The great filmmaker Robert Altman has died at age 81. I'd like to make some really counterintuitive claim about his legacy—say, that he never matched the promise of his early industrial shorts, or that Popeye was the peak of his career—but I'm on vacation so I'll cut the crap and make this brief. I can't praise too highly a body of work that includes That Cold Day in the Park, MASH (much better than the TV series), McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Images (that rare film that actually managed to scare me as I watched it), The Long Goodbye (has there ever been a counterintuitive casting decision as brilliant as having Elliot Gould play Philip Marlowe?), Thieves Like Us (extra points for ending a bank-robbing movie with a Charles Coughlin broadcast), California Split (horrible fate averted: they almost gave that one to Spielberg), Nashville (how did he manage to capture the Perot campaign in a picture made in 1975?), 3 Women, Secret Honor, The Player, Short Cuts (my favorite of the bunch), and Gosford Park—not to mention many lesser but still admirable movies (like, say, A Wedding) and, yes, the occasional piece of complete garbage (like, say, Beyond Therapy). Plus some above-average episodes of Bonanza and a season or so of Combat!
He was a Europhile—he once famously threatened to move to France if George W. Bush was reelected—but he was also, in his surreal '70s way, one of the most deeply American directors of the twentieth century, a man whose vision of this country was as rich and resonant as John Ford's or Frank Capra's. His sensibility was simultaneously cynical, merry, and grim, and his best movies deserve multiple viewings. May he rest in peace.