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Short Cuts (1993)



Average Rating: 7.8/10
Reviews Counted: 54
Fresh: 51 | Rotten: 3

Robert Altman's ensemble drama deftly integrates its disparate characters and episodes into a funny, poignant, emotionally satisfying whole.


Average Rating: 8.2/10
Critic Reviews: 10
Fresh: 9 | Rotten: 1

Robert Altman's ensemble drama deftly integrates its disparate characters and episodes into a funny, poignant, emotionally satisfying whole.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 21,920

My Rating

Movie Info

Based on stories by Raymond Carver, Short Cuts follows 22 Los Angeles residents whose lives intersect over the course of a few days. Ann and Howard Finnegan (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison) are preparing for their son Casey's birthday party when the boy is injured in an auto accident and falls into a coma. Meanwhile, Andy (Lyle Lovett), a baker, seethes with anger over the birthday cake that wasn't claimed, and Howard's father, Paul (Jack Lemmon), decides that a visit with his ailing grandson


Drama, Comedy

Robert Altman, Frank Barhydt

Nov 16, 2004

Fine Line Features

Watch It Now


Latest News on Short Cuts

October 1, 2008:
EW Looks Back on 30 Unforgettable Nude Scenes
The MPAA doesn't like it, but America has never been able to get enough of naked people on the big...
November 21, 2006:
Auteur Robert Altman Passes Away at 81
Robert Altman, the esteemed and venerable director of "M*A*S*H," "Nashville,"...


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All Critics (55) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (51) | Rotten (3) | DVD (13)

As the grand ringmaster, it's here that Altman passes the baton to his actors , whose behavioral insights are critical to the film's success.

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Inevitably it's a mixed bag, though the film's assurance in keeping it all coherent is at times exhilarating.

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

From the exhilarating opening, you know Altman's epic 'adaptation' of eight stories and a poem by Raymond Carver is going to be special.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Triumphantly fierce, funny, moving and innovative.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The movie is based on short stories by Raymond Carver, but this is Altman's work, not Carver's, and all the film really has in common with its source is a feeling for people who are disconnected.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

We are never made to care much about the afflicted characters because Altman doesn't and thereby the stories carry very little weight.

January 22, 2012 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

The epidosic (by necessity) movie is uneven, but some of the stories are poignant and the acting always compelling

April 28, 2011 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Performances are low key but accomplished, comedy and tragedy are delicately balanced and the whole thing has the feel of a sprawling but very absorbing soap.

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4

Cool, clever and complex, Altman succeeds in bringing out the best from a highly talented cast.

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The film is fascinating and complex, and benefits from a densely textured soundtrack that makes it as interesting to listen to as to watch.

February 27, 2008 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Not prime Altman, but weaves an interesting path due to many sub-plots.

February 22, 2008

Altman weaves magic from Carver's character-rich material.

October 10, 2005

An absolutely brilliant, 3-hour examination of detached, dysfunctional behavior in modern America. Easily one of Altman's best films.

October 8, 2005
Fantastica Daily

Robert Altman revisited Nashville territory, and surpassed it, with this 1993 masterpiece.

February 14, 2005 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

The interwoven stories articulate a virus of self-absorbtion that's overtaken family-lives, romances and friendships.

December 8, 2004 Full Review

Rarely has a slice-of-life film been so delicious to consume.

November 24, 2004 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

Robert Altman manages to make the separate units into a seamless whole, aided by an impressive ensemble cast.

January 5, 2004 Full Review Source:

One of the great films of the 1990s

August 22, 2003 Full Review Source: Pasadena Weekly
Pasadena Weekly

If you enjoy all the subpar rip-offs that came later, like Magnolia, do yourself a favor and see this movie now.

August 20, 2003
New Times

A banquet of delicious performances, a sharp situational comedy, and an acrid send-up of contemporary mores.

August 17, 2003
Nick's Flick Picks

Short Cuts is deliberately fragmentary, laudable for its individual scenes and even more so for their cohesion.

April 17, 2003 Full Review Source: Not Coming to a Theater Near You
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Audience Reviews for Short Cuts

Short Cuts has quite a cast. Of course it does though, it's a Robert Altman film and it's based on collected short stories (and one poem) by American classic, Raymond Carver. They must have been climbing over themselves to be in this film. It is essentially, an actors film. Thing is, the performances aren't very good. It hasn't passed the test of time as it should have. This film is still celebrated but I can't see why. Altman, one of the biggest hit & Miss directors of all time, had good intentions with this experiment but it just didn't work. The film is 20 years too late, aesthetically and in mood, and cast for that matter. It's a product of that horrible late 80's/early 90's style (or lack of style I should say) where clothes, hair, acting etc are just drab and unexciting. Hollywood churned out some real stinkers between 88 and 94, moody, shallow, self-centered and self-important nonsense. I challenge anyone to say they enjoyed this film more the second time round. The length is totally unjustified, the direction and performances are totally self-indulgent and unconvincing. It has it's moments but at over three hours long you'd expect so.
January 20, 2014

Super Reviewer

After managing to escape largely cinematic abyss that was the 80s, Robert Altman had somewhat of a renaissance in the early 90s thanks in part to The Player, and this film.

Short Cuts is a very loose adaptation of some of the writings of Raymond Carver, weaving together nine short stories and one poem into a tapestry of life in Los Angeles that follows about 22 characters over the course of a few days. Carver's stories were originally not connected, and took place in the Pacific Northwest, but Altman decided to blend them together, finding links or short cuts between them to make a sprawling and colorful mosaic dealing with themes of death, infidelity, misunderstanding, jealousy, and the quest for fulfillment.

In many ways, I think I liked this more than Nashville, and found it even more accesible, despite the fact that this film is actually longer and a bit more rambling. Maybe it's just because I'm more familiar with the man's style and knew what to expect, which is something I couldn't say upon viewing Nashville. I still think that Nashville is far more of a masterpiece and definitely more of an important cinematic and cultural touchstone than this, though.

Don't ask me to list all the actors who are in this. That'd be insane. I will list my favorites though: Tom Waits, Lily Tomlin, Julianne Moore, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, and Jack Lemmon. Plus, there's tons of nudity, and sexuality is a major part of this film in general. Some of it does start to become frayed and fall apart by the end, and, of course, some of the stories are better than others, but I do love the fractured, interconnected nature of things, and how some of the stories run concurrent with one another.

All in all, a film that was easier to get through than I might have anticipated. It's not a strict adaptation of Carver's work, and more like a jazzy, free form look at the essence of his stuff instead, but that's fine. If anyone could get away with doing that sort of thing, it was definitely Altman. As wonderful as this all is though, you might not want to approach this if you're an Altman newbie.
June 24, 2012
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

The best american film of the 90's.
February 1, 2012
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer

I count several of the stories in Cathedral, by Raymond Carver, among the best I've ever read. One of them, "A Small, Good Thing," even won the 1983 O. Henry Prize. This is the one story I already knew, the one that's most prominent in Altman's film adaptation, and it features Bruce Davison and Andie MacDowell as parents to a boy who's been hit by a car. It's among the more filmable stories that were chosen (Altman took eight, from more than one of Carver's collections, plus a poem), but it's one of the worst acted... until Jack Lemmon turns up. The Frances McDormand-Tim Robbins-Madeline Stowe love triangle might have showcased the best work, filmed as it was at the very moment all three came into their own, and the couple dynamic that Chris Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh manage is notable as well, as are Robert Downey Jr. and Lili Taylor.

But why focus so much on the acting? Look at the cast! This is one of the biggest, best, and (Huey Lewis??) bravest ensembles of my lifetime, if not of all time, and it's worth noting that the Golden Globes gave the group a special award for its performance. I trust that all of these talents signed on for the simple reason that Carver is an American legend. Like Altman's, his stories are ram-packed with subtleties, and attempting to carry them onto the screen - with the requisite simplification or exaggeration - must have been daunting for the director, not to mention an exciting challenge for the actors.

Unfortunately, I'm of the opinion that the experiment failed.

What Altman does to keep the movie going - with varying success - is a simple trick in which he interconnects the various stories. So, going back to the boy who was hit by the car, the woman driving (an excellent Lily Tomlin) is a waitress married to a drunk (Tom Waits) in a different storyline. The boy and his parents live beside a teenaged cellist with a bad relationship with her lounge-singing mother, which makes another storyline, (and so on like this). Interconnectedness is a reasonable approach, given that Carver wrote about the hard bits of American life as lived by common people - things that can and do ordinarily happen to any one of us - and I can even employ Edgar Allan Poe's term for what makes a good short story, "unity of impression," in Altman's defense. Each of Carver's stories make a unified impression in their own right, and they do so as a life's work, too. But in attempting to yoke them into one setting (L.A. instead of Carver's usual Pacific Northwest) and one weekend - almost the terms of the classical unities, which required that all action happen in one place and one day - Altman hopes to create this single impression, a sort of "Here's What Ray Carver Was All About" kind of film, during which he takes the viewer on a valuable tour that's a lot more like a big, baggy novel: a plausible sequence full of great dramatic moments. What goes wrong here, though, is that he ignores the fact that these were short stories, forgetting something else that Poe said about the form: you should be able to read it in one sitting. Jumping in and out of these stories, over and over again for more than three hours, is too jarring to allow the viewer to connect with most of characters at any level deeper than the surface, and it compromises the film's potential for that gut-level "whoosh" we've all felt at the end of a great story. When he taught Creative Writing, Carver would famously tell his students, "No tricks!" It's advice Altman would have done well to remember. Jumbling these stories together is a cheap trick that robs each of its individual power, taking eight narratives and turning them into something that barely qualifies as one.

I write this days after finally seeing Paul Haggis's Crash, where a similar technique worked much better. In that film, (1h45m, approx.), the sequence of seemingly unrelated events was arranged in a clear, overarching plot. By comparison, Short Cuts leaves you investing a lot for no reward in the end, and forces you to make do with the little brilliant flashes along the way.

Then again, maybe that's the point. Maybe that's how film differs from literature. But for my part, I'd much rather that Altman had made an anthology-like film, and tackled each story one at a time. Even better (though not for the box office), if it has to be three hours long, an anthology is something during which you can take breaks, to let each of these powerful stories set in. In the post-network TV environment - the still bright but fading age of the DVD box set - I'd love to see someone take a crack at Carver again, in a way that lets each of his stories do the work they set out to do, and engages the work on its own level, and respeciting that fact that Carver refused to write a novel, "driven toward brevity and intensity" as he claimed to be.

(Next writing project: a letter. "Dear HBO," it begins...)

By the way, in Canada, three Toronto writers have led the charge all year to declare 2011 "The Year of the Short Story," as challenge to the perception that the short story is a dying medium. If any of the above resonates with you, go to for more short story love.
November 1, 2011

Super Reviewer

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