Harold Ramis was always the straight man. He was the voice of reason, the man who offered brief bits of levity in insane situations. But Ramis, who died late last month, was much more than the quiet Ghostbuster. Read any remembrance or watch any DVD commentary, and his true nature comes to light: Behind the camera, he was a madman, the conductor allowing louder, loonier performers to run wild across scripted moments. Ramis was the glue that made all the rubber flying around him stick. Along the way, he captured some of the most hysterical and enduring moments in comedy history. 

According to interviews with the cast,


without Ramis would have been just a story about underdogs trying to best the rich guys. But Ramis, who also scripted, let his leads unleash their intense comical styles—much to the chagrin of their stodgier co-stars, who refused to go off script. With his directorial debut, Ramis became comedy's Robert Altman, an auteur whose background in improv helped him mine the biggest laughs in the moment, such as Bill Murray's legendary encounter with the Dalai Lama.


Films scripted or directed by Ramis center almost exclusively on outcasts seeking acceptance, whether they're slackers becoming unlikely Cold War heroes in Stripes (opening Friday at the Academy), the old-school dad trying to keep tradition alive in Vacation, or a bunch of nerds fighting the paranormal in Ghostbusters. Groundhog Day, Ramis' best directorial effort, flips the scripts, with misfits going all It's a Wonderful Life on a big-city cynic and saving his soul in the process. 

Ramis might have been one of the outsiders he depicted. A Second City alum, he stood in the shadows of louder men, never allowing himself the best line. But as a maestro, he molded his films into classics. With Stripes, he turned what could have been a preachy, scattershot screwball comedy into something more cohesive, a film that could be embraced by veterans and peace-pipe hippies in equal measure. There's a reason rich men in plaid shorts and slackers alike revisit Caddyshack, and why Animal House is required viewing for both preppies and slobs as they enter college. These are films grounded in chaos, reined in by a man whose sense of humor was immaculate and overarching. Ramis made movies for everybody. 

The news of Ramis' passing hit like an unlikely ton of Twinkies. Loud wiseasses owe him a debt of gratitude for showing us there's no situation you can't fix with a good zinger. To this day, when you're stuck in an awkward conversation with a blowhard relative, Ramis provides you with a quick quip you stole verbatim from Ghostbusters—a quip your conversational opponent will recognize immediately and reply to accordingly. And that, in and of itself, might qualify as achieving total consciousness. Academy Theater. March 7-13.

Also Showing: 

  • In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves falls in love with Carrie Anne Moss when he realizes she has the same haircut as he does. Laurelhurst Theater. March 7-13.
  • Midnight Express plays like two different movies: a harrowing tale of an American experiencing a Turkish prison nightmare, and a parody of that very same story. As such, it’s kind of magnificent. 5th Avenue Cinema. March 7-9.
  • What makes Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro perfect? It takes place in a gloriously conceived world where there exist no villains or conflict. There are just two sisters whisked into a magical land full of friendly creatures. With its whimsical beauty, it overwhelms even the stodgiest adult. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium. 7 pm Friday, March 7.
  • So, you’re a Lebowski, I’m a Lebowski…fuck it. Let’s all go bowling while watching and quoting all of The Big Lebowski. Grand Central Bowl. 9 pm Saturday, March 8.
  • NW Film Center continues its love affair with Burt Lancaster with Trapeze (4:30 pm Saturday, March 8), a 1956 Carol Reed film in which the actor ditches his pirate outfit for a circus getup. From a decade earlier comes the crime drama The Killers (7 pm Saturday and 4:30 pm Sunday, March 8-9). It’s an adaptation of a Hemingway short story that might stand as the actor’s most chilling performance. NW Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium.
  • What’s the best way to watch Australian drag-queen cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? That would be while eating brunch, downing bottomless mimosas and constantly confusing the film with To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar in front of the event’s host, legendary drag queen Poison Waters. She’ll still agree that Swayze looked great, though. Mission Theater. 11 am Sunday, March 9.
  • While most audiences know Sammo Hung from the terrible TV show Martial Law, the rotund actor is one of the most badass athletes to grace kung fu cinema. This double feature includes 1980’s The Victim and 1978’s Enter the Fat Dragon. Hollywood Theatre. 7:30 pm Tuesday, March 11.