"In the big butt category, there's four awards": What's it like to vote in the AVN Awards?

Critics' choice: Vivid's Spiderman XXX parody made our sexperts' webs tingle in 2011.

Guardian culture editor Caitlin Donohue will be live Tweeting the AVNs this year. For the latest in Lycra and non-judgemental observations, follow her @caitlindonohue

Once a year, the porn industry gathers to honor its own. Cash is dropped on sparkly stripper gowns, breasts are wedged into places that are too small for them, too-little or too-much time is spent on crafting acceptance speeches and: Viagra. Sometimes Flo Rida is there (this year Coolio will captain the official after-party) – but like an enthusiastic blow job, the Adult Video News Awards are always a triumphant good time. This weekend the ceremony and attendant fan expo are at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. The Guardian's going to be there on the red carpet, obviously – but we thought we'd get you all hot-and-bothered with some sage words from two industry insiders – who happen to be members of the academy to boot.

Your skin flick experts are Chris Thorne and Steve Javors, who graciously submitted to phone interviews with us last week. Thorne is the founding editor of Xcritic.com, a Portland-based website that reviews stacks upon stacks of adult DVDs round-the-calendar. Thorne's been voting in the awards for two years now, but has been following them "since the Tera Patrick-Jenna Jameson era."

Javors is the managing editor of AVN Magazine, so he's not only a voter in the awards, he also decides the nominations. It's a small porn world, after all. He's been voting for the awards for five years, our veteran judge. He's confident that this year's awards will continue to be the screaming climax of a time they're always been. "We have a pretty successful formula," he told us. "I think the challenge is just to top what we did last year."

On being an AVN voter: 

Chris Thorne: It's punishing. It's punishing. I don't think anybody quite realizes the magnitude of the task that is voting in the AVNs. It is by far the most demanding thing you can do in the adult industry.  The box of DVDs – we had two stacks of them, both around six feet high. We're talking about high 800s to a thousand titles. Some titles are nominated for specific scenes, so you're like okay, I've watched that scene, I don't have to watch the rest of [the movie].

Big winner predictions:

CT: This year's field is not as clear-cut as it was in years past. There were a lot of really good performances and good films, but in years past it was pretty darn clear that one or two movies would take it and go. Digital Playground's Pirates and Pirates 2 -- when those films came out it was pretty clear that they were above and beyond everything else that was going on. In terms of handicapping it, I think it's going to be a difficult year. 

Steve Javors: I think Bobbi Starr had a spectacular year. She's been a critics' favorite for a few years now. She distinguished herself more so this year, she's one to look out for. Also, the star of Portrait of Call Girl, Jessie Andrews, that movie should do well. With Jessie it's her wide-eyed innocence that grabs you. She's naturally beautiful, she's 19, she looks like a girl form an American Apparel ad. I thinks that's her appeal. I think this is going to be her star vehicle. She's so sweet, so accommodating, super-professional.

Dark horse picks:

CT: I am particularly enamored with a company called New Sensations, their Romance series. [Xcritic.com] named one of the films from that series as our top title of the year. That was called Lost and Found. This was an interesting year for porn, it's adjusted quite a bit for the recession – it's found in the last couple years that it's not recession-proof. One of the things it's done is try to expand its audience. Lost and Found is a romantic comedy with sex. Also, Wicked Picture's Horizon, Elegant Angel's Stephen Soderberg-esque Portrait of a Call Girl, and Digital Playground's Top Guns and Fighters. Vivid did a few notable parodies: Spiderman XXX, Superman XXX, The Incredible Hulk XXX, Wicked's Rocki Whore Picture Show, that was really good! Sometimes you see something and you're like, there's actual filmcraft involved, it's not just two hours of people fucking with a loose plot attached.

SJ: Brooklyn Lee might be one of those. Last year was her first full year in the business and she came out doing incendiary scenes in Spiderman XXX from Axel Braun and Vivid.

On the best part of the AVN Awards:

CT: In terms of the awards show, it's gone from cool, to watching-paint-dry-boring, to absolute absurd. You never know if this year it's going to be a good year or a bad year. My favorite parts are not on the program. Everyone knows each other, especially the performers. Some of them know each other quite intimately. They're “on” when they're on the red carpet, but there are some nice moments when they don't have to be on and performing. Everybody kind of comes together, so there's this nice opportunity to connect. 

On the worst part:

CT: The middle part of the awards show. It starts out really fun and exciting but there are hundreds of awards. Somewhere in the middle there it can feel like there's no end in site. It's like, there's an award for best porn soundtrack? In the big butt category there's four awards. Sometimes the acceptance speeches are longer than the Academy Awards. 

On who was cheated this year out of a nomination:

CT: Y'know, they nominate so many people. There are so many nominations. I think the nominations are extensive enough that they cover their bases. Sometimes there's 15 nominations in a category.

On the evergreen appeal of DVD porn:

SJ: When people say the DVD market is dying – it's not what it once was, but going through the list of nominees this year, you can see products that people want to buy. Viewership has moved to the Internet, but there's tons of stuff that people want to own. Parodies have really propped up the DVD market. It's unbelievable the quality of the parodies that have come out. It needs to be that way because otherwise you upset the fans. If you read the chat boards and go to Comic Con, see what goes on with the fans that are new audiences to porn – they've taken to these parodies in a big way. 

On his voting critiera for the Best Double Penetration Scene category: 

CT: How we evaluate sex scenes is not necessarily rocket science. Great sex scenes boil down to a couple key critieria. One, chemistry between the performers. It's like fine wine, you know it when you see it. When two performers like each other -- or maybe they don't like each other but they have real chemistry. Two, you look at presentation – how do the three performers work with each other? Is it exciting to watch? Do you look at it and say wow, that looks painful? When you look at [a sex act] that's – I don't want to say on the fringe – you want to see it presented in a way that is exciting, titillating, it fulfills a fantasy that the viewer might have. Third, how is it shot? Are we close up and center on the penetration? Good directors can present scenes in a way where it's not just that. 

On the evolution of the awards:

SJ: it's really evolved, it's become this gigantic event. Even if you're not a fan, everyone and their mother has heard of the AVN Awards. It's now broadcasted on Showtime, seen by millions of people – they're still repeating last year's show. It's in its 29th year and it's changed from a smaller ceremony for industry people in a small ballroom in Vegas to this grand spectacle that is certainly on par with the Golden Globes or other Hollywood awards show. Girls spend thousands of dollars on their dresses, Dave Attel is hosting this year. Dave's a perfect fit for our business. He's a big fan of the business, he knows all the girls. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Rocki Whore Picture Show as a Vivid Entertainment production. It was actually made by Wicked Pictures.

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