It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

English: Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna...
English: Screenshot of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in the American film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). The film lapsed into the public domain in the United States due to the failure of National Telefilm Associates, the last copyright owner, to renew. See film article for details. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Truly, no one who’s owned a television set anytime in the last thirty years needs to be advised to see Frank Capra’s tumultuous masterwork after Thanksgiving. To escape from the public-domain broadcast ubiquity it suffered from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, you would’ve had to have been Bigfoot, living in the woods. So we won’t linger—except to say, in case you’ve been oversaturated or distanced by televisual redundancy (far too many sympathetic viewers know this film in fragments, having happened upon signature scenes, on up to three stations at the same time, while channel-flipping), take a few years off (avert your eyes, as if from the sun), and then sit down and subject yourself to this movie’s passionate vision once again. Much more than merely a Christmas film, Capra’s magnum opus is an open exploration of midcentury American humanity, with all of its sacrifice, resilient humor, and dark self-pity, as it comes up against the inexorable hungers of postindustrial capitalism. But it’s also, helplessly, a Christmas movie, the most heartfelt of all Christmas movies, free of cliches, shopping incitements, and the need to “believe” in anything but your neighbors. If you’re not a kid—and you probably shouldn’t be if you’re going to watch this film, what with all its talk of bank runs and mortgage equity—Christmas is really about home, devotion, family, self-sacrifice, and the sometimes rueful passage of time, and this may be the only film ever made about the season that takes these simple realities as matters of fact. And it nails that snowy, small-town feeling down, despite having been shot in Encino.

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