24. Fresh (1994)
Director: Boaz Yakin
Stars: Sean Nelson, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L. Jackson, N'Bushe Wright
Films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society, while exceptional in their own ways, paint portraits of inner city life that, frankly, one could get on any high-quality gangster rap album. The main characters seem familiar if you've listened to enough N.W.A., MC Eiht, or Spice 1. Fresh, however, released around the same time as those more publicized movies, presents an urban survival story that's, well, fresh, and largely uncharted.
The reason: Its protagonist, Fresh (played excellently by youngster Sean Nelson), is only 12 years old, makes prominent use of chess, isn't about inner city kids just trying to endure—Fresh is trying to get the hell out of Dodge. And to do so, he has to run drugs for a local Washington Heights heroin kingpin, Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito).
Fresh comes of age by witnessing the horrors of life in the projects firsthand, namely seeing a guy shot down in cold blood in the middle of a basketball game. He's been born into a hard place, and all he can do is fight his way out of it, one step at a time. —MB