Credit: Wilson Webb

Image Credit: Wilson WebbThe fantastic box office performance of the Coen brothers’ True Grit only helps its Oscar chances. At this point I’d call the critically-acclaimed Western a great bet for nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The question mark for me is 14-year-old breakout Hailee Steinfeld, utterly delightful as the film’s precocious heroine, Mattie Ross. Steinfeld received Best Supporting Actress nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, but despite Paramount’s supporting campaign, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association put her in their Best Actress category, and she missed out on a Golden Globe nomination altogether. Now I’m hearing of more and more members of the Academy’s actors branch that plan to vote for Steinfeld in the lead category as well.

This of course has happened before: Two years ago, AMPAS ignored Kate Winslet’s supporting campaign for The Reader and nominated her in lead. And before that, another teen breakout, Whale Rider‘s Keisha Castle-Hughes, became the youngest Best Actress nominee in history after voters failed to heed her supporting campaign. When it comes to Steinfeld, I actually understand the arguments for placing her in either category. As the film progresses, True Grit does feel more like Jeff Bridges’ story with Steinfeld supporting him, but there’s no denying that Steinfeld dominates the first half.

Steinfeld actually could end up in the Best Actress race after all, since that category seems to have four sure things (Black Swan‘s Natalie Portman, The Kids Are All Right‘s Annette Bening, Winter’s Bone‘s Jennifer Lawrence, and Rabbit Hole‘s Nicole Kidman) and no clear contender for that fifth slot. There’s Michelle Williams from Blue Valentine, but some voters I’ve talked to are turned off by the film’s darkness. There’s Lesley Manville from Another Year, but not everyone has even seen that late-year release. And there’s Julianne Moore from The Kids Are All Right, who seems to have faded from the picture while her onscreen partner picks up all the accolades.

Could Steinfeld take advantage and steal that last spot? Quite possibly. We’ve seen in the past that no studio campaign (or Oscar blogger, for that matter) can really influence the Academy when it comes to voting for a performer in lead vs. supporting. My only fear is that Steinfeld will get as many votes as her competitors but that they’ll be so evenly divided between Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress that she’ll end up getting nominated for neither. In a letter accompanying their ballots, members of the actors branch are encouraged to 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.