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Hoop Dreams
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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Utterly Absorbing Documentary

Author: evanston_dad from United States
17 March 2009

Engrossing documentary about two inner city kids and their struggles to make it into professional basketball.

"Hoop Dreams" made a big splash when it was released in 1994, and there was a big controversy around Academy Award time when it was deemed ineligible in the Best Documentary category. It likely would have won had it been nominated, and it ranks right up there among some of the best documentaries of all time. This is mostly due to how engrossing the storytelling is. You forget you're not watching a fictional film, which just supports the claim that truth can be more compelling than fiction.

You don't have to be a fan of basketball to enjoy this movie.

Grade: A

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Engrossing documentary lacks scope

Author: timmy_501 from United States
11 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Hoop Dreams is about two promising basketball players and their experiences playing in high school. At the beginning, the two boys get a scholarship to a private school known for having an exceptional basketball program. Even though it requires each of them to take a ninety minute bus ride one way every day, the school presents a huge opportunity for both of the boys; it's much better in practically every way than the lousy under-privileged schools they previously attended.

The film is very restrained in making its point which is something I found odd for a documentary film; I don't watch many films like this but I thought the idea was for the film-makers to make a clear argument rather than present a load of facts and allow the viewer to draw his own conclusions. In any case, it's pretty clear to me that the film is critical of the process that leads these students to be recruited to play basketball at the tender age of 14. It turns out that the scholarship the boys get doesn't cover all expenses and so it proves to be impossible for Arthur Agee, the boy who initially shows less promise, to remain at the school for more than a year. This wreaks havoc on the already pathetic boy who has to deal with his family's extreme poverty due to his father's drug addiction and his mother's health related inability to keep a job. William Gates, the more promising boy, can't afford to pay the fee either but the school finds a sponsor to help him because of his more advanced skills.

Arthur is really the more interesting character here as he is plagued with problems from the get-go and he has to try harder to get anywhere. In addition to his poverty, he has to deal with his father's attempts to live vicariously through his success. He struggles to find his own identity. For a good portion of the film, Arthur tries to copy the success of an NBA star from his area, going so far as to borrow the older man's nickname for his own use.

It struck me that both of these boys weren't paying enough attention to academics or social skills as they both seemed rather immature and ignorant, particularly in terms of their future potential outside of basketball. Their academic failure is also made clear by their struggle to make an 18 on the ACT, a score that is well below the national average.

Hoop Dreams does a good job of telling the story of a little more than four years of the lives of two boys; it's an engrossing enough film to make its three hour run time go by fairly quickly. The film also tells something about the environment promising athletes are thrust into from an early age and how they're sometimes manipulated into spending huge amounts of time doing something that really won't do them much good in life all in the name of making the dream of NBA stardom a reality. I would have liked the film more if it had a bit more context and scope; as it is this work doesn't add up to much more than the story of two individuals when it probably should have said more about the entire system they're immersed in. I also feel that the film-makers should have taken a stand and made some attempt to analyze the story they told, their refusal to do so looks like a combination of laziness and cowardice to me. Still, Hoop Dreams does enough right to make it a worthwhile viewing experience.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Incredible Documentary

Author: rharrison74 from United States
23 September 2007

Hoop Dreams has got to be the best sports film ever made. Obviously it is a DOCU-DRAMA, but, it is very down to earth and very real. Great commitment from the filmmakers to follow the lives of Arthur Agee and William Gates from their Freshman year in HS to College. The film also shows life in the inner city of Chicago, drugs, crime, poverty and everything else under the sun. You can really appreciate how much Agee's mother loved him and she worked so hard to support her family. Gates's mother was also very supportive of her son, and I could really see the love from both mothers just pouring out to their kids. This film will be talked about for years and years and I'm sure millions of people will learn something from this. I recommend this to everyone.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Slam Dunk- must see for any hoops fan

Author: DJJOEINC from Virginia Beach
27 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

sports documentary day continued with the commentary track for the new re-release Criterion collection version of Hoop Dreams - this movie cuts so close it dissects me( I was a constant daydreamer as a kid and wanted the riches and notoriety of playing sports professionally- I loved playing basketball and football- and would dream of being a star my entire childhood). A 5 year project following 2 Cabrini Green kids thru high school- this movie has more drama and ups and downs than most major pieces of fiction - both get recruited by a catholic prep school in the burbs- only William Gates is retained- meanwhile the Agee family does not have the money to keep Arthur Agee in the school- the twists and turns in this compelling drama reel you in and have you cheering during the good and crying and cringing during the bad. This movie should be shown to any kid that thinks it is easy to play sports and that is their only way of success- A+

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

It's hard for fiction to compete with this

Author: california11 from United States
7 January 2007

A patient, painful and touching look at how the American Dream plays out in some parts of inner-city Chicago. The general story arc is not novel (poor kids with dreams of making it as pro athletes), but connecting with the drama, the suspense, the disappointments and the successes of the characters is the strength of this movie. The situations and consequences are very real and you find yourself rooting for and against the forces of everyday life. High school basketball may not be everyone's fascination, but if you're interested in an honest and unforgiving glimpse of a slice of American life, this is great story telling.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:


Author: Polaris_DiB from United States
8 May 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's a testament to how powerful this movie is that I didn't care in the slightest about the subject matter, and yet still was very emotionally affected by the trials and errors of these two kids. I've always viewed sports as that thing that I do to have fun, and I stopped playing once people started taking it so seriously that it became too competitive to be fun.

But seeing these two boys drive themselves through troubles with funds, injuries, and scholastics in order to pursue their one dream is very inspiring. It's yet another work that makes your typical normal middle-class life seem banal in light of the accomplishments and struggles of the underdogs.

Basically, it's like watching all of those millions of "underdog sports" movies, except this one has the added tension of being real: these kids can fail at any moment, and sometimes a last-second basket gets missed. In a way it displaces all of an entire genre of sports movies and makes it only necessary to watch this one, one that is real, has real characters, has real dialog, and has real risk.


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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Spike Lee Should Thank Steve James

Author: JaredF80 from United States
26 February 2006

If you compare Hoop Dreams with He Got Game, it has so many parallels that you wouldn't believe. Spike Lee takes about 3 stories in Hoop Dreams and uses it for his own film. The manipulation by high school coaches and recruiters are threads in both stories and even the mostly sinister recruiter and coach characters act the same, in their demeanor and intensity. To Spike's credit, he's going for realism all the way, yet it's fictionalized. Hoop Dreams, though, is the true story.

Denzel Washington's character clearly is a takeoff from Arthur Agee's father who's in and out of the picture, involved with drugs and his ultimate hopes for redemption.

And yes, Spike is in Hoop Dreams, too.

Just the feel of both pictures is identical, particularly the montage in Hoop Dreams with the various coaches and scouts talk in a series of clips are mirrored in He Got Game. My only hope is that one doesn't just see one without the other, to learn how some of our best documentaries provide the texture to some of our best fictional films.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

the best documentary I have ever seen

Author: frank (
1 February 2002

This is the best documentary I have ever seen. Better even, than Crumb. A local video store was going out of business and I bought this film for $5 after seeing that Roger Ebert had said something good about it on the cover. I was reluctant to watch it however; I could care less about a couple of inner city kids who like to play basketball. I could care less about a basketball movie. But this isn't a basketball movie. It's a movie about how we treat each other. It's an important film. As a result of it involving me so much in the story, the film made me interested in basketball also.

I couldn't believe some of the stuff that happens in the film and I was far more interested in this documentary's "plot" than I was at the latest popcorn flick. There is some good social commentary on how blacks are still treated unfairly, made more important because the film doesn't go out of its way to be a "message" movie. It's almost 3 hours long, but it flew by. It's very juicy, it's never tired or mechanical, it's got real life to it. It has passion.

If this can be included as one, I also think that aside from being the best documentary I have seen, it's also the best sports movie.

I felt real sympathy for these kids and their families, although that may be the last thing they want.

I hope that people would search out this movie. Not enough people watch documentaries or are willing to. But if done correctly, on an interesting subject, they can be more rewarding than any film of any genre.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Best film about American life.

Author: asad_raza from Ontario, Canada
22 June 2001


Arthur Agee, William Gates, Isaih Thomas, 1994


Documentary, by three film makers who closely followed the lives of two inner city black boys from the age of 14 to 21. The two intensely athletic boys both have the dream of one day making it to the NBA (National Basketball Association).

My Review

The best film about American life I have ever seen. It took seven years to make this film. The reality of this film is brilliant as it captures all the elements of hope, determination, success, disappointment and love that the two boys and their families and friends face during this developmental time. Magnificent and marvelous.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Rare Look at Life

Author: Mr. Film from Boston
17 May 1999

In one of the most revealing and beneficial films I've seen, Steve James chronicles the life of two basketball phenoms in "Hoop Dreams." Documentaries are special in that nothing is false or made up. They are taken from real life. This film shows us the struggles we must go through to attain greatness, the hardships that are inevitable in life, and the realization that the future is not as dark or as bright as it may seem.

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