Altman never made it to the New York press day for A Prairie Home Companion. I was bummed because I had brought my DVD of Popeye for him to sign (can it) and it was obvious I wouldn’t have many more chances to meet the guy.

Turns out I would have no more chances. Robert Altman died last night at age 81, after having an incredibly rich and distinctive career. He went out on a hell of a note, by the way – not only is A Prairie Home Companion a completely wonderful movie, but it’s also a stirring meditation on and acceptance of death. As far as final statements go, they don’t get much better than the final moments of that movie.

Altman had more movies in the planning stages, but it’s hard to get too broken up about his passing just because he had such a good run. And he had a couple of bad runs, to be sure – Quintet and Dr. T and the Women are two of the worst films ever perpetrated against cinema. But on the whole Altman was a unique and important voice in movies, a director who helped move film into the modern, realistic and naturalistic form we all know today.

Oh, and Oscar handicappers – does this put A Prairie Home Companion into the race?