Oscars mean Nazis. Or, to put it differently, 'tis the season of Holocaust movies, which generally entail swastika-wearing Germans filling their concentration camps with movie stars, who crave such martyr parts for their Oscar value. But this year, in a striking reversal of roles (and award-getting strategies), the stars are playing the Nazis. The Reader features Kate Winslet as former camp guard Hanna Schmitz, and Valkyrie has Tom Cruise as a German officer, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, trying to assassinate Hitler.Of course, any star can play retarded (see Rain Man), deformed (My Left Foot), criminally insane (There Will Be Blood), or die nobly in a movie's final reach-for-the-hankie scene (Gladiator). But it's a bold, counterintuitive move—to paraphrase Tropic Thunder—to go full Nazi. The challenge for both Tom and Kate is to communicate that while, yes, their characters were on the wrong side of history, they're still deserving of our sympathy, that there's some kind of transformative character arc toward redemption (and an Academy Award).The stakes are high: Between them, Winslet and Cruise have eight nominations and not one Oscar. How do they attempt to sway Academy voters with that delicate balance between cinematic evil and actorly merit? Let's compare:German Accent Tom: None. Opening voiceover, in atrocious German, immediately shifts to Jersey-inflected English as he reads from his diary. (All the other Krauts have British accents—the better to distract members of the Academy from noticing.)Kate: Excellent—on the Oscar credibility continuum, almost Streepian (see Sophie's Choice). Impact is mitigated by the accent of her young co-star, David Kross, who actually is German. Signature GestureTom: Constantly removing his glass eye and fiddling with it, while covering his war wound with a dashing eyepatch.Kate: Scrubbing, always the scrubbing! Hanna Schmitz is obsessed with order! Everything must be neat and tidy and in its proper place! Key Phrase Tom: "Hitler is the archenemy of the entire world."Kate: "Read to me first, then we make love."Intriguing Character Flaw Tom: [Redacted by court order obtained by Church of Scientology] Kate: She likes to schtup ze little boys.Physical Transformation/HardshipTom: Loses eye, hand, and fingers on other hand during combat. Cuts self shaving. Yet never less than heroically handsome. Kate: Ages from her 30s to her 70s: liver spots, wattles, bags under eyes, fright wig . . . a full day in the makeup chair. Ethical CompromisesTom: Puts wife and children at risk for the sake of saving Germany.Kate: Everything, basically, but is kind to puppies and children.StuntsTom: Runs, shoots, sets bomb timer with only one hand.Kate: Rides bike, shovels coal, bathes in the nude, deflowers teenager.Signs of Inner SensitivityTom: Plan to liberate Germany inspired by Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."Kate: Moved to tears by Homer, choral music, and Chekhov.Overcoming AdversityTom: Buttons own shirt with three remaining fingers.Kate: Late in life, takes out first library card. Cheap Bid for Audience FavorTom: Rails against Hitler in the very first scene to immediately secure audience loyalties (and assuage nervous studio bosses) that he's not, you know, a total Nazi.Kate: None. Shows total immersion in unlikable character, refuses to soft-pedal faults. Helpful Kinship to Award-Winners of the PastTom: Righteously stands alone against evil, like Gary Cooper in High Noon.Kate: "Frau Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?"Poster-Ready Facial ExpressionTom: Bold, confident, righteous, Top Gun–ish. That plus the suave eyepatch. Kate: Steely, pensive, on guard against any trace of sentimentality. Also performs many scenes topless (see: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball). Unexpected Levity Amid the GloomTom: Totally disses a superior officer with handless "Sieg Heil" salute. Kate: Bicycle frolic with young lover. Life Into ArtTom: Leads a small, elite secret society with highly unorthodox views. Must keep this all-male fellowship out of public view.Kate: Also enjoys bicycling. And sex.Art Into LifeTom: "Maybe now Germany will get off my ass about Scientology. What more do they want from me?"Kate: Willing to attend German Academy Awards (the Lolas)—if they give her a nomination.Script Changes That Would've Helped Oscar Odds
Tom: Assassination plot works, Hitler dies, war ends early, Celine Dion tune over closing credits.Kate: Instead of taking a job in the camps, she becomes a nurse, fighter pilot, or cabaret singer. Iconic Apotheosis Tom: Von Stauffenberg already a national hero. Kate: Source novel already an Oprah's Book Club pick. Ultimate Moment of Oscar-Ready Closure Tom: Accepts responsibility for his actions. Kate: Accepts responsibility for her actions.