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Critics reviews
Hoop Dreams
Steve James United States, 1994
Hoop Dreams, seemingly inadvertently, becomes a fascinating record of individual maturity and adolescent evolution, physically as well as psychologically.
October 24, 2018
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What is the value of black life? Few films have posed this question so insistently, and so thoroughly, as Hoop Dreams. The film was an unlikely success, achieving both critical acclaim and crossover box-office appeal despite its three hours. More importantly, Hoop Dreams enlarged the scale of what a socially engaged documentary could be: probing and comprehensive, intimate and grand, thrilling and devastating. It did so by placing the matter of black lives in the center of the screen.
January 03, 2017
The film is an epic, not only in its scope, but also in its accumulation of detail and its sense of character. One comes to read the film simultaneously on both of the levels Ebert mentions, yet it never feels challenging or intellectual. The Dickensian storytelling simply immerses you in the characters’ experience so fully that it feels like the American narrative in miniature.
July 15, 2016
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When was the time you first felt that movies made from real life could be more entertaining, powerful and profound than fiction? For me it was seeing Hoop Dreams upon its release in 1994… Hoop Dreams feels timeless in the way that it captures all the yearning, struggle, bitter disappointment and hard-earned wisdom of growing up, in ways too authentic and palpable to be denied.
July 02, 2015
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This isn’t just the best documentary of the 1990s, it’s the best thriller (feel your heart freeze when someone is injured or misses a key shot), the best tragedy and, in a scene of a boy’s impoverished mother tearfully accepting her nursing degree, the most uplifting film of the decade as well.
July 02, 2015
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There isn’t a better argument for the social value of long-form nonfiction filmmaking than Hoop Dreams. And sports have never been put into such careful context, where the dramatic power of winning and losing is woven into the narrative construction of characters’ lives rather than overwhelming it. Hitting a last-second layup matters, but only because these boys’ dreams register as meaningful, intricate, and real.
March 31, 2015
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Similar to the omniscient thematic vantage point later offered by The Wire, Hoop Dreams observes a portion of America as a vast play in which everyone is assigned their roles, and the deviousness of that play remains unchecked because people accept their roles no matter how unflattering. There’s something inherently human in the desire to do a job or to fulfill a social function, no matter how unfair or unappealing it may be. We have an innate need to actualize.
March 30, 2015
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This is a movie about two boys struggling to beat incalculable odds and make something out of their most prized skill — and as a drama following the ins and outs of that story, it is often more engrossing and exciting than a fabricated version of the same events could possibly be — but it’s also, maybe more significantly, a movie about class and about race.
June 20, 2013
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Although this epic documentary often shows up on lists of great nonfiction films and sports pictures, it’s equally valuable as a portrait of a poor community (Chicago’s South Side, mostly) and the indomitable mothers who hold it together.
May 06, 2011
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The word “epic” is applied to movies so offhandedly nowadays that it has nearly lost its meaning, but Hoop Dreams is one of the few that merits the term an epic not just about the popular religion of sports, but about the vicissitudes of race and class, and the steep price of admission to the American Dream.
November 01, 2007
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Even if you’re as bored by team sports as I am, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from this memorable cast of characters and the action-packed story, which speaks volumes about the way we live and think and what we do to others and ourselves in the process. Don’t miss it.
April 01, 1995
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