Director: John Singleton
Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne

Before the then-23-year-old John Singleton emerged with the poignant Boyz n the Hood, filmmakers stayed clear of the urban black life.

For critics and moviegoers alike who'd only heard about ghetto hardships in rap songs, Boyz n the Hood exposed them to a real world where dreams don't seem attainable. A world where a promising, college-bound high school athlete gets needlessly gunned down; one where a charismatic and intelligent teenager choose drug-dealing over school because, well, school doesn't offer the same kinds of financial rewards.

Singleton lets his characters act genuinely in the most challenging of situations, never leading them down sentimental paths in ways that lesser filmmakers very well could have. Boyz n the Hood works as a slice-of-life film that just so happens to take place in the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, which, back in 1991, was a setting that had yet to get any mainstream attention from the movies. And the powers that be rewarded Singleton handsomely: He became both the youngest person ever and the first African-American filmmaker to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. MB