We lost a giant this week when we lost Robert Altman, who was surely one of the greatest of all American film directors. In choosing seven representative works, I'm going to skip over M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975), given that everyone knows them. They're both fine films, but I've just never really been drawn to them. (I've also opted, painfully, to leave out the well-known classics The Player and Gosford Park.) Rather, I like his maverick works, the ones that people seemed to ignore or misunderstand. That's how I see Altman, anyhow -- always punching away at the envelope.
1. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
This revisionist Western is unquestionably Altman's masterpiece. Warren Beatty plays an entrepreneur in the Old West who tries to organize and build a brothel, but finds he can't do it without the help of a whorehouse madam (Julie Christie). It sounds like a silly, modern-day romantic comedy about the clashing of two opposing personalities, but Altman does it correctly, getting to the root of these psychologically flawed characters and using the chilly, grungy atmosphere as part of the plan. The climactic shootout is the textbook definitions of "anti-climactic," with Beatty's character stumbling around in the snow.