In case nobody noticed, this summer looks a bust at the movies. Yes, the new "Star Trek" and "Iron Man" were solid; so was "Now You See Me." But costly hopefuls like "Man of Steel" and "Lone Ranger" were, to say the least, disappointing; and "Pacific Rim" just opened in third place - behind two sequels.
Meanwhile, my own most eagerly anticipated summer movie - "The Way, Way Back" - is crawling along in limited release, despite a dazzling cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet and one of my favorites, Sam Rockwell.
So for those who prefer something original, here's a roundup of worthy Rockwell films while we're waiting:
Actor Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer in “Iron Man 2.” Rockwell was born on Nov. 5, 1968, in Daly City, Calif.
"Iron Man 2" (2010) Let's start with what's probably the best-known from Rockwell's oft-obscure resume - a film in which he brings just the right smarm to long-time Marvel villain Justin Hammer. Still my favorite of the three "IMs," it offers fine support from Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson.
"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005) I suppose many actors would like one shot at playing someone named Zaphod Beeblebrox - which Rockwell does brilliantly in this version of Douglas Adams' uproarious novel. Though this expensive mounting pretty much flopped, it certainly captures Adams' zany mindset, with an emphasis on hand-made effects (rather than CGI) and a fine cast: Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry.
"Matchstick Men" (2003) Little-known gem from director Ridley Scott, with Rockwell playing one of two low-rent con men who get in over their heads; Nic Cage plays the other, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"Conviction" (2010) Gripping true-life story of a Massachusetts woman who spent 16 years working to exonerate her brother (Rockwell) of a life-without-parole murder charge; she even went to law school, solely in order to serve as his lawyer. With Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Juliette Lewis, Melissa Leo and Peter Gallagher.
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (2002) Rockwell won Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival for his performance as game-show host Chuck Barris. Best known for the '70s cult-hit "Gong Show," Barris produced "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game" - and according to his own memoir, he also worked as a CIA assassin (the agency has of course denied this). Script by Charlie Kaufman; directed by George Clooney.
"The Green Mile" (1999) Heart-stopping death-row melodrama from director Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption"). Though Rockwell specializes in likable oddballs, there's nothing appealing about his sleazy narcissist here. Another top-drawer ensemble: Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bonnie Hunt and Harry Dean Stanton.
"Moon" (2009) Rockwell clearly has a penchant for broad, skilled casts; but here he's by himself for the entire film - lone attendant of a lunar mining base. (Well, at least he thinks he's alone!) Under the able direction of Duncan Jones (who also helmed "Source Code" and is David Bowie's son), the actor gives what is arguably his finest performance.
"The Way, Way Back," written by the team who gave us "The Descendants," is slated for wider release July 26.