On the day Roger Ebert passed, I knew I had to pay tribute by watching one of the films that made him glad to be a film critic. There was his favorite film Citizen Kane. There was 2001 ". There was even Raging Bull. His favorite movie of the 80's. But the one that kept cropping up in my memory banks when recalling all those At the Movies segments was Hoop Dreams. The film championed by him and Gene Siskel.
I'm not an avid boxing fan, yet Raging Bull ranks as one of my favorite movies. Nor do I So it should come as no surprise that the sport of basketball is one I find no pleasure in. That is, looking at basketball as a competetive sport and a means to watch a team make its way to the top. Hoop Dreams, directed by Steve James, laid down the tracks of foresight into the humanistic elements of underclass kids hoping to achieve their dreams of playing in the NBA. The kids are Arthur Agee and William Gates.
These two fine men illustrate the power of desire and passion for the game. It is their one determination that carries them through the minimum wage streets of Chicago's Harlem district. In scenes that unfold in unpretentious ways, we see them in awe of their hero, Isiah Thomas. We are treated to one heartfelt scene in which we see Agee's mother pursue her own dream of becoming a nurse. These are real people. No scripts. No cue cards.
Hoop Dreams is also about the choices made in between those dreams and those harsh realities. Where a crucial free throw suddenly takes in huge importance for William Gates.
As it stands, Hoop Dreams is one of the most original, accurate, prescient, and least sentimental portraits of an African American family in the medium. I have no problem with Ebert calling it the best film of the 90's. It really strove for something more than so many other great films of that decade: a chance to to a peak into 3 hours of 2 kids with big dreams.