Czechoslovakian director Milos Forman lost his Jewish father and Protestant mother to Hitler's concentration camps. Raised by family members, Forman studied at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in Prague, serving his professional apprenticeship as a writer of the pioneering Laterna Magika mixed-media presentations of the 1950s. Already an award-winning filmmaker thanks to a brace of short subjects, Forman directed his first feature, Black Peter, in 1963.
Loves of a Blonde (1965) and Firemen's Ball (1967), two sweet-tempered films with a distinctively Czech sense of humor, brought Forman to the attention of American critics. With the increasing artistic freedom prevalent in his country, Forman intended to spend the rest of his career in Prague, but when Russian troops marched into Czechoslovakia in 1968, the director shifted his base of operations to France. From there, he went to Hollywood for his first English-language film, Taking Off (1971), a modest comedy about changing family values of the 1970s that featured such stars-to-be as Georgia Engel and Carly Simon. The film proved to be a success, winning a number of awards, including a Special Jury Prize at Cannes.
Following this triumph, Forman directed the decathlon sequences of the multi-national Olympic documentary Visions of Eight (1973), then moved on to what many consider his masterpiece, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). A celebration of the individual spirit staged in the depressing confines of a mental institution, Cuckoo's Nest became the first American film since It Happened One Night (1934) to win Oscars in all five major categories, including Best Director for Forman. Following that was Hair (1979), the overdue film version of the 1967 Broadway rock musical; it could have been anachronistic in lesser hands, but, under Forman's guidance, became a delectable time capsule of what the '60s seemed to represent to those who lived through it. Forman then directed Ragtime, a generally well-received 1981 adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel that provided a compelling look at the various cultural and social forces at work in early 20th century America.
Three years later, Forman returned to Prague for the first time since his 1968 exile, filming location shots for Amadeus, a liberal retelling of the life of Mozart (as seen through the eyes of Antonio Salieri). Amadeus won another Oscar for Forman, not to mention Best Picture. Following the film's great success, Forman served as director of Columbia University's film division; he also acted in other directors' films and directed Valmont (1989), the least-famous variation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In 1996, Forman returned to directing with his acclaimed biography of Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt, scoring both a Best Director Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win in the same category. Three years later, he tackled the life of another controversial American figure in Man on the Moon, his biopic of legendary comic Andy Kaufman, starred Jim Carrey as the mercurial Kaufman. He had a seven-year break before his next project, the biopic Goya's Ghosts, for which he assembled a cast that included Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman.