Yes, as shocking as it sounds, actor Sam Rockwell has never received an Oscar nomination. He's in next weekend's Frost/Nixon, as writer James Reston, Jr.
"Sam who?" you say? What was he in? Take one look at his face and you'll remember his memorable roles -- if not his name. He's of that breed of under-recognized thespians who mesmerize in the big-screen moment, but quickly fade from an audience's radar after the curtains fall -- and, apparently, the Academy's radar during Oscar-picking season.
Sam's certainly earned a nod more than once in his eclectic career. Consider these standout roles:
Intergalactic rock star, comedian and politician, a little Elvis and a little George W., Rockwell lights up the screen like a solar flare with his virtuoso spin on the two-headed President of the Galaxy. He's a dazzling beacon in a plot that's easy to get lost in.
The Assassination of Jesse James, Charlie Ford
A captivating counterpoint to Casey Affleck's ambitious murderer-amateur, Rockwell palpably transmits the world-weary dread of an accomplice assassin whose conscience can barely contain its guilt. A performance nearly equal to Casey's (which earned an Oscar nom), though understated and under-lit.
Matchstick Men, Frank Mercer
A charismatic, con-artist protege; Mercer cha-chas around Nicholas Cage's (his partner, Roy) stiffly played swindler. It's easy to fall under his spell, and hard not to love him, even when he double-crosses Roy.
Galaxy Quest, Guy
Perpetually panicked and in fear of his character's imminent death, Guy's a potentially expendable crewman that's memorable enough to survive. He's also the hilarious voice of Star Trek-ian truths and skepticism. "Don't open that! It's an alien planet!"
The Green Mile, "Wild Bill" Wharton
Rockwell does a chilling stint as a moon-pie-spitting jail jester on death row with a soul as black as his crimes against innocent children.
Charlie's Angels, Eric Knox
Who could forget the fabulously despicable Eric Knox doing a happy dance after he's done his evil deeds -- one of many films featuring his funky-footed, jive. Sam can DANCE!
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Chuck Barris
A tour-de-force turn as an awkwardly egotistical, yet endearing, game show host by day/CIA hitman by night. It's Sam-the-showman at his most entertaining with a profound, undercurrent. He inhabits a Gong-worthy Barris while crawling under the skin of an operative who unknowingly gets in over his head.
So, why the Oscar snub? Choke's critical fizzle likely won't help his 2009 chances. Is he too much of a chameleon? Is he so unrecognizable in a role, so masked by the character that we forget his real identity after the movie? Are his roles too diverse, his film choices too small-scale? Does he lack in attracting niche audiences that will be able to identify with and truly appreciate him? Perhaps he needs to star in more high-profile blockbusters, or in one toothy, breakout role. Is he in the right place at the wrong time? Contending in years when competition is too stiff. Would it help if he dated Britney Spears? Or checked into rehab?
I suppose he's not the only overlooked, veteran talent in recent years. Sam Elliott hasn't received a golden-headed nod yet.
If this year's Frost/Nixon doesn't pan out Rockwell has plenty of projects in the pipe for 2009: several comedies and Moon, a sci-fi thriller about a stranded astronaut. Could this be the role that launches him into Oscar orbit?