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It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

December 25, 2009


9/10 Angel Wings

The best Christmas movie of all-time. Simple as that.

It’s a Wonderful Life is about George Bailey, a hometown hero of Bedford Falls who, after living a long, fruitful life, hits the skids in a big way and contemplates throwing himself off a bridge. But just when he’s about to make the big leap, his guardian angel stops him by going first, George saves him, then in a fit of rage wishes he had never been born. The guardian angel acts on George’s wishes and our good ol’ boy Bailey goes back to Bedford Falls to see what life would have been like for the town and everyone else he knew had he never existed in the first place.

So it’s got a pretty strong Christmas Carol vibe going for it, but when push comes to shove, I’d take this baby over Scrooge and his weirdo spirits any day.

Now, I’d like to say that this is my favorite Christmas movie because the whole thing is amazing from beginning to end, but the truth of the matter is that it all comes down to the last fifteen minutes – which seems to be a recurring trend in a lot of Capra movies. But before I get around to that, this movie still has a some major dealbreakers going for it.

First up is my man Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Don’t you just love Jimmy Stewart? Rhetorical question, everyone loves Jimmy Stewart. The thing is, George is already a great character to begin with and you like him right from square one, but put Jimmy’s face in front of the camera and he’ll make you like the guy double. Man, Jimmy Stewart could play John Wayne Gacy and I’m pretty sure I’d find him endearing. He’s just fantastic and he brings the good here as always.

Same goes from Henry Travers as George’s guardian angel, Clarence. Can’t say that I recognize him from anything else, but Clarence is the second best character here right behind George.

And maybe I just haven’t seen enough Frank Capra movies, but while this isn’t exactly an impressive movie from a technical standpoint, Capra totally makes up for it in substance. It’s a feel-good movie if there ever was one and the reason it all works is because he makes you care about every last character in the same way that they all care about each other. He makes the story as much about everyone else in George’s life as it is about George himself, and without those connections between the characters and the audience, it wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does. Frank Capra rocks, man. No one makes movies like he does any more.

There are a lot of great movies I find myself revisiting around the holidays, but this has been the only one that I ever really look forward to seeing each year. Something about starting it up at midnight and watching it until I’m at the point of passing out always gets me in that festive mood.

It wasn’t until my most recent viewing that I realized the moment that makes this movie for me is when George is back at the bridge about to punch out Bert the cop, tastes the blood on his lip and finally realizes he’s got his life back. That’s when the waterworks start coming, that’s when I start telling everyone around me that I’ve got something in my eye. It really does get me every time and I can’t help but feel that life truly is wonderful after seeing him run through the streets of Bedford Falls yelling “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” to everyone and everything in sight.

Don’t even get me started on the final scene in George’s home and Clarence’s message of “No man is a failure who has friends.” I’m gonna have to send my computer back to the Geek Squad if I keep crying on my keyboard like this.

It’s a Wonderful Life is about the true spirit of Christmas, it’s about not taking the things we hold dear for granted, and it’s about the goodness of the human heart. Man, I just love this movie and Christmas just isn’t the same without it. Might not be as funny as Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, but Wonderful Life will always be my pick of the litter. Talk about timeless.
FUN FACT: Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street are named after the Bert and Ernie characters from It’s a Wonderful Life. Remember that one for trivia night.

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