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Friday, January 7, 2011

The AVN Awards: Best Feature Edition

If there’s a pile of dry Christmas trees piling up on the curb, maxed-out credit card bills in the mailbox and the dreary consolation of the Superbowl right around the corner, it can only mean one thing: it’s time for the annual AVN Adult Expo!

The arguably most important Adult Industry event of the year takes place every year in early January in Las Vegas, in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show – a double whammy if you’re a Sex Nerd.

I attended for the first time last year, and I have to admit my mind was blown on a number of levels for a number of reasons. Everything from sales booths for local brothels to a plexi-glass trailer with a dance pole inside to a $7,000 translucent alien sex doll (no, I’m not exaggerating) – and that doesn’t mention all the performers and industry insiders I got to meet (including Serious Porn Crush Girl Aurora Snow, among others!). I'm pretty jaded about most things sexual at this point (but no less fascinated), but when you're a bit of a freak and you stand around with your jaw open thinking to yourself "DAMN, that's freaky!", well, you know you've Arrived.

But I digress. The highlight of the show, and therefore the Porn industry year, is definitely the AVN Awards show. It’s similar to the Oscars, only instead of “Best Supporting Actress” you get “Best Anal Scene” . . . and instead of four or five nominees per category, there are scads. The affair is always terribly hyped, plagued with industry shenanigans, and lasts freakin’ forever, but if you had to draw a circle around the Best Porn on Earth, well, this would be one place to start.

The show is particularly important for the big producers, because the awards showcase their best work. Ironically the esteemed Best Feature category, still the most important, financially, to the producers, actually represents only a minority of the Pornoverse these days. The domination of all-sex gonzo strokefodder since the early 1990s has all but killed the idea of a sex movie with a plot and characters, however badly acted and scripted. It’s just a lot simpler to hire five or six girls and a couple of studs and knock out a weekend wonder than it is to actually pay attention to things like context. The expense of producing a feature is so much higher than a gonzo flick that only a dozen or so production houses make the effort anymore. If it hadn’t been for the recent parody craze, it’s possible that the feature porn flick would die a slow and lingering death.

But those features are de facto showcases of a studio’s ability to attract talented performers and directors and turn out something resembling entertainment. They may not break even on their own, necessarily, but a nomination for Best Feature can add a lot of buzz to one and hype sales. Consider the Adam & Eve/Digital Playground visual masterpiece Pirates, one of the most expensive porn flicks ever made, which not only kicked ass in regular retail sales but also made a lot of bucks in the softcore Skinimax version. A winning feature can put a production studio on the map . . . or save one from bankruptcy.

This year’s contenders for Best Feature include no less than fifteen entrants, and while I haven’t seen them all over the course of the last year, there are some noteworthy contenders for the prize you might want to check out:

Awakening To Love, New Sensations. A porn flick about coma patients. No, really.

Body Heat, Digital Playground. Busty blonde firefighters who screw between calls. No, really.

The Condemned, Vivid. Lesbian revenge gang knocking off bad ex boyfriends. Nice.

The Devil In Miss Jones: The Resurrection, Vivid. The latest trip to the well for this franchise is actually pretty good. While there’s bare homage to the original classic, the story line – about the damned Miss Jones reincarnating as a pretty journalist – is interesting, and the sex is hot.

Fatally Obsessed, After Dark/West Coast. One of the few all-black features to be produced – which should make it eligible for Best Feature on that basis alone. However Fatally Obsessed skips the all-black clichés of gang violence, ghetto culture, and making it big in show bidness for a more mainstream plot: Successful black couple move to the suburbs, crazed real estate agent stalks hunky hubby – hilarity ensues. With an all-star all-black cast, this is the (pardon the pun) dark horse competitor in this contest. But even if it doesn’t win, I think it’s outstanding that a) someone is doing all-black features that b) don’t play into every sexual and cultural stereotype. Call it Buppie Porn, if you like, but it’s a good flick no matter how you classify it.

Malice In LaLaland, Miss Lucifer. Starring Sasha Grey, this dark version of the Lewis Carrol classic puts Malice in an insane asylum. Beautifully shot on 35mm film, performances and scenes are artfully hot. Another dark horse, but a shiny one.

An Open Invitation: A Real Swinger’s Party in San Francisco, Private. Traditionally a “Euro” production company, this scalding-hot feature is part fantasy, part documentary. With a cast of hundreds of amateurs and professionals, it got AVN’s highest rating and a special letter of recommendation from the editor. Consider this a strong favorite to win.

Pornstar Superheroes, Elegant Angel. Instead of just parodying a superhero movie – a worthy task in its own right – Elegant Angel put together an original superhero flick starring four lusty super-powered heroines, results of a Cold War era military experiment. Action-packed and entertaining, outstanding performances by Asa Akira, Kristina Rose, Tori Black and Sadie West, consider this an outside favorite to win.

Rawhide 2: Dirty Deeds, Adam & Eve. The long-awaited sequel to one of A&E’s earlier hits, Rawhide 2 is a modern-day western starring contract stars Bree Olson and Kayden Kross in some of their final work for the company. Busty blondes, horses, and thick-thewed country boys with big dicks make this a solid contender, though it lacks the Old West character of the 2005 original, starring A&E’s longtime contract star Carmen Luvana.

Sanatorium, Zero Tolerance. Plot is simple: Girl (Tabitha Stevens) goes into sex work; girl is condemned for sex work by self-righteous prudes; prudes drive girl near to insanity (hence the Sanatorium) where she gains the clarity to plot revenge by exposing the prudes’ secret vices. Solid (if somewhat dated) plot and outstanding sex make this a good contender, but not a likely winner. Hey, it’s an honor just to be nominated, right?

Scorned, Penthouse. “Hell hath no fury yadda yadda yadda.” A flick about pissed-off women who take revenge when they’ve been, you guessed it, scorned. The plot’s pretty thin, but the performances make it noteworthy. Not much chance of winning, however.

Speed, Wicked Pictures. This epic tale of LA Motorcycle clubs (thing sport bikes and shiny helmets, not leather, denim, and Harleys) includes some of the hottest sex to be filmed this year, including an incredible all-Asian three-way including Anglo-Thai stud Keni Styles. Keni’s one of the very, very few Asian men in Western porn, but he’s built like a tall, well-hung Bruce Lee. Even without Keni this flick would be the favorite to win, but between the novelty and the action, not to mention Wicked’s traditionally well-shot, very hot sex, Speed is the most likely winner of the category this year.

Whatever It Takes, Wicked Pictures. The third entrant from Wicked Pictures (with 3 Days in June and Speed), this is the weakest flick of the three, even though it’s well-acted, scripted, and directed. The problem is the plot: the “suburban wife making extra money by being a part-time prostitute plot has been done ad nauseum since the 1970s. But Tori Black is the reason this flick made the cut. Her performance (and to a lesser extent performer/director Stormy Daniels’) is the reason the movie got the nomination, in my opinion. And while it’s technically well-executed, with the bright and shiny competition around it it’s unlikely that Whatever It Takes has what it takes to take the top spot.

So that’s my round-up of this year’s contenders – stay tuned next week for my re-cap of the big awards show winners!

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