Watching a Robert Altman film is like having a great conversation with a beautiful woman for two hours and never seeing her again.
Shortcuts is an adaptation of 6 Raymond Carver stories more or less intertwined together. Some of the stories are more interesting than others. For example, I could have probably done without the Andie Mcdowell storyline all together. In fact, most of the stories on their own wouldn't have made for a decent movie. It is kind of like Memento isn't the same when you watch it in the right order (On the dvd you can unlock an option to do just that). You need to have the other stories to add that level of interest in how they all fit together.
Oh yes, the storylines. One of my favorite scenes in the film is between Fred Ward (underrated) and Anne Archer. Ward has been up fishing with a couple of buddies and they found a floater. Ward explains their decision to not report the body until they get to the last day of their fishing. Of the couples in the film, these two really have chemisty. To watch the interplay between the Archer and Ward does make you wish they had more prominent parts in the film.
Another of the better storylines concerns Tim Robbins as a policeman who is cheating on his ridiculously attractive wife played by Madeline Stowe. It is great to see Robbins in full "Robbins" mode (Not to be confused with going into "Liotta-mode"). He can reach that level of arrogant douchebagness with attention to every detail from his slicked back hair to his sunglasses he keeps on indoors. He is currently seeing Frances McDormand (kind of hot when she was younger) who is going through a divorce from Peter Gallagher.
Shortcuts was one of the first films to really go at the multiple storyline approach. Lots of directors have stolen the concept (Crash, Playing by Heart), while others (Magnolia) have pretty stolen everything from it. Playing by Heart is an underrated gem that feels more like a stage version of an Altman film. The dialogue is less spontaneous and more lived in, but you get a similar experience.
One of the few faults with Shortcuts is that since you are just seeing a snapshot of the people's lives, you never get to find out what happens with most of the characters. Only some of them find resolution before the film comes to an end. The only other complaint I have is that at 190 minutes you could do well to simplify things a bit. Lots of parts could be trimmed down to give more emphasis on the stronger material. I wouldn't quite say a masterpiece, but a near one.