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Hailee Steinfeld Smackdown: Tapley vs. Rudin and Thompson

Hailee Steinfeld in 'True Grit
Wilson Webb/Paramount Pictures

Should Hailee Steinfeld run for best actress or supporting? THR rules on True Grit producer Scott Rudin's sharp debate with two top pundits about the Paramount decision EW claims may cost her the Oscar.

Pundit Kris Tapley didn't say, "Anne Thompson, you ignorant slut!" But she calls Grit starlet Steinfeld "a rookie who belongs in supporting"; he insists she's the lead and their video debate is unusually heated. At Spago's Social Network DVD release party, both asked Rudin (overachieving producer of Grit and Social Network, two of my top three best picture predictions) why he put Steinfeld up for supporting. BAFTA overruled Paramount and nom'd her for best actress; HFPA put her in best actress and snubbed her.

Rudin told Thompson a best actress bid would look "brazen." Tapley tells THR, "Was it arrogant to consider Gabby Sidibe a lead last year? Should she have played second fiddle to Mo'Nique's clearly more showy performance? Of course not. It was a story about Precious, called Precious. And True Grit, I think, is a story about Mattie's grit, more than Cogburn's."

Rudin said Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is the one whose character gets changed by Mattie, not vice versa, and the better comparison is with Paper Moon and The Last Detail, with Ryan O'Neal and Jack Nicholson supported by young costars. "If Mattie Ross were a 20-year-old played by, say, Natalie Portman, [would there] be any discussion of supporting at all?," retorts a commenter on Tapley's site. "Heck, this is practically the same story as Winter’s Bone, except Jennifer Lawrence is campaigned as a lead because ... her performance is stronger [and] she doesn’t star opposite a famous male star."

My ruling: Mattie doesn't change at all, but Cogburn doesn't change much either -- at most a 30 out of 360-degree arc -- and I'd guess Rudin simply thinks a total unknown arriving at the peak of her profession like Cinderella on a rocket sled is likelier to win in supporting. Humility pays: As another Tapley commenter notes, newbie Timothy Hutton was obviously the star of Ordinary People, but his Oscar was for supporting. "I do think there's obviously a bit of 'what's our best bet' going on here," says Tapley, "but plenty of people think it's a lead and are voting that way, so it could be dicey territory all around." Voters have told EW's Dave Karger they'll split her votes between supporting and best -- which could make her lose.

I can see either Steinfeld or Bridges as lead -- though he takes the reins more in the second half -- but directors Joel and Ethan Coen both tell me, "She's driving the truck."

So what do they know? They make movies. Rudin reads Academy minds (and audiences') better than anyone. My money is on his bet.

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