Why the MTV Movie Awards Matter as Much as the Oscars — If Not More So

By  · Published on April 14th, 2013

I don’t know the last time I watched the MTV Movie Awards. I think Howard Stern was there promoting his never-made Fartman movie. No, that was the 1992 MTV Music Awards. What about when the kids from Rushmore reenacted scenes from Armageddon, Out of Sight and The Truman Show? Actually, I might have only seen the parodies and not the actual show. Whenever it was, it’s been a long time. Because what self-respecting film lover watches such self-important, self-promoting, ratings-grabbing b.s.?

Wait, that doesn’t sound all that different than the Oscars, and we pay lots of attention to those. The only difference is that the MTV Movie Awards don’t have a history or consistency or the sort of class that we like to think the Academy Awards do. They’re an easy punching bag because they seem to pander by catering to more mainstream, high-grossing, youth-driven entertainment. Also, they’re on MTV, which we always love to shoot down (can’t we just give up and acknowledge how ahead of their time they were by ceasing to be “music” television and having an acronym-based brand that no longer stands for anything… like every single channel now?). But I decided to glance at the nominees for tonight’s awards and I realized something: the MTV Movie Awards celebrate movies far better than the Oscars do.

Perhaps it’s just the shock of not seeing the final Twilight film nominated for Movie of the Year in spite of the last four winners being, in succession, each of the other four installments. Breaking Dawn Part 2 is also not represented in the performance categories nor even Best Kiss. Its only nomination is for Taylor Lautner’s abs in Best Shirtless Performance, an award probably created more to recognize the phenomenon of Magic Mike. Speaking of which, if last year’s event gave the finger to the Oscars with its heavy recognition of Drive rather than just with its usual pop junk alternatives, this year we see similar spotlight on an Academy snub with three nominations for Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper movie. And the four for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a film I haven’t seen but am aware is beloved by many of my peers.

Oddly, though, a lot of the movies up for Golden Popcorns this year are Oscar overlaps. And maybe that says more about the Academy sinking than the MTV audience maturing, but its still interesting to see particularly the Male Performance contenders, which include Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln. There’s also Bradley Cooper, who really didn’t deserve his Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook and both Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, who each should have been recognized by the Academy. Best Female Performance also features both actresses who won Oscars this year, Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway (each of whom is also nominated for other films in Best Scared-As Shit Performance and Best Hero, respectively). Regarding the non-kid-targeted Les Miserables, by the way, isn’t it cool to see MTV highlight the rise of Eddie Redmayne as a star?

But MTV still has categories like Best Kiss, Best Shirtless Performance, Best Scared-As-Shit Performance and Best WTF Moment, you argue. Yes, and isn’t that progressive of them? Not those specifically, necessarily, but the fact that they’re always changing and adding and subtracting categories to be both relevant and a commentary on the state of pop cinema. While we complain yearly about the Best Song Academy Award, last year’s MTV Movie Awards featured the (occasionally-given) category for Best Song From a Movie, which could include soundtrack tunes not written exclusively for the film. This year they’ve changed it to Best Musical Moment, apparently in order to let it be as much about the dancing in Magic Mike and Silver Linings Playbook and the mash-up glory of Pitch Perfect than the songs alone. That’s what musicals are today, and kudos to the MTV Movie Awards for getting that.

While the Academy remains rooted in dramas, epics, classical musicals and serious acting, the MTV Movie Awards make room for other genres and new kinds of movie moments by finding ways to better acknowledge horror, comedy, action, sci-fi, romance, bromance, teen films, superhero movies, etc. And these are not all categories for kids. All great movie lovers are hard pressed to find a majority of films they don’t like among the MTV nominees this year. When The Avengers picks up Movie of the Year, it’ll be the most satisfying win for even picky cinephiles in nearly a decade, since the Lord of the Rings films won in succession. But many of us would also be okay with the top prize going to Ted, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained or Silver Linings Playbook, all critically acclaimed titles.

Academy Awards are still worth something. They honor craft. They honor skills. They praise things like longevity, legacy and tradition. That’s all fine and dandy – very dandy when you consider a lot of the pageantry. Artists and creators and engineers and scientific innovators, not to mention the makers of documentaries and shorts, all deserve that international limelight. Some dislike the MTV Movie Awards (and even maybe the Golden Globes) because they make light of their awards to say that honoring onscreen chemistry and villainous roles is as important as film editing and costume design. But they’re not diminishing the Oscars by existing and looking at a different side of cinema. The importance of awards in general is really just in the eye of the beholder, especially when they be holding a winning statue. If awards don’t matter, neither ceremony matters, and if they do, they all do.

Sure, the MTV Movie Awards are more about fleeting enjoyment and fads and the future. Sometimes they even award films that aren’t out yet, such as with this year’s Summer’s Biggest Teen Badass honor (a side category sponsored by “Seventeen” magazine, which has already announced Kick-Ass 2’s Chloe Moretz the winner). For better or worse, that’s the way a lot of movie consumers think and that’s a lot of what dictates the industry we all follow. And they’re upfront about it. The Oscars just look stupid when they try to feature Twilight stars and commemorate popular genres through montage and interpretive dance. They’re not fooling anyone with having presenters who are out to promote something coming soon. MTV is much better in its balance of celebrating movies of the past year as well as the coming summer.

Maybe there are some parts about MTV’s event that are too on the nose as a movie marketer’s dream (they’re different from most movie blogs how, now?) and too obvious with their demographic aims – the Best Latino Actor category is both a blatant attempt at relevance with the network’s (and the movies’) Latino-heavy audience and an impressive rare acknowledgment of the talents and interests of that specific racial group. Considering Hollywood’s continued cluelessness in terms of casting and catering to Latinos, this award might just be the most noteworthy of ways the MTV Movie Awards pays tribute to movies while defying the Hollywood/Academy system.

That category also allows for recognition of Savages, one of my favorite films of last year (I know how alone I am in that). Another category gets to shine on the only part of Flight worth praising (its screenplay Oscar nomination was a joke), another honors Quvenzhané Wallis more appropriately as a breakthrough rather than a GREAT ACTRESS and three others recognize the all-around awesomeness of Rebel Wilson, who also happens to be hosting the ceremony. That’s right, instead of hiring a host meant to be a weird bridge between the crass-loving kids and the showtunes-loving Academy, the MTV Movie Awards continue to stay on top of who is hot, especially comedy-wise, with general movie-loving moviegoers. She’s got my viewership, as does in turn MTV, and I can’t imagine a more fun, less stuffy way to celebrate cinema outside of actually just watching the movies themselves.

If you’ve still not embraced the magic of Magic Mike, Pitch Perfect, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Ted, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Snow White and the Huntsman, Life of Pi, Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, End of Watch and, yes, even Savages, you should just go watch one or more of these great and almost great nominees. Otherwise, enjoy the MTV Movie Awards for what they are and how they do in fact matter.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.