This completely absorbing three-hour documentary follows the lives of two inner-city African American teenage basketball prodigies as they move through high school with long-shot dreams of the NBA, superstardom, and an esc... more »ape from the ghetto. Taking cues from such works as Michael Apted's 35 Up, director Steve James and associates shot more than 250 hours of footage, spanning more than six years, and their completed work actually moves like an edge-of-the-seat drama, so brimming with tension, plot twists, successes, and tragedies that its length--170 minutes--is never an issue. Yet, what makes the film more impressive is how James moves his scope beyond a competitive sports drama (although the movie has plenty of terrific, nail-biting basketball footage) and addresses complex social issues, creating a scathing social commentary about class privilege and racial division. The film opens by introducing William Gates and Arthur Agee, two Chicago hopefuls, as they are being courted and recruited by various high schools to play ball, and continues until the pair are college freshmen. James allows the audience the experience of not only watching their journeys and daily routines (it's a sobering portrait of inner-city life), but also witnessing their maturation. Each takes a separate path along the way, stumbling over several obstacles (William suffers injuries, Arthur fails to meet his coach's high expectations); but James takes particular care to stress the importance and strong commitment of each character's family along the way, giving the film a essential center. The parents and siblings emerge with as much depth and complexity as the two main "characters," and turn Hoop Dreams into an unforgettable film experience. --Dave McCoy« less
Highs, lows and real struggles of basketball hopefuls
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 04/29/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1994 award-winning documentary is about William and Arthur, two Chicago African-American teenagers who, in the eighth grade, are recruited to play basketball for a middle-class parochial high school. Both are good at basketball but struggle with their academics. And both dream of playing for the NBA.The film follows these two boys for a full six years. It also follows their families and we get a glimpse of the challenges of everyday life in the ghetto. These are real people, not actors, and they have to cope with a lot, including Arthur's father drug problem and the economics of living on $268 per month on welfare. Wisely, the camera is never feels intrusive, and I felt I was right there with them, watching them grow, both mentally and physically. There's a lot of struggle, with highs and lows in their personal lives as well as on the basketball courts, and it is always fascinating. The film is almost three hours long but it is so intriguing that I could have watched it for another hour.This might not be fiction, but the individual stories are filled with drama as it deals with some very sensitive issues of class, race, maturity and hard choices. And the director, Steve James, who wrote the film along with Fredrick Marx, managed to edit it so perfectly, that I was totally unaware of anything else but just being a part of this world for the duration of the film. Highly recommended for everybody. Do see it! It's wonderful!"
Perhaps the Best Documentary Ever?
thornhillatthemovies.com | Venice, CA United States | 07/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As much as I love the Academy Awards, a lot of mistakes are made every year when they hand out those little coveted golden statues. No Best Director Oscar to Hitchcock? No Best Director Oscar to Scorcese for "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas"? Both travesties. And there are a number of Best Picture Oscar Winners which are only remembered today because they won the Best Picture Oscar. Many of the films nominated the same year are still in the public consciousness because they are great, memorable, outstanding films. Some of the biggest mistakes perpetrated on the public by the Academy Awards have been in the Best Documentary category. "The Thin Blue Line", the groundbreaking documentary by Errol Morris, "Roger and Me", the wildly popular film by Michael Moore and "Hoop Dreams" were all passed up. "Hoop Dreams" was not the best documentary of 1994 but "Maya Lin" is?
Anyone who knows me knows I hate sports. I have never liked to play them or watch them. I am a sports atheist. So, my love of "Hoop Dreams" may come as a surprise to many people.
I think I am drawn to the film so much because, much like the more recent "Murderball", "Dreams" isn't about a sport so much as it is about two kids who love to play the sport. Basketball is a big factor in the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two poor kids from the Chicago projects; they live, eat, dream about becoming professional basketball players, but the film covers their lives and how basketball impacts them as they grow up.
Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, the filmmakers, worked on this project for eight years. Eight years! How many films have such a dedicated crew? During that time, they followed the lives of William, Arthur and their respective families from their freshman year of high school through their freshman year of college. Because of the access afforded to the filmmakers and the length of time they followed the two kids, the film presents a remarkably in-depth look at their lives. We follow William and Arthur for five years of their lives watching them grow up before our eyes. Both kids are good and want to make something of their lives, but various influences impact how their dreams will play out.
Arthur's idol is Isiah Thomas, a former student at St. Joseph's, a private, predominately white Catholic high school in the suburbs. A talent scout spots William and Arthur playing and takes them to meet Gene Pingatore, Thomas' famous former coach. Pingatore places Arthur on the Freshman team and decides William is good enough to play Varsity. Through a series of incidents, Arthur is forced to return to his neighborhood high school where he joins the basketball team.
As each of the kids begins to follow a different road, various influences and circumstances change each of their lives. William's brother, Curtis, a former basketball player in college, dropped out and now struggles to find even a minimum wage job. Yet, at every game, he knows what William should do to become a great basketball player. Arthur's mother, Sheila, throws her husband, Bo, out after he gets involved in drugs. Later, Bo returns to the family after drug rehab and a short stay in prison.
The film also presents the positive moments in each person's life, balancing out the negative. Both are great basketball players; William receives a lot of notice from college scouts and gets a lot of write ups in the newspapers and Arthur gets some notice later from Junior College scouts.
As the film covers the big moments in each year of their lives, their circumstances keep changing. It is amazing how dedicated each is to their sport, because they see it as the only way out of the projects. William has a living, breathing image of what could happen to him standing next to him at almost every turn, his bitter brother. When William finally receives an offer from Marquette University, Curtis denigrates it because he turned them down to attend a university in Florida. William's family life is the most stable, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have his share of problems. At one point, he goes to Coach Pingatore for some advice on how to deal with these. The coach's response: "Write them off". Thankfully, Williams seems to realize the stupidity of this statement.
Arthur's family life is a mess. His father is in and out of the picture, both financially and to provide guidance and emotional stability. His mother struggles to raise her family on welfare. Later in the film, Sheila attends an educational program to become a nurse's assistant. She learns that she received the highest grades in her class, providing a rare moment of unadulterated happiness in her life. As Arthur is forced out of Saint Joe's and has to return to the neighborhood high school, his spirit seems to go with him. At one point, he returns to Saint Joe's, for a visit, and seems to wish they would take him back.
As the film comes to a close, the heart wrenching finale almost makes you cry. Both kids have such great talent and large dreams which will probably never be realized.
This is an amazing documentary giving us great insight and depth into the lives of these two young men. It is an abomination that the film was not even nominated for Best Documentary at the 1995 Academy Awards.
The Criterion Collection has released the film on DVD. The disc contains two audio commentaries, one with the filmmakers and another with William and Arthur which was recorded this year. There is also a collection of clips from "Siskel and Ebert" highlighting their efforts to champion the film from initial release, through the Academy Awards debacle and finally to Roger Ebert naming it his "Favorite Film of the 90s". Strangely enough, Ebert was sitting across from director Martin Scorcese (who was filling in for the recently departed Gene Siskel) when he named "Hoop Dreams" the best film of the 90s, a decade in which Scorcese released "Goodfellas".
This is a film that everyone should see. Own it. Rent it. Whatever. Just watch it. "
For everyone, not just basketball fans
movieguy38138 | Memphis,TN | 07/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hoop Dreams is more than a documentary about two inner-city teens hoping to make it to the NBA, it's a brilliant, true-life tale of the American Dream told from a different context and point of view. I watched this because I saw that Roger Ebert had voted it as the best movie of the 1990's. I was skeptical at first (partly because I don't follow basketball), but when it was over I realized that it really was a great movie. Don't miss it!"
A True Life Rocky Story and A Steal of a Price for Criterion
Mike Liddell | Massachusetts | 06/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hoop Dreams is an amazing film. Not only is it the best documentary of all time but one of the greatest movies of all time. I was amazed at how director Steve James was able to get this on film so perfectly. The story follows two inner city kids, Arthur Agee and William Gates, and their dream of making it to the NBA and out of the ghetto. The doc was filmed over five years we watch these two boys at fourteen grow to be young men and the ups and downs they go through. Viewers also get a look into the life of how kids are scouted and the harsh realities that go along with it but ultimately it's an uplifting story about overcoming your struggles and preserving.
The doc is so natural that at many points I forgot it was a documentary and I was watching a movie based on a true story. Basketball was a part of my life growing up, playing on courts all around Mass, that and a love for film I was certain I'd like Hoop Dreams. Also reading over the years the high praise it received at times once you finally see a movie it could be a let down because your expectations were so high. What I found was the film exceeded any expectations I had and was so much more then just being about basketball.
You don't watch a movie like Hoop Dreams you experience it. And it gets the best treatment dvds can get by Criterion, you can't go wrong. I give Hoop Dreams the highest possible recommendation."
One of the greatest
Mike Liddell | 02/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In my opinion, being a big fan of the genre, Hoop Dreams stands as one of the greatest nonfiction works of film, most probably the most important movie of any genre made in the last 35 years and a serious contender for the somewhat silly "greatest movie of all time" credential, comparing favorably with such cultural fixtures as Citizen Kane. I'm not a sport fan whatsoever, I dont know anything about basketball, and my life has been about as different from the two kids in the film as possible. When I first saw this movie about ten years ago I was bracing myself for some blaxploitation movie. I have since watched it at least a half a dozen times since, and I never fail to be awed by the incredible scope and pathos of this film. On the surface, the movie is about basketball, poverty, aspiration, frailty, loss, hope, marginalization, ghetto life, and youth. When put together over the most engaging 3 hours I have ever had, the film constructs a monumental testament to the human experience. Brilliant in its themes, virtually flawless in its execution, stunningly humane in its treatment of its subjects, Hoop Dreams is big, important, and excellent. Like other true greats, its greatness is often overstated, but it's the type of movie that if you have half a brain and half a heart, you will be seized by the brilliance dripping from every pixel."