The nominations for this year’s MTV Movie Awards were announced yesterday, to the evident excitement of no one in particular. New categories include “Global Superstar,” “Best Scared-as-SH*T Performance” and “Biggest Badass Star”; “Twilight,” “Avatar” and “The Hangover” slaughtered everything in the nominations department, in keeping with the ceremonies’ populist bent and reputation for rewarding precisely those movies that triumph over critics’ sneers.
For all the show’s looseness (or appearance of; up through 2006, it was stitched together for broadcast from separately filmed parts), there’s something kind of joyless and cynical about the awards’ predictable genuflection to teens, whose loyalties are easily bought. It’s pretty clear the Awards used to skew at least a little older; either that, or teens in the ’90s were slightly more open to the idea of watching non-comedies about people older than themselves. (“A Few Good Men” won Best Picture in 1993, which seems pretty improbable in retrospect.) At the very least, the Awards can claim credit for their now-defunct Best New Filmmaker category, which correctly identified Wes Anderson, Steve James, and Sofia Coppola early — as well as, more impressively, “Hoop Dreams”‘ Steve James. (In deference, it’d seem, to greater tact/concern about the language of sexual harassment, the “Most Desirable” thespian categories were retired long before that.)
And while it’s surely a question of forgetting details, for a show that lets America’s youngest and most pursued demographic get what they want entertainment-wise, the Awards have produced surprisingly few memorable moments just for pure fun. Last year’s big highlight was Sacha Baron Cohen’s staged conflict with Eminem; I also remember the White Stripes blowing the roof off in 2002 (the staged crowd filling the dance floor looked surprisingly raucous). That’s about it, though; no matter the host, the show doesn’t seem noticeably more relaxed or spontaneous than any other. It’s not really surprising the official synopses tend to mock the broadcast in MTV’s own mid-90s language of snark and self-dismissal, even for shows too recent to look back on with some degree of self-aware affection.
Of course, Viacom companies are some of the most vigilant about monitoring YouTube for clips of any of their property, which makes it difficult to jog old memories. Nonetheless, in the interest of staying positive, here’s a clip from 1995 that seems relevant since “Iron Man 2” will be dominating theaters for a bit. This is Robert Downey Jr. presenting Best Comedic Performance to Jim Carrey for “Dumb and Dumber.” At this moment, Carrey is pretty much the biggest star in the world and Downey’s just a cult actor — a state of affairs that’s almost completely inverted now. Just before his public difficulties would start, Downey seems relaxed and — while not yet known as a straight comic actor, just a few years after “Chaplin” was his big bid for Serious Thespian status — he’s able to keep up with Carrey, especially in the backstage moment after. It really is a bit of flashback magic. So there’s something to this show after all, I guess, just like every piece of pop cultural garbage left alone for 15 years:
[Photos: “A Few Good Men,” Columbia, 1992; “Dumb & Dumber,” New Line Cinema, 1994.]