4 September 2013

Short Cuts (1993)

July's poll question at The Film Experience was: What Are the Biggest Awards Season Flops? I was given Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993). My full ballot is below.

What was the reason Short Cuts only gathered one Oscar nomination? (A well-deserved Best Director nod for Altman was all it snagged.) This is a film with 22 great roles played by one of the best groups of actors (and a few singers) Hollywood had ever seen. Just have a gaze at these names: Anne Archer, Matthew Modine, Jack Lemmon, Tim Robbins, Madeleine Stowe, Fred Ward, Julianne Moore, Peter Gallagher, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Davison, Chris Penn, Andie MacDowell, Tom Waits, Huey Lewis, Annie Ross and Lili Taylor and Lily Tomlin. That’s a roll call which should’ve reeked of gold. At least at the time. Why no nods for anyone in this line-up? Maybe the Academy was split as to exactly who to nominate. Perhaps the performances were too subtle, too real and too intuitively conveyed. There were no big, gesture-based scenes of showboat-style speechifying. Everything in the film was too relatable. It wasn’t movie-movie enough, perhaps. But, really, no one here could be easily defined as either lead or supporting. The performances bridge that gap. They all feature intermittently throughout the three-hour running time, each giving us their own slice of LA life. They are a true ensemble, given equal weight and time to show us the length and breadth of a collection of ecstatic, troubled, funny, confused and vibrant Los Angelenos. Maybe they all went under the radar by being collectively exemplary? They won a special ensemble acting award at the Golden Globes two months prior to the 1994 Oscars and won the Special Volpi Cup at Venice, along with three other awards, the previous year. Maybe The Academy should’ve taken note and created an ensemble award just for experiences like Short Cuts. Altman was, as we know, the king of improvisational, ensemble-based organic filmmaking and all his actors and crew here pooled their immense talents in service of telling the stories of Raymond Carver’s people. A sole nod simply wasn’t enough; it required at least 22 more.

1. Short Cuts
2. Zodiac
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4. Bright Star
5. Blindness
6. Do the Right Thing
7. The Duchess
8. Hoop Dreams
9. The Ice Storm
10. Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

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