy visits Betty's house while she is away with their son Chad (Jarrett Lennon), ostensibly to pick up his mother's clock, but instead spends the day destroying her belongings. Bill and Honey entertain themselves in the apartment that they are watching while its owners are on vacation by taking some pictures of Honey in which Bill has made her up to look as if she has been brutally beaten. Gene abandons the family dog on a strange street because he cannot endure its barking, but after several days of his distraught children's inquiries, he returns to the neighbourhood and retrieves the dog, who has been picked up by Vern's family. The Wymans get into a massive argument just before their dinner party with the Kanes. Marian admits to an affair. Both couples alleviate their stress by drinking heavily, and the party lasts all night long.

One day, Casey's eyes begin to flutter. Anne's excitement grows, but just as he appears to be waking, he suddenly dies. Seeing that and being overwhelmed, Howard's father and the boy's grandfather, Paul, leaves the hospital while the distraught couple returns home and informs Zoe of Casey's death. The next day, they go to the bakery to shame Bitkower over his abuse of them. When he learns why they never picked up the cake, he asks them to stay and gives them baked goods. Zoe, worn to the breaking point by her mother's alcoholism, the little boy's death and her isolation, commits suicide by starting her car engine inside the garage; she plays the cello as she asphyxiates from carbon monoxide. Later that day, her mother discovers Zoe dead and drinks herself into a stupor.

When Honey picks up the pictures from the fotomat, they are mixed up with Gordon's. He is horrified to see the pictures of Honey, who appears to have been beaten badly, and she is horrified by the pictures Gordon took of the submerged body on his fishing trip. They walk away from each other, memorizing each other's license plates. While at a picnic in the park with their wives and kids, Jerry and Bill meet two young women they encountered earlier, and Bill quickly makes an excuse to divvy up into couples. As he and one of the girls walk away from Jerry and the other girl (Susie Cusack), they hear her scream. They turn around to see Jerry hitting her in the head repeatedly with a rock, killing her, just before a major earthquake strikes. In the aftermath, it appears that Jerry's murder of the girl may be attributed to a rock falling during the earthquake.



According to associate producer Mike Kaplan, the screenplay was first written in 1989.[3] Filming primarily took place in Los Angeles, California. Principal photography began on July 26, 1992, and ended on October 1, 1992.[4]


The film was distributed by Fine Line Features and released in the United States on October 3, 1993. A special DVD edition was released by the Criterion Collection in 2004 and contains two discs, the collection of Carver's short stories, and an essay booklet on the film.[5]


Short Cuts received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 95% approval rating, based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Robert Altman's ensemble drama deftly integrates its disparate characters and episodes into a funny, poignant, emotionally satisfying whole."[6] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 79 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote: "Los Angeles always seems to be waiting for something. Permanence seems out of reach; some great apocalyptic event is on the horizon, and people view the future tentatively. Robert Altman's 'Short Cuts' captures that uneasiness perfectly in its interlocking stories about people who seem trapped in the present, always juggling."[8] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "The lives are often desperate and the characters inarticulate, but the group portrait is as grandly, sometimes as hilariously, realized as anything the director has ever done."[9] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four out of four stars and called it "a brilliant companion piece" to The Player.[10] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "is not equally involving all the time. Some performances are stronger than others, some situations more entertaining, and some choices Altman has made, like an overreliance on female nudity that borders on the exploitative, difficult to defend. But whenever interest lags, a look, a moment, a frisson of regret will cross the screen and the emotional connection is restored."[11] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post panned the film as "a cynical, sexist and shallow work" populated with "whiny, inert and mostly unlikable characters."[12]


Short Cuts was named one of the best films of 1993 by over 50 film critics.[13] Only The Piano and Schindler's List appeared on more lists.

Altman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (but lost to Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List) and shared a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay with Barhydt (lost to Steven Zaillian for Schindler's List). The cast won a Special Golden Globe Award for their ensemble acting. The film also won the prestigious Golden Lion and the Volpi Cup for Best Ensemble Cast at the Venice Film Festival.

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1993 Academy Awards Best Director Robert Altman Nominated [14]
1993 Golden Globe Awards Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Nominated [15]
Special Award for Ensemble Short Cuts Won
1993 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Robert Altman Won [16]
Pasinetti Award Won
Special Volpi Cup Andie MacDowell
Bruce Davison
Jack Lemmon
Zane Cassidy
Julianne Moore
Matthew Modine
Anne Archer
Fred Ward
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Chris Penn
Joseph C. Hopkins
Josette Maccario
Lili Taylor
Robert Downey Jr.
Madeleine Stowe
Tim Robbins
Cassie Friel
Dustin Friel
Austin Friel
Lily Tomlin
Tom Waits
Frances McDormand
Peter Gallagher
Jarrett Lennon
Annie Ross
Lori Singer
Lyle Lovett
Buck Henry
Huey Lewis
Danny Darst
1995 César Award Best Foreign Film Short Cuts Nominated [17]
1993 Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Short Cuts Won [18]
Best Director Robert Altman Won
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Best Supporting Female Julianne Moore Nominated
1993 National Board of Review Top Ten Films of 1993 Short Cuts Won [19]
1993 National Society of Film Critics Best Film Short Cuts Nominated [20]
Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Best Supporting Actress Madeline Stowe Won
Jennifer Jason Leigh Nominated
1993 New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress Nominated [21]
1993 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Director Robert Altman Nominated [22]
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
1993 Chicago Film Critics Association Best Film Short Cuts Nominated [23]
Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Best Supporting Actress Andie McDowell Nominated
1993 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Won [24]

Year-end lists[edit]


A book was released to accompany the film, which compiled the nine short stories and one poem that inspired it. Altman wrote an introduction to this collection, which featured insights into the making of the film and his own thoughts about Carver's stories.[29]

  1. "Neighbors"
  2. "They're Not Your Husband"
  3. "Vitamins"
  4. "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?"
  5. "So Much Water So Close to Home"
  6. "A Small, Good Thing"
  7. "Jerry and Molly and Sam"
  8. "Collectors"
  9. "Tell the Women We're Going"
  10. "Lemonade" (poem)


Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver County was a behind-the-scenes documentary, featuring interviews with Altman and the cast.[30][31]

Unfilmed sequel[edit]

Anne Rapp, who wrote Cookie's Fortune and Dr. T & The Women for Altman, was commissioned to adapt more Carver stories into a screenplay which he did not film.[32]


  1. ^ "Short Cuts (18)". British Board of Film Classification. October 5, 1993. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Short Cuts at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Kaplan, Mike (21 October 2009). "Bob Altman's big Short Cuts gamble". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  4. ^ "Short Cuts (1993) - Misc Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Short Cuts". The Criterion Collection.
  6. ^ Short Cuts at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Short Cuts at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 22, 1993). "Short Cuts". Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 1, 1993). "Altman's Tumultuous Panorama". The New York Times. C32.
  10. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 22, 1993). "Altman's surreal 'Short Cuts' turns the everyday into art". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, page C.
  11. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 8, 1993). "Movie Reviews : Robert Altman Finds His Way to Carverville". Los Angeles Times. p. F12. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  12. ^ Kempley, Rita (October 22, 1993). "'Short Cuts': Back Road To Hell". The Washington Post C1.
  13. ^ McGilligan, Pat; Rowl, Mark (9 January 1994). "86 Thumbs Up! For Once, The Nation's Critics Agree on the Year's Best Movies". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ "1994 -". Academy Awards. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  15. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1994". Golden Globes. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  16. ^ "The 90s". La Biennale di Venezia. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  17. ^ "1995 - Best Foreign Film". Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  18. ^ "1994 Nominees" (PDF). Film Independent Spirit Awards. p. 47. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  19. ^ "1993 Archives". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  20. ^ McCarthy, Todd (January 3, 1994). "Crix crown Spielberg". Variety. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  21. ^ Bernard, Jami (December 19, 1993). "Critics' Choice: 'List,' 'piano'". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  22. ^ "L.A. Critics Pick 'Schindler's List' as Best Picture". Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1993. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  23. ^ Wilmington, Michael (January 16, 1994). "Some Simple Truths About Critics' Votes". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on July 8, 2022.
  24. ^ "BSFC Winners - 1993 (December 18th)". Boston Society of Film Critics. Archived from the original on October 11, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  25. ^ Mayo, Mike (December 30, 1994). "The Hits and Misses at the Movies in '94". The Roanoke Times (Metro ed.). p. 1. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  26. ^ Travers, Peter (December 23, 1993). "The 10 Best Movies of 1993". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  27. ^ "Film Comment's Best of the Nineties Poll: Part Four". Film Comment. Film at Lincoln Center. January–February 2000. Retrieved July 8, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: date format (link)
  28. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 18, 1993). "These Are The Best Movies of the Year". Chicago Tribune.
  29. ^ Carver, Raymond (1993-09-14). Short Cuts: Selected Stories. Vintage. ISBN 978-0679748649.
  30. ^ Oktay Ege Kozak (2014-10-20). "Watch: 'Luck, Trust and Ketchup' A 90-Minute Documentary On The Making Of Robert Altman's Epic 'Short Cuts'". IndieWire. Retrieved 2022-02-13.
  31. ^ Parkinson, David. "Luck, Trust & Ketchup (1994)". Radio Times. Retrieved 2022-02-13.
  32. ^ "The Art of Making the Impossible Look Easy". The New York Times. 1998-04-11. Retrieved 2022-02-13.

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