True Grit and its riveting star, 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, have garnered critical praise, "shocking" box office dividends, and now, Oscar buzz — raising the pivotal question: How to categorize Steinfeld for Academy Award consideration? Though she appears in nearly every scene as the amusingly obstinate Mattie Ross, Paramount, the film's studio, is promoting her as a Best Supporting Actress (a traditional approach with new, young stars regardless of screen time) and she's been nominated for various awards in that category. But critics and Oscar watchers are asking whether Steinfeld really belongs in the Best Actress field. The uncertainty could divide Oscar voters. Will it? (Watch the True Grit trailer)

Yes, the confusion could cost her a nomination: While I'd put Steinfeld in the Supporting Actress category, "many will likely see Mattie Rose as the film's lead" and some might contest Steinfeld's placement there, says Edward Douglas at Coming Soon. She could fall prey to the same fate as Lost in Translation's Scarlett Johansson, whose performance was widely lauded but failed to yield an Oscar nod "due to category confusion."
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No debate here — Steinfeld's a Supporting Actress: Paramount marketing team's instincts are dead on, says Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere. "It doesn't matter how large or central her role is — she's 14," and "her fiercely intelligent performance can't overpower a basic human tendency to regard 14-year-olds as entertaining but marginal figures." Only one other kid has gotten a Best Actress nod: Keisha Castle Hughes, at 13, for Whale Rider, but that performance was "extra-extraordinary" in a film that touched audiences "on much deeper and more primal level than True Grit."
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Voters don't have to choose: Yes, Steinfeld could lose out on a nomination if her votes get split between the two categories, says Dave Karger in Entertainment Weekly. But anyone who's torn doesn't really have to choose one grouping over the other. "In a letter accompanying their ballots," actors were told they should "vote a performance in both categories if they're not sure where it belongs. Maybe Steinfeld's Academy-member fans should do that just to be safe."
"True Grit: Hailee Steinfeld for Best Actress?"