#20 It’s a Wonderful Life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Frank Capra’s tale of the affect that everyone has on the people around them is a timeless Christmas classic that begs to be rediscovered by every generation.

This film observes the life of George Bailey (James Stewart), a good and selfless man who has put his life on hold for the good of his town. He had many dreams for his life that he had to sacrifice in order to prevent the takeover of his town by Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a relentless man who is obsessed with the complete ownership of Bedford Falls.

George is so important to the town because his building and loan company is the only thing that stands in Mr. Potter’s way. But when George’s 8,000-dollar deposit goes missing, George not only faces the possibility of serving jail time, but also the complete collapse of his company. This would allow Mr. Potter to finally take over the town.

Stricken with grief George decides that his family, and his town, would be better off without him. George brings himself to the town bridge, and is about to end his life, but he is visited by an angel.

This angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) offers George a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the ability to see what his life would be like if he had never been born.

The result is a trip down memory lane for George as Clarence leads him through the various deeds in his life that have benefited those around him.

Frank Capra’s dedication to this film was obvious. Everything about this film was put together meticulously in order to create a believable town, as well as believable characters to inhabit it.

Capra’s vision of the town of Bedford Falls is one of the most complete creations of any society on screen (perhaps with the exception of Kevin Smith’s “Askewniverse”). Characters had relationships that were son intertwined it would seem that they were real people that Capra was filming.

Perhaps it is due to the genius mechanism of George re-experiencing the prior events of his life, but nothing feels forced in this film. Nothing is said for the benefit of the viewer. This adds to Copra’s complete vision of the characters. Because there is no one needlessly explaining anything to the viewer, the reality of the characters remains firmly intact.

It is unclear as to how Capra, along with the various credited and un-credited writers, was able to create such a clear vision in this film, but whatever he did, he did it well.

Something that definitely didn’t hurt this sense of realism was the superb performance of James Stewart. This was his first performance after serving in world war two and, though he thought it was too soon for him to be making a film, the affect the war had in his performance was clearly beneficial. That is not meant to sound glib, but it is worth speculating that the scenes of overwhelming emotion would not have been as powerful had he not been in this emotional state.

This film looks good, sounds good, and is good. It deals with themes that are both universal, and timeless. More importantly, it doesn’t fall into the trap of making every decision George made into a positive one. So often films like this go too far in their search for inspiration. They toy with the notion that everything happens for the benefit of everyone. This film manages to not give off this sugar-coated sense of optimism, while simultaneously creating a sense of inspiration for the viewer.

Some people will feel that this movie has become a cliché of itself. After all, nearly every cartoon, sit-com, and family drama has copied the plot of this film at least once. But this should serve as nothing more than a testament as to how important this film is to the industry.

So, if you watch this film for the first time and bells are going off due to how familiar it seems just smile, cause every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.


#9 Vertigo

Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.

It has been said that Vertigo is Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and I couldn’t agree more. Every movie that Hitchcock does is a masterpiece, and from a directorial standpoint there is nothing about this film that is more exceptional than any of his others, where this film succeeds above Hitchcock’s others is its story. Unlike certain films of his, this film’s greatness does not depend on its twist (take notes Syamalan), instead, the film is driven by realistic characters that beg for sympathy.

The film is, at times, romantic, sad, and suspenseful, and sometimes it is all three simultaneously. James Stewart is captivating as the lead, and Kim Novak plays her part, and all it’s various stages, to near perfection. And of course, the directing was amazing.

Hitchcock has a creative way of shooting every scene in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Different camera angles, and awkwardly placed props put you on edge in virtually every scene. Hitchcock’s dedication to the visual aspects of this film was so great that he spent a week filming a scene that only took about 6 seconds of screen time, just so that he could get the lighting right.

Everything about this film works so well. The story is intriguing, the dialogue is amazing, and like I said before, the acting and directing are top notch. The film’s only flaw is its first twenty minutes. It plays out a little slow, but even this is necessary to properly set the mood of the film.

Ultimately, this film should be seen by everyone. It is considered the greatest mystery of all time, and for good reason. My only question is, why did Psycho finish five places below this film? You’ll get to find out in five days.