Milos Forman, the Oscar-winning director, passed away on Friday after a short illness. He was 86. Forman was born in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1932; during World War II, his parents were taken by the Nazis and were murdered in concentration camps. He started his career in Prague, though he left for the United States after Czechoslovakia was invaded in 1968.
His American debut was Taking Off, which was critically acclaimed, but unsuccessful. But his next movie was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — and the rest was history.
In honor of Forman’s life, we’re looking at five of his best films. These aren’t his five best — he had more bests than that. These are just five Forman films we enjoyed; if you like these, he’s got many others to explore.
1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One of Milos Forman’s greatest achievements was being one of the few directors to have directed two films that won the Best Picture Oscar. This is, of course, one of them. Forman’s adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel is about a small-time criminal who pleads insanity and finds himself in an abusive mental institution. It’s a truly disturbing film — particularly Louise Fletcher’s performance as the abusive monster Nurse Ratched.
Despite being nominated for eight Oscars, Ragtime is an often-overlooked part of Forman’s filmography. An adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel, Ragtime is an exploration of racial relations in the early 1900s. It tells the story of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a talented ragtime pianist who attempts to turn his life around. But when his life falls apart due to racist violence against him and his family, and the authorities refuse to help, he tries to get revenge on those who wronged him. (That’s when the authorities suddenly care.) A must-watch, particularly in the age of #BlackLivesMatter.
3. The People vs. Larry Flynt
Forman was always drawn to unconventional celebrities. And there are fewer celebrities more unconventional than Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. Framed as a conventional biopic, Woody Harrelson stars as the publisher, while Courtney Love plays his wife, Althea. Of course, while the framing may be conventional, the events aren’t — most films don’t involve a man sitting in court, clad in an American flag folded into a diaper.
This is the other Best Picture winner Milos Forman directed. (Though, given how famous this and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are, you probably didn’t need us to tell you that.) Amadeus follows the rivalry between effortless genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his rival, Antonio Salieri.
Interestingly, in real life, aside from competing for jobs, Mozart and Salieri were friends and colleagues, and often supported each other’s work. Don’t blame Forman, though — shortly after Mozart’s death, rumors swirled that Salieri had poisoned him. (He didn’t.)
5. Man on the Moon
Another one of his biopics, Man on the Moon stars Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman. At the time, Carrey was lauded for his performance which mirrored many of Kaufman’s mannerisms perfectly. However, with the new Netflix documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, it’s revealed that Jim Carrey never dropped character and, especially as Andy Kaufman’s marginally talented lounge-lizard character Tony Clifton, was just as obnoxious as the character.