An angel tries to win his wings by helping a man who has been forced to give up his dreams in the process of helping others.
At one time, this was the most ubiquitous movie during the Christmas season; that title has now been taken by A CHRISTMAS STORY. I will admit there's a curmudgeonly part of my personality that would have been tempted to dismiss the movie by its plot description alone; however, the fact of the matter is that the movie wins me over completely each time I see it. Part of the reason is that the movie earns its sentiment the hard way; the scenes of George Bailey's frustrations and disappointments are very real and quite painful; the scenes involving the druggist and the misprepared prescription are tough to endure, because you feel deeply for each of the characters in the scene. I'm also won over by Capra's skill as a director, particularly his ability to juggle a fairly large array of characters without leaving you lost, his skill in handling crowd scenes (particularly in the way he makes each member of the crowd seem like an individual and unique person), and the sharp confidence in which he sets up his expositions; if I were to ever take up screenwriting or directing, this is one movie I would study very closely to learn my techniques. However, I would have to say the biggest factor in winning me over to the movie is the performance of James Stewart; his George Bailey is so fully realized as a human being that he is absolutely magnetic; he may be compassionate and self-sacrificing, but he's no saint, and not making him one is a wise move, as it allows us to relate to him as a fellow human being trying his best. In fact, all the performances are strong, and as an ensemble they make the whole town of Bedford Falls live and breathe in a way that gives the place a life above and beyond the movie.
Some movie have earned their status as classics; this is one of them.