September 20, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Sure, she’s proved her genius for acting up — but the plugged-in buzz is that quarrelsome rocker Courtney Love can just plain act. Her performance in Columbia’s upcoming The People vs. Larry Flynt is said to be so impressive, it’s got insiders talking (gulp) Oscar.

As Althea Leasure, the drug-addicted wife of the skin-mag founder, Love ”blew away” 500 viewers at a recent West Coast test screening, reports one Oscar-campaign strategist. Meanwhile, the tony New York Film Festival’s selection committee, which has scheduled Flynt for its closing-night slot Oct. 13, went equally mad for Love. Committee member Wendy Keys says Love’s performance is ”beyond belief. You can’t help but be mesmerized by her.”

But acclaim aside, Academy voters may not be so enchanted with the actress’ well-reported history of heroin use. ”There’s got to be resistance,” says an industry source. ”Even on her best day, [Love] looks like a heroin addict.” (A source at Sony, however, stresses that Love was ”a professional during the making of the movie. We have had no problems with her.”)

If Love does make it to the Shrine Auditorium as a Best Actress nominee, she’ll probably face the heavy mettle of such anticipated competitors as Meryl Streep (Marvin’s Room), Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma), Winona Ryder (The Crucible), and Nicole Kidman (The Portrait of a Lady). Of course, Columbia could choose to push her in the less prestigious Supporting Actress slot, but we’ve got three words for the flack who’d have to break the news to the ambitious Love: Like the album title says, Live Through This.

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