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9 Great Milos Forman Movies to Stream


Director Milos Forman died Friday at age 86. As one of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave in the 1960s, Forman joined a generation of young filmmakers that built a creative bulwark against communist oppression. That rebellious spirit carried over to his decades in Hollywood, from the counterculture sentiments of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Hair” to his embrace of rabble-rousing iconoclasts like Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon.”

Not all of his great films are available to stream, but here are nine, including two best-picture winners, that showcase Forman’s engagement with history and politics, and with the characters willing to fight the current. If you want to check out any of the movies at a later time, save them to your Watchlist, where you can keep a personal list of TV shows and films you’d like to try out.

‘The Firemen’s Ball’ (1967)
Where to watch:
Amazon

A strong anti-authoritarian streak runs through much of Forman’s work, but the controversies that greeted “The Firemen’s Ball” abruptly ended his time in communist Czechoslovakia and brought him to Hollywood. Forman denied the allegorical implications of the premise, which details the calamitous efforts of a volunteer fire department to give a party for its former leader, but the film nonetheless belongs on the satirical continuum between “Dr. Strangelove” and Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “The Thick of It”). Over a brisk 73 minutes, the outbreak of disasters include a beauty contest with homely and stage-shy contestants, a rash of disappearing raffle prizes and an actual fire that breaks out across town.

For “Visions of Eight,” Forman and seven other internationally renowned directors were commissioned to participate in an anthology film about the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Forman’s “The Decathlon” is the sixth and longest, a peculiar juxtaposition of individual sporting events and musical performances, mostly from a Bavarian folk band. Each event is presented without context — his interest in documenting the winners and losers is nil — and Forman shoots extensively in slow-motion, emphasizing the pregnant moments before the athletes start to compete.

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Only three films in Oscar history have swept all five major categories (picture, actor, actress, director and screenplay): “It Happened One Night,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and Forman’s adaptation of the novel by Ken Kesey, which frames the conflict at a mental hospital as an allegory for a polarized culture. At the center of that conflict is a battle of wills between Randal P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a convict who bluffs his way into the psyche ward, and Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who runs the place like a sinister warden. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has a big, generous sense of humor, but there’s humanity, too, in McMurphy’s championing of patients who are more vulnerable to Ratched’s abuses than he is.

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After establishing his counterculture bona fides with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Forman took on the challenge of adapting Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s Broadway smash about a New York hippie enclave rebelling against the Vietnam War. There’s an urgency and danger missing from Forman’s musical, which was a decade removed from the tempest around the original production. But he brings a shaggy naturalism to “Hair” by shooting in real locations and allowing the choreography to get a little unkempt. And the songs remain terrific.

When Forman left Czechoslovakia for America, he immediately (and permanently) keyed into the dramatic crosscurrents that animated the culture, and in E.L. Doctorow’s historical novel about the early 1900s, he worked on his largest canvas to date. But rather than give “Ragtime” the “Nashville” treatment, Forman and his screenwriter, Michael Weller, focused mainly on revealing this world through the story of an African-American jazz pianist (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) who gets entangled in class and racial conflicts. A beautiful production, it also has a willingness to engage in the uncomfortable issues that continue to plague the nation.

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Forman collected another Oscar for best director, along with awards for best picture and six others, for this rousing adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play about the rivalry between the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). In telling the story through Salieri’s perspective, “Amadeus” becomes a drama about deranged jealousy and betrayal as Salieri fumes over his prodigious counterpart, who is seen as immature and unworthy of his superior talent. Yet through the heat of Salieri’s contempt, Mozart’s compositions come alive with fresh urgency: “Amadeus” isn’t a stodgy costume piece for classical music fans only, it’s a gripping drama about a divine gift and its costs.

‘Valmont’ (1989)
Where to buy:
iTunes

Arriving just a year after the superb “Dangerous Liaisons,” this adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” was doomed to fail. And did just that, sinking under a bloated production budget and lackluster reviews. The side-to-side comparison did no favors to Forman’s version, which didn’t have the same snap, especially in the role of Valmont, which Colin Firth couldn’t play with anything close to John Malkovich’s malevolent panache. But now, from a greater distance, the virtues of “Valmont” are better appreciated, particularly Annette Bening’s deliciously nasty turn as the Marquise de Merteuil, who inspires the cruel erotic gamesmanship that eventually curdles into tragedy.

‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’ (1996)
Where to watch:
Amazon, Vudu

“If the First Amendment will protect a scum bag like me, it will protect all of you.” With that quote as its prevailing sentiment, Forman’s fleet biopic about the “Hustler” pornographer turned free speech crusader Larry Flynt doesn’t underplay Flynt’s seamier side — well, maybe a little — but it does use it as a stress test for a cherished Constitutional principle. Woody Harrelson plays Flynt as an irreverent wild card whose life lurches from porn trailblazer to Christian convert, until finally landing him in a protracted legal battle with Jerry Falwell. Courtney Love is equally good as his wife Althea, whose fortunes are troubled first by addiction and later by contracting H.I.V.

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Working again with the “Larry Flynt” screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Forman sank his teeth into this lively biopic about another cultural provocateur, Andy Kaufman. Jim Carrey famously immersed himself in the role of Kaufman, the anti-comedy legend who played Latka on “Taxi” but shaped his persona in late-night and stage performances that were rife with inside jokes, offensive behavior and weird sideshows. For better or worse, Carrey sucks up much of the oxygen, but Forman’s characteristic attention to period detail helps put Kaufman’s antics in their proper cultural context.

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