i suppose it’s a question you have to ask, but it’s really impossible to answer…what is the best film of 1994 – pulp fiction or hoop dreams? i give the edge to pulp fiction because it’s influenced culture more, is more quotable and has stood up to more viewings. that said, hoop dreams moves me to tears every time i see it because it reaches a level of humanity that only about a dozen films ever have.
with the kid stays in the picture and tarnation i remarked that judging the film has to be somewhat separated from judging the subject. this film not only makes that task impossible, it makes it unnecessary. the film is so well done and the subjects are so sympathetic that my feelings for them merged into one. james’ light, but present, directorial touch makes the documentary a film, but never sullies the pure nature of the form. he slows time, develops stories, builds drama and enhances reality, but it never comes off as contrived, didactic or disingenuous. he deftly weaves together the stories of the two boys, their parents, friends, coaches, economic realities, and social circumstances into one tapestry of american inner-city life that really is as good as any two or three films put together (think menace II society meets aka don bonus meets he got game).
on 11/17/04 i wrote: “there’s a good chance that hoop dreams is going to come to dvd thanks to criterion. i want that film on dvd probably more than anything else i can think of.” when i bought this film on dvd i half-jokingly remarked that i could die a happy person. that said, this isn’t my favorite film of all-time. it’s probably in the top ten, but it’ll always hold a special place in a my heart because synthesizes so many of my interests in such a profound, entertaining, and emotional way. it combines the best and worst of sports, family, politics, and society in one work that, from a filmmaking perspective, has very few flaws. there’s certainly an opinion behind the film – you can tell in the way it is edited more than anything else. unlike wiseman’s work, though, the film doesn’t necessarily present a thesis on the workings/failings of a system. yes, there is a filmmaker’s point of view, but i don’t think that james makes the same type of docu-essay that wiseman did with something like “high school” or “hospital.” besides, only the most pessimistic or heartless viewer could watch this film and fault it for any sentimentality or supposedly leftist viewpoint.
lastly, if the 170 minute runtime keeps you away from the film then you probably don’t deserve to have this kind of filmgoing experience anyway. if that is the case you’re probably better off wasting four hours reading a danielle steele novel or something.