On April 13, 2018, director Milos Forman died at the age of 86 in Danbury, Connecticut. Over the course of his career, he is best remembered for two Best Picture-winning films: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus. Beyond that, his career encapsulated stories about people trying to understand what freedom truly mean, which he understood as a Czechoslovakian immigrant. His films tended to feature naturalist approaches to stories, capturing a documentary-like look to stories no matter how fictional. He was also great with actors, managing to earn major awards for actors ranging from Jack Nicholson to Woody Harrelson and Jim Carrey. His legacy can be found in his provocative cinema whose messages still feel immediate. He will be greatly missed, even if his influence isn't likely to go away any time soon.
Forman was born in Caslav, Czechoslovakia on February 18, 1932. His mother ran a summer hotel, and his father was an Anti-Nazi protester during World War II. He was interrogated and put to death while his mother would later be killed in Auschwitz. Forman claims that he wouldn't fully understand the situation until he was a teenager and saw the footage form the internment camps. Seeing as he lived in a country under Communist rule, he still would feel oppressed as he aged, which helped to inform most of his work. The sense of restriction made him note how much freedom gets taken for granted. He would start his career in his home country, eventually making the Czech New Wave classic The Fireman's Ball in 1967. It wasn't long after that he would immigrate to America for better opportunities, starting with the film Taking Off in 1971. By this point, Forman already had acquired two Best Foreign Language Oscar nominations.
Taking Off was considered a box office disappointment and made Forman's immediate career a bit difficult. Despite previous acclaim, he had trouble getting work. An argument could be made that producer Michael Douglas only hired him for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because he was in their price range. It was the breakthrough that he needed to get back on his feet, producing a box office smash (considered one of the highest grossing films in cinematic history, when adjusted for inflation) that also helped to raise Jack Nicholson's profile. The film would win big at The Academy Awards that year, winning "The Big Five" (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay), making it only the second film after It Happened One Night to do so (and only the third including The Silence of the Lambs)
Things were looking up for Forman, and his career would feature a nice stream of success with his next few films. Next up was his passion project Hair, which was a modest success in spite of positive reviews. In was next in 1984 with Amadeus that he became one of the rare people to win Best Picture and Best Director twice at the Oscars. The film, in total, would win eight Oscars. It proved that biopics didn't need to be stuffy to be informative. They could be fun and even feature great performances from unlikely sources, like Animal House's Tom Hulce in the lead role. While he would receive another Oscar nomination (Best Director, The People vs Larry Flynt), he wouldn't have a run as impressive afterwards. He hit a few snags with film projects, including a Japanese sumo script that was cancelled days before production started due to script disagreements.
Even beyond directing, Forman was able to have a fruitful career in film. He lead Cannes one year, became a professor at Columbia University, and even had an asteroid named after him (11333 Forman). The acclaim and success made him one of the most recognized directors of his generation, and it helped to influence modern cinema. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest remains one of the highest rated films, with many calling it among the greatest films of all time. For a man who had gone through such strife early in life, Forman channeled it perfectly into his art, and in the process made the world able to mix activism with entertainment in a way that was hard to ignore. He was making more than movies. He was making timeless art.