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One Of The Better Documentaries You'll Ever See
ccthemovieman-121 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
At three hours, this is a long but interesting documentary about two Chicago-area high school basketball stars, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who try to make something from their basketball talents.

Both athletes, of course, dream of becoming pro players some day. There are hundreds of similar tales each season - of great players, mostly black - who don't make it through college or even to college despite their enormous talents and one can get idea of some of the obstacles by watching these two guys.

Gates is recruited by St. Joe's, a powerhouse Catholic School which claims Isaiah Thmas as it most famous cage alumnus. There, Gates plays for a typically gung-ho coach and has a lot of ups and downs, both on and off the court. However, he's a lot more mature than the other subject of the documentary: Agee.

Agee also is recruited by the private school but can't pay the tuition and is kicked out in his sophomore year. He then returns to his neighborhood public school and eventually becomes a star.

Gates graduates and goes on to Marquette while Agee attends a junior college. From that point, a summary at the end of the film brings you up-to-date on what happened to the kids.

Thus, almost all of the three hours is devoted to these kids form junior high through high school. The families and friends of these athletes are interesting and the film really documents the different lifestyles between blacks and whites in the USA.

It's a fascinating picture for people of any race. For non-blacks, it shows them a window into a whole different world. This film is obviously not just to highlight basketball players but to show life as it exists with a lot of poor black families: the good and the bad, the achievements and the big mistakes. I enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first. It's one of the better documentaries I've ever seen, so don't let the length of it discourage you.
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Documentary film-making at its best
ill_behavior30 November 2004
It runs for three hours but it feels much less, such is the power that this documentary holds. Absorbing, you get sucked in and the film has this grip on you.

If Reality TV is your thing, I'd seriously give this film a go, then you can stop watching Reality TV and start to recognise, understand and prioritise real-world situations that actually matter, like racism, poverty, drug abuse, peer pressure and well, dreams.

You'll fall in love with the characters, and there's even a bad-guy for us to boo. You can sometimes question the manipulative techniques on display, but the film is actually not as guilty as some, the makers have a genuine affection for their subjects and do as much as they can within the rules of documentary to help them out without compromising their objectivity.

Be that as it may, this film should be compulsory viewing for many younger audiences, as it shows you exactly how real life differs from the garbage that passes for representation of youth on TV and in film today.

I really can't say enough about the need for more films like this, the fact that the Academy Awards were changed because of the strength of this film goes some way to showing you exactly how powerful it is.
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A true testament to the encroaching world of pro sports
Agent109 May 2002
This film simply exemplifies the reason why I hate most Oscar voters. This movie didn't even get a nomination, and it was one of the most successful documentaries ever! This especially exhibits the encroachment of coaches, family and other parties when it comes to the well being of inner city kids, who just happen to be good basketball players. Considering the state of pro basketball now, this kind of shows how the downward cycle of basketball was seeking lower standards. Sometimes funny, often times sad and poignant, this film is easily one of the best documentaries of all time.
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desperateliving16 September 2003
The filmmakers here show an admirable dedication to their art and to the underprivileged, spending five years tracking two kids, Arthur and William, and their dreams of basketball stardom. The two subjects and their families are simple and somewhat naive, in an endearing way. Their struggles, sometimes unflattering, are put forth for us to relate to, and we all can. Of course this is about two kids and their love for basketball, and about the "road to" that takes place as they try to get there, but it's really about the way people in near-poverty live, the education system and its downfalls, the manipulation of organized sports and tendency for people to try and achieve their goals through others (Arthur's father, William's brother), and the situation between blacks and whites in America. In one scene, Arthur laments being around mainly white kids for the first time in his life, and says it'll be difficult but he'll manage. That kind of relaxed confidence is so rewarding to watch. The film has endless insights into the black urban experience. Of course not every family in the ghetto is in a position where a father is a criminal and drug user, but when two kids in the same story are in that situation, it's got to be somewhat prevalent.

It's the kind of movie that's sustaining, and there are so many transcendent, revealing moments that stand out: Arthur's mother, such an inspirational woman to watch, as she gets her nurse certification; Arthur's family talking to another family in a cafeteria, with his mother high-fiving an elderly white lady; the descent into and path out of drug addiction; and a scene where the man who recruits these boys says that sometimes he has doubts about himself when he sees the pain that's a part of these kids' lives. Spike Lee makes a brief appearance giving a speech to the kids, and his pessimism is the only sore spot in the film.

We don't have to work for any of this, we don't have to question it. There's nothing to clean away before we can get to the real thing. This is the real thing. A curious moment, however, is one scene where Arthur's mother explains to us at one point she had her electricity cut off, which suggests that the crew wasn't there to film that period. But the next scene has her walking in the dark with a lamp, that seems like an undeclared "reenactment" of something they missed, for editing purposes. But the criticism of manipulation in documentaries is tired. Yes, the possibility of tricking an audience into believing something with a documentary is greater, but unless it's political in some respect it doesn't matter. Documentaries are supposed to be presented how the filmmaker sees fit. With no license, we'd have 350-hour documentaries.

At one moment near the end, William's coach says goodbye to him and as he walks out his coach mentions that that's the system: one goes out, another comes in. It feels like we're saying bye to a member of the family. This is a life-affirming experience, a family that should be visited again. 10/10
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Objective and Quiet, but Powerful Statement to Represent Disadvantaged Youth in Urban America
jazzest11 March 2004
"Basketball is a ticket out of ghetto." (William Gates)

"... nobody cares about you. You're a black, you're a young male... The only reason why you're here [Nike training camp] is so you can make their team win. And if the team wins these schools get a lot of money." (Spike Lee)

These phrases, which have persisted as common knowledge among the African-American community during last several decades, have become familiar to the non-hyphenated Americans in the 90s, thanks to the films such as Boyz N the Hood and He Got Game. Among them, Hoop Dreams, a documentary that follows two black youths during a five-year period, is the most objective and the most quiet, but the most powerful statement to represent the disadvantaged youth in urban America.

The film reveals the pattern they follow. Being deluded by the luxurious surface of pro sports, they neglect education and then ending up going nowhere. The community suffers the vicious cycle and their feelings that the system exploits them remain.

Kudos to the filmmakers for their insane amount of work. They must have gone through numerous negotiations to attend and film various scenes, such as family's private events, classrooms, academic counseling, recruiting sessions with college coaches, and surgery operation rooms.
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As Dick Vitale would say, "AWESOME, BABY!"
snowboarderbo18 May 2005
Ten years after I first saw this film, based on the mention that Siskel & Ebert made on their show, I am still blown away by it.

A good case could be made for this being the best motion picture of all time. It is simply amazing. The characters (if I can call them that) in the film will astound you with their depth, and this movie will suck you right in... if not to the Cabrini Green projects, at least into the lives of these 2 young men and their families. You will cheer for them, feel their pain, their sadness, their triumphs... and their determination to achieve something better for themselves and their loved ones.

I bought the DVD the day it was released, and can give high praise to the good folks at the Criterion Collection. The accompanying booklet contains 3 excellent essays/articles as well as a complete list of the people in the film. The extras on the DVD are well worth watching, escpecially the commentary from Arthur & William.

To Frederick Marx, Peter Gilbert, and Steve James: Great job, guys. Your dedication to this project, and your understanding of the subject matter (that it was about more than mere basketball, from the beginning) have made a truly excellent film. Thank you.

To Arthur Agee & William Gates: You are both exemplary men, and the example of your lives, your perseverance, your awareness of yourselves and the world you live in, should serve as role models for all of us, regardless of age, color, or income. You are both heroes of mine, and have been for more than 10 years.

To the Agee & Gates families: Thank you for allowing these filmmakers access to your lives for so many years. I have wept at your hardships, and screamed joyously at your triumphs. Your dedication and love for each other is nothing short of inspirational.

If you are reading this and you have not seen this film, PLEASE go get a copy and watch it. You will not have wasted a single minute of your life by having done so.

A truly awesome film.
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Utterly Absorbing Documentary
evanston_dad17 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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A superb supporting "cast" powers this excellent film
0rganism24 August 2004
"Hoop Dreams" brilliantly follows multiple parallel stories, bringing the viewer into the lives of two families of inner-city kids looking for a chance at the "big time", their ticket out of the ghetto. Although the main focus is on William Gates and Arthur Agee, their "supporting cast" is equally enthralling. From William's jaded brother Curtis, sublimating his own basketball aspirations to the reality of his blue-collar mailroom job, to Arthur's indomitable mom Sheila, doing the impossible every day as she keeps her troubled family together, there are a thousand reasons to cheer, laugh, cry, and rage packed throughout this amazing, inspirational, cautionary documentary.

By examining not only the players but also their families and environments, we are given a clearer view of their aspirations and motivations, what they plan to achieve and what they wish to avoid.

I will not summarize or elaborate further. If you have not seen this movie, put it on the short list. 9/10.
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A real, human drama
dee.reid10 May 2005
"Hoop Dreams" is a film about real life, because that is what it's exactly about, real life. I feel that I must put a stronger emphasis on the word "real" to get my point across. This isn't some hokey, Hollywood drama about living out a dream, but is about two aspiring young athletes rising out of the dredges of the Chicago ghetto life and into the flash and glitter of the NBA.

Though I'm not a hardcore sports fan, nor am I really into movies about sports, but I really admire basketball, as I feel it has a kind of grace and natural balance that's lacking in most other sports this vigorous. That is why I like some of the film's exhilarating on-court action that is interspersed evenly with the human drama.

Directed by Steve James and produced by Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, "Hoop Dreams" originally began as a 30-minute documentary about rising ballplayers, but the filmmakers quickly saw that 30 minutes was just too narrow a scope for their story. This realization came when they witnessed two teens, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they both try to join the NBA, much like their idol Isiah Thomas.

In total, 250+ hours of footage was gathered over the course of a five-year period and then edited into an engaging 171-minute documentary, following the two teens (from ages 14-18), as they attend expensive Catholic schools, go through the rigorous on-court training, meet the demands of their coaches, and live out their dreams. (Director Spike Lee also appears at a training camp and gives some of the aspiring players some less-than-inspiring advice about what their skills mean to the people at the top of the ladder.)

We watch as their poignant, real-life struggles unfold on the screen, and watch as time after time they get stonewalled by the system of bureaucracy and racism that's meant to be especially hard on two young black boys from the ghetto. They have difficulty with making decent grades, financial issues, preparing for the ACT, sports-related injuries, and must contend with problems at home as well, including trouble with family matters (Arthur's relationship with his father is especially touching and sad; William welcomes a new addition to his family while still in high school).

For years, success stories, such as "Hoop Dreams," have dominated Hollywood cinema and have won over legions of audiences, but we've never seen anything like this. Gates and Agee are both bright-eyed and ambitious that they're embarking on something that's historically significant to their lives and community.

This is the best movie about basketball and reality I've seen yet because of the simple fact that it's real; no scripts, no phony Hollywood theatrics, just "real" action, drama, and emotions.

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Insightful View Into A Section of America
daoldiges6 June 2018
This film was kind of hard to watch at times. On one hand I was sad for the extreme challenges and difficulties the two lead teenagers had thrust upon them. Challenges that they have to deal with through no fault of their own. On the other hand I was equally sad they and everyone around them seemed to think that the only way to lift themselves out of their difficult environment was through success at basketball. Their life situation and extremely limited outlook toward lifting themselves out of it sadly very common. The only thing is, they are counting on a plan that statistically rewards a very, very small percentage of those who attempt it. We all know that, and they also must realize that on some level as well. We see that they struggle with their school work and the immediate downside to that, and yet we continue to see all of their energy, and of their entire support group, continually devoted to almost exclusively to basketball. The film was filled with moments of joy but in the end it left me feeling depressed more than anything, and yet I would say it's still worth checking out.
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My favorite film of all time!
Cobbler15 December 1999
This gets my vote for the best movie of all time!! I know, it sounds crazy to say that about a documentary, but to me, this film has more drama, truth, realism & emotion than a thousand Hollywood movies put together. I've seen it over 30 times, and it never ceases to gladden my heart to see Arthur & William's story. The scene where Arthur's mom receives her diploma from nursing school has to be one of my all time favorites. For me, this is one of the rare three-hour movies that I never wanted to end. 10/10.
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Really Remarkable Filming and Editing
Hitchcoc15 July 2014
I was about halfway through this film when I realized that these people were looking into the lens of a camera . I know that there was a little mugging at times and little signs of embarrassment that gave one the sense that the camera was there, but for the nearly three hours (there must have been so much more footage) these young people led their lives for us to see. This is the story of two young men who have grown up in the projects on the South Side of Chicago. Each is quite a basketball star and they have the dream of someday playing in the NBA. Their families are poor and in some cases, unstable. The kids are stars in their own high schools, but do have some issues with attitude and commitment. Having come off the playground and then getting all this attention does work against them. They are both sent to a school, St. Joseph's, in suburban Chicago, that produced Isiah Thomas. It is a school that has been incredibly successful, with an incredibly intense Coach who looks a little like a cross between Joe Paternor and Alfred Molina. He rants and intimidates and doesn't seem to individualize much. One of the young men doesn't have the financial wherewithal or the more observable talent and has to leave, returning to his old school. It is implied that The second is a more mature player but when a knee injury enters the picture, he begins to lose his confidence and doesn't reach the level of performance that he had hoped. This is a cutthroat business which is made obvious. St. Joseph won't even release the boy's transcripts until he pays up. His parents have to get on a payment plan and then it takes time. This is important because in order to get any kind of a scholarship or to even enter another school, he needs these to graduate. Basketball is everything. I won't go into all the details. Those before me have done that. I want to compliment the effort and time that went into this presentation. We see so much of the humanity of a culture so different from most of ours. The filmmakers and the participants have put their hearts and souls for us to see. It's not always pretty, but they were willing to give that much of themselves. See this. It took me over twenty years to check it out. I am in awe.
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Polaris_DiB8 May 2006
Warning: 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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Important culturally but the quality of the film doesn't match its value as a marker in modern reality cinema
bob the moo12 April 2009
When I first moved to England in the mid-nineties, I took advantage of living in a city and having an art cinema near me for the first time ever. As a result I saw many things that I wouldn't have otherwise seen and Hoop Dreams was one of those things. At the time it was getting a lot of buzz about it being a rare film about real life and it also interested me as I had just started getting into basketball as well. Since then the film has become one of those films that is generally well remembered but not seen very often (at least it is in the UK). I eventually managed to get hold of it again recently (again thanks to some of the very kind users on IMDb) and I was looking forward to watching it again.

Unfortunately this also meant appraising it again and it must be said that, watching with modern eyes almost 15 years from its release (and longer since it started being made) it doesn't stand up as well as I would have liked. As a rider on this it must be said that Hoop Dreams still has value considering what it is and when it was made. Nowadays we are used to every other programme being some sort of real-life fly-on-the-wall programme, simply because they are popular and cheap to make. However these differ from the ambition here, which is to chart the progress of two boys looking to basketball as their way to a better life – a project that spread over many years with many hundreds and hundreds of hours of video to edit down (and accordingly the film did get the Oscar for editing). So what we are left with is a film that does a solid job of telling these two stories and marks itself as a bit of a modern milestone in reality cinema. It must be noted though that being an important film in terms of what it does is not the same as it being a really good film.

The problem is that it doesn't totally manage to tell the story in a way that engages on a personal level and inform on a more general basis – both of which appear to have been aims. The film is solid when it comes to the focus on the two boys but the problem is that, as individuals, the film doesn't make them particularly engaging people for the audience to care about and I didn't get a lot of drama from their respective journeys. OK they were interesting enough and also pulled together in quite a succinct manner but it never gave me much of a reason to really be held by the tale. Surprisingly bigger events in their lives are frequently just mentioned by the narrator (the father getting on and then off crack is dealt with in one line). Of course this is why it is important for a larger message to be clear and, in the case of Hoop Dreams, the bigger picture is the reality of the "making it out the ghetto via basketball" dream and the limited options to those who do not have this. In this regard the film doesn't achieve it because it is too tightly focused on the two boys and their families. There isn't a feel of the scale of this, of the challenges facing those who don't make it, of the desperation to make it and so on. This is a real shame because it could have made a good film into a great film and were the film made today one does think that it would be a pre-requisite. The dated presentation doesn't help – obviously visually it is of the time it was made but I remember the cheesy sax music as horrid and time has only made it worse.

There is no doubt that the scale and aims of Hoop Dreams and its cinematic success makes it an important part of modern reality cinema – it is just that the film isn't as good to watch as its reputation deserves. The editing is good but the structure lacks a personal hook and doesn't manage to deliver much in terms of the bigger picture. It is still worth seeing and it is "good" but it is hard to understand why so many people lavish praise on it without pointing out its many faults.
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More than just a 'basketball documentary'
Benedict_Cumberbatch4 October 2010
I'd heard a lot about this documentary, but had never seen it. I've even read comments by few people calling it their favourite film, "even though it's a documentary" (as if that was a bad thing!). It's understandable to see why this film speaks to the hearts of so many people.

"Hoop Dreams" follows two teenaged Chicago residents, Arthur Agee and William Gates, and their dreams of becoming professional basketball players - more than that, basketball superstars a la Michael Jordan. From their first year of high school until they start college, we observe all of the expectations, efforts, joy, disappointments, and numerous obstacles that make their journey.

Will Agee and Gates manage to overcome all the obstacles and become more than most of their peers even dream to achieve? The suspense is well-built through clever editing and a good sense of rhythm, pace and storytelling (documenting is also storytelling, after all), and the film doesn't feel 170 minutes long. By the end, you realize you've watched two real people growing up and doing what they can or cannot - failing and trying again - to achieve their goals and dreams, no matter what are the odds imposed by their economical and social backgrounds. Hoop Dreams come(s) true as both a slice of life and a fascinating socio-anthropological study. Not bad for a 'basketball documentary'.
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raimi324 November 2005
I love this movie. Back in 98 I had the unexpected pleasure of catching it on PBS. At first I casually watched it, having heard of it upon its release a few years earlier. Not too far into the three hour running time, I found myself going from casual onlooker to absolutely hooked.

The story is amazing in its scope. Four years of high school and some brief college material are documented here. We hop on board the lives of two high school basketball stars from Chicago, all but consumed with the desire to play in the NBA. Both boys are similar in some ways, and yet very different.

As their story unfolds, you become very aware at how real this story is for many young athletes. All Hollywood clichés are left in the dust and the truth only a documentary can muster pulls us along for what seems like a film that is strangely too short. Three hours have never gone by so quick.

Your heart will cheer, break, and then cheer again for these two great kids as they struggle with their dreams of reaching the ultimate level, as well as their struggle to just find a way through their daily lives. I won't do you the disservice of giving away anything. Just sit down and watch a great movie, and find out for yourself. Good Stuff!

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Basketball and social class in America
GethinVanH5 September 2008
I'll never understand the USA's obsession with high school sports. Putting this much pressure on 14-18 year old kids and calling them athletes and referring to their basketball as a 'career' is harmful. Sure, it's an entertaining game but that's all it is. Once business takes over all bets are off and lives are ruined. The promise of the American dream of wealth and success is nothing but a bald-faced lie. These topics were briefly touched on but for the most part the movie was a rather passive documentary that simply chronicled two different boys' lives in high school basketball for four years. That in itself was interesting enough for me to give this movie a good rating. The people are compelling and it was good to know that eventually at least one of the boys came to realize that his NBA dreams were unrealistic. The movie still presents a powerful portrayal of the lower-class inner city blacks in America and the desperation they have to endure. One of the only outs for their kids seems to be sports scholarships. Enter the over-zealous coach, competitive scouts and legions of fans. It's interesting to see because no one in Canada is as obsessed with high school sports. I think it's mainly because it's the only way out for poor, inner-city blacks in America. The concept makes for an entertaining, emotional documentary.
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Sometimes Dreams Are Like a Basketball Net....Full of Holes.
tfrizzell11 April 2003
"Hoop Dreams" is one of the finest films I ever seen. It is easily the best documentary subject ever put on celluloid and it is a blueprint to all film-makers (especially those trying to break into the industry). It is late-1980s inner-city Chicago and two youngsters (Arthur Agee and William Gates) are preparing for their high school careers. Neither know one another, but they soon become linked in the fact that they are both recruited to go to the prep school that then-NBA superstar Isiah Thomas (a hero to both) attended. We then follow the two over a course of five years as they try to make their dreams of basketball super-stardom come true. "Hoop Dreams" is a definitive example of a true documentary (something that most never do understand the concept of). It is a film that took years and years to make. It told a story that most of mainstream America did not understand or even know about. It relied on lots of planning and lots of luck to all come together. This was a labor of love and desire for the film-makers involved (most notably director/co-writer/co-editor Steve James). "Hoop Dreams" is the cinema in its rawest and most untamed form. It is not a film that was developed for profit, awards or recognition from others in the entertainment community. It is a film that was made to educate people and tell a story that could not have been conveyed by any other form of mass communication. An Oscar-nominee for its mind-numbingly difficult editing in 1994. 5 stars out of 5.
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A Slam Dunk- must see for any hoops fan
DJJOEINC27 May 2007
Warning: 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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One of the greatest documentaries of all time.
hohumdedum211 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It really was a treat to finally see this film. I had heard so much, but had never been able to find a copy of it. The fact that I was unable to find a copy was a shame, considering I live only but a few hours from where the story actually took place. "Hoop Dreams" perfectly sums up the storyline of this docu: two inner city youths hoping to one day make it big in the NBA. This docu tracks the progress of William Gates and Arthur Agee through their entire high school career. It makes no bones about the politics of high school sports, especially in a scene where Agee is booted from a Catholic school because he was unable to financially meet the requirements. Which, in all honesty, was a bogus reason. They really booted him because they didn't feel he had "it". It being the talent to bring this school to the championship. Whereas, on the other hand, Gates, who also was recruited to attend this school was supported financially by outside influences and had continued support all throughout his high school career. "Hoop Dreams" compares and contrasts like no other film I have ever seen. Even if you are not a fan of sports, and even if you don't like documentaries this film is as enjoyable as anything you're likely to see. An American classic. 10 out of 10.
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Terrific Documentary on Dreams
Michael_Elliott30 June 2012
Hoop Dreams (1994)

**** (out of 4)

Wonderful documentary from Steve James who spent nearly five years with teenagers William Gates and Arthur Agee, two kids dreaming of making it up through the ranks of basketball and getting into the NBA one day. HOOP DREAMS is one of the most respected documentaries ever made and I hadn't seen it since it was originally released but this second viewer really made it clear how well this thing has held up over the years and what a remarkable piece of work it actually is. Obviously, since I was just fourteen when I originally viewed the film the entire thing really didn't hit home as well as it did today, when I'm older and understand the ups and downs of life. It's just so strange to see a documentary on people you don't know that can hold your attention for nearly three hours. Throughout that time we follow their careers through high school where both struggle with their grades and this impacts what their future might hold because of needing to reach a certain level to be eligible to get into college. We also get to see their home lives, which aren't always the best due to being in poor incomes where we even learn that their power and gas has been turned off. What works so well with this film is that it really gives you a clear portrait of life in general. I don't see how anyone could watch this film and not feel or understand what these two kids are going through and at the same time you really cheer for them even if you see some of the paint on the wall saying that things aren't going to turn out as planned. It's rare for a film to be insightful, heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time but HOOP DREAMS is quite a remarkable little gem.
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eye opening doc of real life
SnoopyStyle17 May 2015
William Gates and Arthur Agee are two poor Chicago teens struggling to make it like their idol Isiah Thomas. Gates from Cabrini–Green gets a sponsor and go to good white school. Agee from West Garfield Park struggle as family issues force him to attend the local public high school. They both have highs and lows with many surprises. Gates faces injury issues and trying to maintain his early promise. Agee's father gets into drugs but his team at Marshall may be the Cinderella story.

It's an eye opener for its insight into sports, poverty, race and the school system. Even more than that, it shows that real life can't be scripted. There is more drama and more surprises than many scripted fiction. The real life drama is so compelling. It breathed new life into the documentary genre and created controversy when it wasn't nominated for the best documentary at the Academy Awards. The main drawback is that the movie follows more on the basketball. It's certainly understandable because the basketball follows a schedule and has inherent drama. Their personal lives do get sufficient treatment to deliver some insight into the family's lives.
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Documentary that brings emotion, not by convention, but by real truth
Quinoa198414 February 2001
Seeing Hoop Dreams again is like revisiting someone you haven't seen in a while, and you get caught up on who they are and think back to what it was like when you knew them, and then you realize you never even left in a weird way. These two guys, Arthur and William, are kids who could make it in basketball, but can they make it in life? The film poses many questions, and we just want them to get out of the mean streets of Chicago they're in, which is always so close and yet so far away to accomplish. Ultimately we might think they can make it - they're good kids, so they won't sell drugs or get into crime, at least not so soon after graduating high school (if they can pull their grades up) - but who knows? It really comes down to luck.

I'm not sure if that's what the filmmakers intended to show, but time and time again in Hoop Dreams, which runs almost three hours but breezes by seemingly as it goes past four years of high school, we see how luck, good and bad, plays into Arthur, William and their family members. Take for instance how the two of them start out at St. Joseph's. They're spotted by a recruiter and go to the school because they look promising playing basketball. Both do well in the school, but while William gains some notoriety as a top notch player going into Sophomore year, Arthur has to drop out because his parents can't pay the late fees and the fees due for the upcoming year (all of about two grand, which as one can see is how much they're struggling to get by). So their lives diverge at their respective schools, St. Joseph's for William and Marshall for Arthur, all because of luck.

But it doesn't stop there. Things happen beyond anyone's control. William gets a knee injury and can't play for a while, leaving him on the bench despite his desire to play; Arthur gets better as a top player at the school, but slips in grades when his friend drops out to sell drugs; William has a baby, and her future may depend on how well he can impress the recruiters for a college; family members, like William's brother (also a once promising player himself), get in trouble, or Arthur's mother who has job problems but overcomes it to become a nurse. All of this is all apart of that desperate but likely struggle to attain something of the American dream, or some version of it, and how the two players are like little superheroes to their families, but have their own personal struggles to deal with too.

It's a tableau, an epic look at two lives and, of course, basketball. Going in I remember I thought "I'm not a big fan of basketball, will I like it?" Never should that thought cross your mind, since even a non-fan will be biting their nails and cheering on Arthur and William during their games - the characters lead the momentum of the games, as opposed to all of these pseudo-inspiring sports movies where we know mostly what will happen. Here, anything is possible, and tension rides high (albeit we often see condensed versions of the games, used by a somewhat effective narrator in the director Steve James). It's important that it's about basketball since the teens playing it are at high stakes for their respective futures, so it's not just a device. We see how dangerous life is on the other side of the dream - divorce, drugs, crime, death, despair, poverty - and so whatever 'dreams' of the title carry with it are paramount, and sometimes costly.

I cared about what I saw the first time, and cared about the characters again revisiting the film. It's inspirational without having to force it, and a fine coming of age story as well. And if you wonder what happened to these kids after the movie (after the end cards say what happened during college life) you're not alone.
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Never would have watched it, but couldn't walk away.
twell7617 March 2002
This was on T.V. last night. I was waiting for Seinfeld reruns to start and stopped here to pass the nxt 30 mins till Seinfeld. Hoop Dreams just began. I'd heard of it, but it didn't sound interesting at all. The problem here was that I became so interested in seeing how the lives of these two boys turned out, that I totally forgot about Seinfeld. Oh well, it's on 14 times a week locally. Hoop Dreams was very interesting. I loved it.
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An important film that really didn't hold my interest.
planktonrules20 January 2015
"Hoop Dreams" follows two Chicago teens, Arthur Agee and William Gates, for 5 years. Both hope to eventually make it to the NBA to play basketball but their more immediate goals are to receive scholarships to top basketball colleges.

In the history of documentaries, "Hoop Dreams" is super-important and it helped usher in a newer style and scope of documentaries (such as the many excellent films by ESPN). I do appreciate that. However, after I watched it, I found myself underwhelmed. After all, the film has a current score of 8.3--and that is incredibly high. So, I think I found my expectations were just too high. Additionally, and I know this will perhaps sound mean, but I really didn't find myself that connected with the characters. I was hoping they'd get to live their dreams...but why should I pull for them as opposed to any other young wannabes?
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