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Top 10 Must-Watch Documentaries of The 20th Century Like Hoop Dreams

Updated on July 16, 2016
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Hoop Dreams is a 1994 American documentary film directed by Steve James and written by James and Frederick Marx, with Kartemquin Films. It follows the story of two African-American high school students in Chicago and their dream of becoming professional basketball players.

Originally intended to be a 30-minute short film produced for the Public Broadcasting Service, it eventually led to five years of filming and 250 hours of footage. It premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. Hoop Dreams is the most recent documentary film to be specifically nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. Despite its length (171 minutes) and unlikely commercial genre, it received high critical and popular acclaim, and grossed over $11 million worldwide.

Here is a list of few more top of the class documentaries from the 20th century just like Hoop Dreams:

Gates of Heaven (1978)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

A pet cemetery in California.

DIRECTOR:

Errol Morris

STARS:

Lucille Billingsley, Zella Graham, Cal Harberts

PLOT SUMMARY:

Funny, inspiring, and bizarre, "Gates of Heaven" is the celebrated pet cemeteries documentary that is in reality an unorthodox look at life. Inspired by an article entitled "450 Dead Pets Going to Napa Valley," Errol Morris set out to capture the event which centered around the transport of hundreds of animal remains from one pet cemetery to another. Pet cemetery proprietors, embalmers, pet owners and others speak about life, work, and feelings.

When We Were Kings (1996) - One of the best sports documentaries like Hoop Dreams

DOCUMENTARY ON:

1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, "The Rumble in the Jungle," between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali.

DIRECTOR:

Leon Gast

STARS:

Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Don King

PLOT SUMMARY:

On October 30, 1974, perhaps the most famous heavyweight championship boxing match of all time took place in Kinshasa, Zaire: the "Rumble in the Jungle" between championGeorge Foreman and challenger Muhammad Ali. In historical footage and new interviews, this documentary explores the relationship between African-Americans and the African continent during the Black Power era in terms of both popular culture and international politics, including the brutality of then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

A man wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.

DIRECTOR:

Errol Morris

STARS:

Randall Adams, David Harris, Gus Rose

PLOT SUMMARY:

Errol Morris's unique documentary dramatically re-enacts the crime scene and investigation of a police officer's murder in Dallas, Texas. Briefly, a drifter (Randall Adams) ran out of gas and was picked up by a 16-year-old runaway (David Harris). Later that night, they drank some beer, smoked some marijuana, and went to the movies. Then, their stories diverged. Adams claimed that he left for his motel, where he was staying with his brother, and went to sleep. Harris, however, said that they were stopped by police late that night, and Adams suddenly shot the officer approaching their car. The film shows the audience the evidence gathered by the police, who were under extreme pressure to clear the case. It strongly makes a point that the circumstantial evidence was very flimsy. In fact, it becomes apparent that Harris was a much more likely suspect and was in the middle of a crime spree, eventually ending up on Death Row himself for the later commission of other crimes. Morris implies that the DA's and the judge's desire for the death penalty in this case (for which Harris would have been ineligible because of his youth) made Adams a scapegoat on whom to pin this heinous crime.

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

A man travels around a city with a camera slung over his shoulder, documenting urban life with dazzling invention.

DIRECTOR:

Dziga Vertov

STARS:

Mikhail Kaufman

PLOT SUMMARY:

This playful film is at once a documentary of a day in the life of the Soviet Union, a documentary of the filming of said documentary, and a depiction of an audience watching the film. Even the editing of the film is documented. We often see the cameraman who is purportedly making the film, but we rarely, if ever, see any of the footage he seems to be in the act of shooting!

Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back (1967) - A must-watch documentary like Hoop Dreams

DOCUMENTARY ON:

Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England

DIRECTOR:

D.A. Pennebaker

STARS:

Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth

PLOT SUMMARY:

Portrait of the artist as a young man. In spring, 1965, Bob Dylan, 23, a pixyish troubador, spends three weeks in England. Pennebaker's camera follows him from airport to hall, from hotel room to public house, from conversation to concert. Joan Baez and Donovan, among others, are on hand. It's the period when Dylan is shifting from acoustic to electric, a transition that not all fans, including Baez, applaud. From the opening sequence of Dylan holding up words to the soundtrack's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," Dylan is playful and enigmatic.

Grey Gardens (1975)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.

DIRECTOR:

Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer

STARS:

Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale, Brooks Hyers

PLOT SUMMARY:

The Maysles brothers pay visits to Edith Bouvier Beale, nearing 80, and her daughter Edie. Reclusive, the pair live with cats and raccoons in Grey Gardens, a crumbling mansion in East Hampton. Edith is dry and quick-witted - a singer, married but later separated, a member of high society. Edie is voluble, dresses - as she puts it - for combat in tight ensembles that include scarves wrapped around her head. There are hints that Edie came home 24 years before to be cared for rather than to care for her mother. The women address the camera, talking over each other, moving from the present to events years before. They're odd, with flinty affection for each other.

Streetwise (1984)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

Life of teenagers living on the streets of Seattle.

DIRECTOR:

Martin Bell

STARS:

Roberta Joseph Hayes, Baby Gramps, Erin Blackwell

PLOT SUMMARY:

Portrays the lives of nine desperate teenagers. Thrown too young into a seedy grown up world, these runaways and castaways survive, but just barely. Rat, the dumpster diver. Tiny, the teen prostitute. Shellie, the baby-faced blonde. DeWayne, the hustler. All old beyond their years. All underage survivors fighting for life and love on the streets of downtown Seattle.

Night and Fog (1955)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

Nazi Germany's death camps of the Final Solution and the hellish world of dehumanisation and death contained inside.

DIRECTOR:

Alain Resnais

STARS:

Michel Bouquet, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler

PLOT SUMMARY:

One of the most vivid depictions of the horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps. Filmed in 1955 at several concentration camps in Poland, the film combines new color and black and white footage with black and white newsreels, footage shot by the victorious allies, and stills, to tell the story not only of the camps, but to portray the horror of man's brutal inhumanity.

Gimme Shelter (1970) - A great documentary like Hoop Dreams

DOCUMENTARY ON:

The Rolling Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont.

DIRECTOR:

Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

STARS:

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor

PLOT SUMMARY:

In December of 1969, four months after Woodstock, the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane gave a free concert in Northern California, east of Oakland at Altamont Speedway. About 300,000 people came, and the organisers put Hell's Angels in charge of security around the stage. Armed with pool cues and knifes, Angels spent the concert beating up spectators, killing at least one. The film intercuts performances, violence, Grace Slick and Mick Jagger's attempts to cool things down, close-ups of young listeners (dancing, drugged, or suffering Angel shock), and a look at the Stones later as they watch concert footage and reflect on what happened.

Sherman's March (1985)

DOCUMENTARY ON:

General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War.

DIRECTOR:

Ross McElwee

STARS:

Ross McElwee, Dede McElwee, Ross McElwee Jr.

PLOT SUMMARY:

Ross McElwee sets out to make a documentary about the lingering effects of General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War, but is continually sidetracked by women who come and go in his life, his recurring dreams of nuclear holocaust, and Burt Reynolds.

Which of these awesome documentary movies are you gonna watch next?

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