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
Budget$12 million[2]
Box office$6.1 million[3]

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.


The film begins with a fleet of helicopters spraying for medflies, which brings various characters together along the flight path.

Dr. Ralph Wyman and his wife, Marian, meet Stuart Kane, an unemployed salesman, and Claire Kane, a party clown, at a concert Zoe Trainer performs on cello. They impulsively decide to have a Sunday dinner date. Meanwhile, Marian's sister, Sherri, is married to a cheating cop named Gene, who is having an affair with Betty Weathers, while Betty is divorcing one of the helicopter pilots, Stormy.

Among the other characters are Doreen Piggot, a waitress married to an alcoholic limo driver named Earl, and television commentator Howard Finnigan, who lives next door to cabaret singer Tess and her daughter Zoe. Jerry Kaiser, the pool cleaner, is married to Lois, who works from home as a phone sex operator. Jerry and Lois are friends with Honey, Doreen's daughter, and her husband Bill, a makeup artist.

Tragedy strikes when Casey, Howard and Anne's young son, is accidentally hit by Doreen's car. Although he initially seems fine, Casey later falls unconscious at home. The concerned parents rush him to the hospital, where he remains comatose. In the midst of this, the baker Andy Bitkower repeatedly calls the Finnigans to inform them about their ordered cake. However, Howard, wanting to keep the phone line free, abruptly ends the calls, leading to frustration on Andy's part.

Howard's estranged father, Paul, arrives at the hospital and recalls an incident from Howard's childhood, which caused the rift between them. Meanwhile, Stuart and his friends, Gordon and Vern, harass Doreen at the diner before leaving for a fishing trip. During their excursion, they discover the body of a young woman. Contemplating what to do, they decide to tie her to the rocks and continue fishing, only reporting the incident later. Stuart eventually confesses to Claire, who is appalled by their actions and visits the funeral home out of guilt.

Stormy, one of the helicopter pilots, pays a destructive visit to Betty's house while she is away with their son. Gene abandons the family dog due to its barking, but eventually retrieves it after his children express distress. The Wymans have a heated argument before their dinner party with the Kanes, during which Marian admits to having an affair. Both couples resort to heavy drinking, and the party lasts throughout the night.

A glimmer of hope arises when Casey's eyes flutter, but tragically, he suddenly dies, leaving Howard and Anne devastated. Meanwhile, Zoe, overwhelmed by her mother's alcoholism, Casey's death, and her own isolation, commits suicide by starting her car engine inside the garage. Her mother discovers her lifeless body and drinks herself into a stupor.

When Honey picks up pictures from the fotomat, she finds them mixed up with Gordon's. Honey is shocked to find pictures of the submerged body from Gordon's fishing trip while Gordon equally shocked to find pictures of Honey appearing severely beaten. Disturbed, they part ways but memorize each other's license plates. Later, at a picnic, Jerry and Bill encounter two young women they had met earlier. Bill and one of the girls walk away, only to hear her scream moments before Jerry kills her with a rock. Suddenly, a major earthquake strikes, causing chaos. The aftermath suggests that Jerry's act may be mistakenly attributed to the falling rocks during the earthquake.



According to associate producer Mike Kaplan, the screenplay was first written in 1989.[4] Filming primarily took place in Los Angeles, California. Principal photography began on July 26, 1992, and ended on October 1, 1992.[5]


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.[6]


Short Cuts received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 95% approval rating, based on 60 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."[7] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 81 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

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."[9] 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."[10] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four out of four stars and called it "a brilliant companion piece" to The Player.[11] 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."[12] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post panned the film as "a cynical, sexist and shallow work" populated with "whiny, inert and mostly unlikable characters."[13]


Short Cuts was named one of the best films of 1993 by over 50 film critics.[14] 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 [15]
1993 Golden Globe Awards Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Nominated [16]
Special Award for Ensemble Short Cuts Won
1993 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Robert Altman Won [17]
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 [18]
1993 Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Short Cuts Won [19]
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 [20]
1993 National Society of Film Critics Best Film Short Cuts Nominated [21]
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 [22]
1993 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Director Robert Altman Nominated [23]
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
1993 Chicago Film Critics Association Best Film Short Cuts Nominated [24]
Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Best Supporting Actress Andie MacDowell Nominated
1993 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Screenplay Robert Altman
Frank Barhydt
Won [25]

Year-end lists


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.[30]

  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.[31][32]

Unfilmed sequel

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.[33]


  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. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  3. ^ Short Cuts at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ Kaplan, Mike (21 October 2009). "Bob Altman's big Short Cuts gamble". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Short Cuts (1993) - Misc Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Short Cuts". The Criterion Collection.
  7. ^ Short Cuts at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ Short Cuts at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 22, 1993). "Short Cuts". Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 1, 1993). "Review/Film Festival: Short Cuts; Altman's Tumultuous Panorama". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 6, 2023. Retrieved November 16, 2023.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (October 22, 1993). "Altman's surreal 'Short Cuts' turns the everyday into art". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, page C.
  12. ^ Turan, Kenneth (October 8, 1993). "Movie Reviews : Robert Altman Finds His Way to Carverville". Los Angeles Times. p. F12. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  13. ^ Kempley, Rita (October 22, 1993). "'Short Cuts': Back Road To Hell". The Washington Post C1.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "1994 -". Academy Awards. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  16. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1994". Golden Globes. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  17. ^ "The 90s". La Biennale di Venezia. 7 December 2017. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  18. ^ "1995 - Best Foreign Film". Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  19. ^ "1994 Nominees" (PDF). Film Independent Spirit Awards. p. 47. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  20. ^ "1993 Archives". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  21. ^ McCarthy, Todd (January 3, 1994). "Crix crown Spielberg". Variety. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "L.A. Critics Pick 'Schindler's List' as Best Picture". Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1993. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  24. ^ Wilmington, Michael (January 16, 1994). "Some Simple Truths About Critics' Votes". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2022-07-08. Retrieved 2022-07-08.
  25. ^ "BSFC Winners - 1993 (December 18th)". Boston Society of Film Critics. Archived from the original on October 11, 2012. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Travers, Peter (December 23, 1993). "The 10 Best Movies of 1993". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  28. ^ "Film Comment's Best of the Nineties Poll: Part Four". Film Comment. Film at Lincoln Center. January–February 2000. Retrieved July 8, 2022.
  29. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 18, 1993). "These Are The Best Movies of the Year". Chicago Tribune.
  30. ^ Carver, Raymond (1993-09-14). Short Cuts: Selected Stories. Vintage. ISBN 978-0679748649.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Parkinson, David. "Luck, Trust & Ketchup (1994)". Radio Times. Retrieved 2022-02-13.
  33. ^ "The Art of Making the Impossible Look Easy". The New York Times. 1998-04-11. Retrieved 2022-02-13.