I myself only saw it for the first time last year and suffice it to say that I was so taken with its rough-and-tumble humanity that it was the one Altman film to figure in the Top 10 of all-time list I submitted to Senses of Cinema... There’s nothing so novel going on in California Split – a wholly naturalistic picture set in the 1970s – and yet its characters feel just as lonely and pathetic (and lovable) and the outcome of the games they play just as live-or-die important.
This simultaneously relaxed and lively swing-fest, a celebration of collective euphoria, shows how deeply akin Altman’s style is to the aesthetics of improvised jazz, which at its best tends to thrive not so much through competition as through the kind of sudden inspiration that fellow players can spark in one another.
[...California Split is] one of those movies so special it’s hard to even write about. It’s just so alive and breathing and real and charming and sad you can practically smell it. It’s a movie I turn to time and time again because, even if I know it’s not a healthy world, I want to be in that world again. I want to experience its off-kilter cool, its bummer vibes. I want to, once again, fall in love with its scruffy-cool, wisecracking, charismatic leads.