Saturday, July 9, 2011

868. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Running Time: 170 minutes
Directed By: Steve James
Written By: Steve James, Frederick Marx
Main Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee


Tonight, my intention was to knock out a lengthy picture from my 700+ list of remaining films. I don't want to get down to the end of this journey and be left with a few handfuls of three+ hour movies. I accomplished my intended goal and saw an excellent documentary in the process.

The film follows the paths of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two inner-city youths from the Chicago area who both have dreams of making it big in the NBA. Both kids are followed from the time they are fourteen and playing on the playground courts of their neighborhood, outside of the projects. At this age, they are both scouted by an independent scouter who helps get them into St. Joseph's High School, a college preparatory school. Both young men will travel a round-trip of three hours per day in hopes of achieving their dream. William makes the Varsity basketball team, while Arthur is put on the Junior Varsity squad. Ultimately, Arthur doesn't cut it at St. Joseph's and winds up going to a school closer to his home, Marshall High School. William works hard to make it work at St. Joseph's, trying to juggle basketball, academics and a newborn baby and later a knee injury that threatens to keep him out for his Junior year. Arthur, the seemingly more immature of the two young men, struggles at first at Marshall, but eventually starts working harder, earning a Varsity spot and getting his grades up, all while dealing with his father's incarceration and the month to month welfare living of his household. The film follows the two young men all the way into their Senior year (for a total of five years), as the two deal with college scouts and graduation or possibly not graduating at all.


For starters, I will say that it's rare for me to post a "spoiler alert" warning for a documentary. The reason I do it with "Hoop Dreams" is because there is more drama, heartbreak and triumph in this film than any screenwriter can fictionally accomplish in Hollywood.

In a word, I thought the film was excellent. I was really expecting to not like it, because I am not a fan of basketball and I don't think I've ever watched an entire game. However, "Hoop Dreams" is more than just a documentary about basketball, but rather a documentary about dreaming, growing up, defeat, triumph and heartbreak. The fact that the film spans the course of five years is amazing and a testament to how dedicated the film makers were in getting these stories to the screen. The length of the film and production only wrap the audience up more tightly in the lives of these kids and make us dream right along with them. It's funny, because in the film the dreams of William and Arthur are not only their dreams, but also the dreams of their entire families. For instance, when Arthur is on the court, in a big game, his whole family feels every success and every defeat and we as an audience get wrapped up with them, hoping for these kids to succeed and make a better life for themselves.

One of the best stories coming out of the film, for me, was the aftermath. I read up on Arthur and William and found out that neither of them made it professional, but that they both used the funds that they received from the production of the film to better themselves. Arthur bought a better home and started a foundation promoting higher education for inner-city youths. Gates later returned home and became a pastor at the Living Faith Community Center. I think the film reminds us all of our own dreams that we may have had as youngsters and puts into perspective that as we grow our dreams don't always follow us. And sometimes as our dreams begin to become realities, we sometimes realize that they weren't are dreams at all, but the dreams of other people that we may have looked up to.

I guess I'll stop babbling there. It was a great documentary and if you have the three hours it's currently streaming on Netflix and comes with my highest of recommendations. I have to give a big kudos to the "1001" book for providing me with some absolutely outstanding documentaries. We've had some real great ones, including: "Triumph of the Will", "Olympia", "The Thin Blue Line", "Nanook of the North", "Roger & Me", "Fahrenheit 9/11" and now "Hoop Dreams".

RATING: 10/10 Seriously though, at this point, even a '10' is no guarantee of making it to the TOP 20, because there have been SO MANY contenders come down the pike in this past 100, that the job of making this list is becoming more and more difficult.


July 9, 2011 2:21am


  1. Please forgive me, I'm afraid I was bored by this one. I take all the blame.. I'm not into sport, and know nothing at all about basket ball, so I probably didn't give it it's full chance, and that is a fair comment, and I apologise to the makers and people in the film...

  2. No need for apologies Ray. If you didn't like, you didn't like biggie. Personally, this film grabbed me early on and didn't let go for the three hour duration. And speaking of the length, in seemed to go by in a flash for me.

  3. I saw Hoop Dreams years ago - it moved me as much as it did you. And I'm glad to read about what happened to William and Arthur.


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