A Tribute to Harold Ramis, Director of Groundhog Day

As a huge Groundhog Day fan, I couldn’t help but be massively bummed out yesterday when I read of Harold Ramis’s passing. Check that–as a huge movie fan, not just Groundhog Day fan. Ramis wrote and/or directed some of my all time favorites, and it’s sad to see him go. (Could he really have already been almost 70? Really?) Check out his resume as a writer: Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. As a director: Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest. It’s true that Ramis didn’t have a huge number of films under his belt compared to some directors, and it’s also true that he didn’t have as big of hits after the early 90s, but sometimes it’s the quality not the quantity that counts. And so as a send off to Mr. Ramis, I wanted to give a quick rundown of the movies of his that I’ve seen, and my thoughts on each.

Animal House–(1978) Written by Ramis and others and directed by John Landis, it’s the movie that propelled John Belushi to stardom. 7.7 on IMDB. Not my favorite film, but a comedy classic in its genre. Double Secret Probation. Thank you sir, may I have another? Toga party. Sometimes I wonder how much of college life is a reflection of people trying to live how they think college life is supposed to be. In other words, did Animal House make college life, or did college life make Animal House?

Meatballs–(1979) Written by Ramis and others and directed by Ivan Reitman, it’s the movie that started the Bill Murray launch. 6.1 on IMDB. Yes, you’ve got the typical summer camp setting, but you’ve also got what I think is one of the best inspirational speeches of all time. It just doesn’t matter!

Caddyshack–(1980) Written and directed by Ramis, with help on the writing from others. 7.4 on IMDB. The definitive golf comedy classic. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and love it each time–and not just because it’s the first pairing of Billy Murray with a groundhog. (Here’s a question for you: what if this movie is an alternative outcome to Groundhog Day, where Phil Connors went absolutely insane and emerged to become the groundskeeper of this film? Awesome.) The quotes from this movie are endless. It’s in the hole. You’ll get nothing and like it. The Varmint Cong.

Stripes–(1981)  Written by Ramis and others and directed by Ivan Reitman. 6.9 on IMDB. Not my favorite movie of his, but still–Ramis and Bill Murray team up on screen to present the most awesome ESL class ever.

National Lampoon’s Vacation–(1983) Directed by Ramis. 7.4 on IMDB. If you’ve ever been on a cross country family trip and you’ve never seen this movie, you’re really missing out. Pure comedy gold, done superbly by Chevy Chase. I’ve seen this film many many times, and I’ve always loved it. The dog behind the car. Wally World. Aunt Edna. Great movie. You also start to get a feel for some of the films Ramis likes to focus on. Comedy that comes from everyday life, with a strong twist of bizarre. The movie’s funny, yes–but there’s a squishy center in the middle of it.

Ghostbusters–(1984) Written by Ramis and Ackroyd, directed by Ivan Reitman. 7.8 on IMDB. I was talking to a student worker the other day, and they’d never seen Ghostbusters. Never even heard of it. And that should just be a federal crime. It’s a perfect blend of scary, funny, and strange. Own it. Love it.

Groundhog Day–(1993) Written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, directed by Rubin. 8.1 on IMDB–the 216th top rated film. This one needs no introduction or summary from me. Like Vacation, it’s definitely got a squishy center. I’ve seen this movie at least 15 times. Probably around 2o. It just keeps getting better. A fantastic movie.

Multiplicity–(1996) Directed by Ramis. 5.9 on IMDB. I haven’t seen this one in a long time, though I remember enjoying it a fair bit when I did. Michael Keaton has some very funny roles in the movie, and I wonder how well it has aged. I don’t think that 5.9 rating is reflective of the sort of movie it actually is, but I’d have to give it another gander to say for sure. Again, you’ve got a comedy exploring the squishier side of humanity.

Analyze This–(1999) Written by Ramis and others, directed by Ramis. 6.7 on IMDB. De Niro and Billy Crystal, doing the mob therapist thing long before The Sopranos came on the idea. I saw this one once, quite a long time ago. Not many memories here.

Bedazzled–(2000) Written by Ramis and others, directed by Ramis. 5.9 on IMDB. Again, I feel like that 5.9 is too low. The DVD cover has a bikini-clad Elizabeth Hurley, so I think perhaps it’s setting the wrong expectations for viewers. It’s not the sex romp the cover seems to be promising. It’s a Faustian remake of the original Dudley Moore movie, where a regular guy makes a deal with the devil, and humor ensues. I liked this one enough to buy it on sale, though it’s been a while since I watched it.

The Ice Harvest (2005) Directed by Ramis. 6.3 on IMDB. It stars John Cusack as a mob lawyer trying to make a break for it. How could I not watch it? Again, I think 6.3 is low for this movie–so it seems I clearly have a soft spot for Ramis films. It’s quite the departure from his other movies. Darker, although I would still argue it’s got a squishy center (for a black comedy).

And that rounds out the movies I’ve seen of his. There are a few holes I’m missing, but I’ve seen most of them. Thank goodness we’re still able to watch the work of the artist when the artist is gone, but it makes me sad that we no longer have a chance of getting anything new. Mr. Ramis, you shall be missed.

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