A seven-time Oscar nominee, Altman, 81, counts among his nearly 50 credits "M*A*S*H," "Nashville," "Gosford Park, "The Player," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Cookie's Fortune."
The actresses introduced Altman using his trademark overlapping dialogue as they praised his "refusal to play by the rules or stick to the script."
Part of the joy of working for Altman was "the spontaneity of not knowing what the hell we're doing," they said.
In accepting his award, Altman noted he was in London the previous night for the opening of his staging of Arthur Miller's "Resurrection Blues" and has "Prairie Home Companion" coming out this summer -- so the honorary Oscar hardly signifies the end of his career.
Altman also noted he has a much younger heart thanks to a transplant and a young female donor, so "I think I have about 40 years left on it and I attend to use it."
Rather than go through a list of the hundreds of people he has worked with through the years, Altman simply thanked his physician, because "she represents everybody who supported me and made it possible."