Elle Fanning vs. Hailee Steinfeld: Who Gave the Best Tween Performance of 2010?

Although 12-year-old Elle Fanning and 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld were shut out of yesterday’s Golden Globe nominations, everyone agrees these two young actors gave the performances of their short lifetimes this year – Fanning in Sofia Coppola’s ode to ennui, Somewhere, and Steinfeld in the Coen Brothers’ steel-jawed Western, True Grit. But who was better? After the jump, we pit these two bright-eyed ingenues in a bloodless death match to find out.

Our Opinion: Full disclosure: We’ve only seen Somewhere, and in it, Fanning does her disconcertingly mature big sister Dakota proud by picking up the torch she left behind after playing a drugged out rocker in The Runaways. Considering Fanning plays an 11 year old in Coppola’s latest, that she seems more grown-up than her father (Stephen Dorff) is remarkable, and sort of the point. As for Steinfeld, we included her in our 2011 New Regime, and will take our own word for it that she shines in True Grit. Winner: Elle, by default.

Difficulty: Based on their experience, this should be Steinfeld’s category. Here’s a girl who’s only major acting credit before True Grit was a guest spot on the TV series Sons of Tucson. And now here she is, holding her own in a film stacked with Oscar winners including Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, and her directors. She told us that following some understandable first-day jitters, she quickly came into her own. Fanning, on the other hand, has the kind of filmography a seasoned actor would envy, having appeared in everything from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to an episode of Criminal Minds. She also comes from an acting family (Dakota steal scenes and hearts in movies like I Am Sam). In Somewhere, Fanning plays a little girl trying to reconnect with her father, while in True Grit, Steinfeld’s character is trying to avenge her father’s death. One is heady, the other is heavy. Winner: We give this to Steinfeld, if only for not getting intimidated by one serious boys club.

What the critics are saying: New York‘s David Edelstein calls Steinfeld’s performance “exceedingly accomplished,” while IndieWire‘s Anne Thompson writes that “Watching her earn the respect and admiration of the men who want to dismiss her is one of the great pleasures of this movie.” As for Fanning, Time‘s Richard Corliss writes that she “gives Cleo a fresh, winning goodness,” while Frank Bruni, in his lengthy profile of Fanning for The New York Times Magazine, writes that her “work in Somewhere, in fact, is distinguished by its restraint.” Winner: Neither actror is exactly earning raves, rather positive reviews highlighting their discipline. That means a tie.

Awards: Like we mentioned earlier, both actrors were snubbed by the Golden Globes, and rather surprisingly, so were their films. But Somewhere has already won one of the top film prizes of the year, the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion. But yesterday, the Toronto Film Critics made the surprise choice of awarding Hailee Steinfeld with a Best Supporting Actress award for her role in True Grit. She’s also been nominated by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Houston Film Critics Society, the St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, and the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award, all for for Best Supporting Actress. Elle Fanning, however, has yet to receive a major award or nomination for her role. Winner: Steinfeld, in a landslide.

Final Result: Hailee wins it 2-1, which means she gets to choose between being the next Jodie Foster or the next Meryl Streep, while Elle has to settle for being the next, er, Dakota Fanning. Thanks for playing!

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