It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year, and you’ll see a different message in it every time. On its face, it’s a heartwarmer about treating your fellow man with fairness and love, knowing that they will stand behind you when you need them. But it’s also a political movie about the destructive influence of consolidated wealth (Lionel Barrymore’s Mr. Potter is one of cinema’s great villains); it’s nearly a tragic portrait of a talented dreamer who sacrifices himself completely for others and is almost destroyed by his own frustration; and in the tradition of Dickens’s three Christmas ghosts, it’s a look at the chilling consequences of all the paths not taken in a life. Solemn and sweet but uncompromising, the movie refuses to let George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) off easy. And the key is the title — it may not be the life he wanted, it may not be the life he deserved, it may not always be easy to admit, but it is, truly, a wonderful life.