I love this movie. It's a Wonderful Life is the one where George Bailey is really nice but then he looses a lot of money and never followed his dreams, so he tries to commit suicide, but then an angel comes down from heaven and shows him what the world would be like if he'd never been born. The world is terrible, and the movie is about how one man's life affects a lot of people. There's a fine line between actually inspiring and cheesy, and to me this is actually inspiring. It's a Wonderful Life makes me cry every single time and that is good film making. I find that it makes me happy and gives me faith in my fellow man. You're right, Jimmy, I say to myself - It is a wonderful life. And it's nice when that's how a movie makes you feel.
I would definitely say this a great movie. I think the concept is very memorable and something about it very effective. It just really portrays its theme well and it doesn't have to spell everything out to you. It sticks with you; It makes you think to yourself "What would happen if I had never been born?"It's something that you can genuinely reflect on. There's a reason we see dozens upon dozens of parodies of this movie - The issue of whether or not we've had any effect on the world bothers everyone and it's a relatable motif - That's important in a story.
The storytelling in It's a Wonderful Life is really great - You get invested in the story and you follow the characters and it tells the tale it wants to get across. Even though the movie is specifically trying to deliver a moral, the story still manages to stand by itself, and unlike Miracle on 34th Street, it's characters are actually interesting, and entertaining. It doesn't really have a whole lot going for it as far as cinematography goes - I suppose the lack of snow in the alternate universe is a nice touch - but that doesn't really take away from the movie. It is a little bit old. The acting can be outdated and of course Mary's a librarian, but I don't think it really suffers. It's charmingly outdated at this point.
The best part of the movie, of course, is not only are the cop and cab driver named Bert and Ernie (and still friends in the alternate universe, which I love), but the evil banker's name is Henry Potter. And what's a nickname for Henry? Yeah - Harry. Coincidence?
An interesting observation: It's a Wonderful Life is sort of like a reversed A Christmas Carol. They both discuss divine intervention, what people think of you, poverty and the effect of people's pasts on their present - George Bailey and Scrooge even have similar jobs. What's interesting is that , besides the main characters, is the messages are different - A Christmas Carol says that people can change and grow, and It's a Wonderful Life says that people affect others' lives more than they think they do. Alright, fine. The real difference that while A Christmas Carol makes the point that things can get better, It's a Wonderful Life says that they're pretty fantastic already. A Christmas Carol is all like "Take action, change yourself, love your fellow man, form a union," and It's a Wonderful Life is like "Stop whining, you're fine. You have new dreams now." Those are almost exact opposites from fairly similar stories.
They're still very similar stories though - They have similar tones, both of them even rally against corporate greed and poverty, and talk about how it's important to help people. A Christmas Carol is written under the assumption that people don't understand this, and It's a Wonderful Life is written as if they do. I think the difference in perspective comes from the fact that A Christmas Carol is telling us that we need to be different and get to a place where people help each other, and It's a Wonderful Life is telling us that we're already there, and should keep doing what we're doing. I thought it was an interesting contrast.