The Best of 2012, Part 2 of 3

A devil offering advice, and no angel on your other shoulder. Just like in real life.

Some people think that only five good things happened in 2012. They are wrong. Twenty good things happened. That’s a difference of 300%! Without further ado, here are the next eight chart-toppers.

6. Magic Mike
Stephen Soderbergh is the most interesting director alive. This movie was an incredibly tight, ferocious investigation of what happens when a little bit of easy money sends an underachiever careening over the rails. It’s one of the best depictions of a bender since Catherine Hardwicke’s now-forgotten Thirteen. It’s also hot, and I say that as a straight male viewer. That’s the thing about self-destruction. You might even say that’s the problem with self-destruction. It’s sexy as hell. Ignore this film at your own peril.

7. Freemake Video Converter / Downloader
Finally! Somebody actually made a user-friendly suite of video apps for Windows! We’ve had programs like this for years in the Mac world, yet despite the PC market share, everything similar for PC was either written in Matrix-esque Greek or else a zillion dollars. Have you ever wanted to convert a DVD, or an .avi file, into a film that plays on your iPad? Have you ever wanted to download a YouTube video? Now you actually can. For free.

8. Jessie Ware, Devotion
Thank goodness SBTRKT, a not-very-good dubstep phenomenon, spared a little of the limelight for Jessie. We were inches away from losing her to journalism. This album is lush, emotional, and perfectly sculpted. People compare her to Sade, which is almost right, except that Sade had two cool songs and no memorable videos. Every song on this album is so complete and so pristine that if you play it late at night in your car everyone riding with you will be amazed. Plus, taken together, her videos constitute a whole other fascinating achievement.

9. Barack Obama’s second debate against Mitt Romney
I’m not a big Obama fan. I understand his strategy. I agree with those who point out that he’s achieved a lot of milestones, covering a wide range of issues. I just don’t think he’s very progressive. Since he’s not very progressive, and had a decent first term, it was unthinkable that an animatronic goofball like Mitt Romney could actually unseat him…until the first debate, that is. What an unbearable spectacle that turned out to be. Romney suddenly tapped into the inevitable frustrations of a country still mired in deep economic depression. (It wasn’t — isn’t — a recession. Come on, people.) Obama, meanwhile, seemed hog-tied by a bunch of mealy-mouthed talking points that were standing in for an actual campaign platform. It was as if he thought he could win re-election simply by making enough references to the middle class.

Well, don’t call it a comeback. After a nervous, difficult week of speculation that he was about to lose, Obama retook the stage and kicked Romney’s ass. I tweeted “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet,” in honor of the West Wing episode that eerily predicted this exact turnaround. On every single issue, Obama exposed Romney for the ignorant, venal puppet he was. It turned out that our President did have a vision for our country. All Romney had were proposed tax cuts for the rich (and no way to pay for them). Will we achieve a renaissance simply by manifesting a lot of diligent reasonableness? No. But it’s a good place to start.

10. 50 Shades of Gray (trilogy)
Hahahahahahaha! I’m laughing out loud merely thinking about this outstanding mess of a cultural event. I’m not kidding, though. 50 Shades of Gray was definitely one of the best things about 2012. For one thing, it blew the lid off America’s beloved art of sexual desire/repression, above all Twilight — from which it emerged, fully formed, like Athena busting open Zeus’s skull. The exposition, by which I mean everything that wasn’t a sex scene, was a heartbreaking exercise in terrible writing. The sex scenes, on the other hand, were amazing. You see, I actually READ THE FUCKING BOOK (the first one), which is more than I can say for 90% of the sniggering cultural critics who couldn’t get over E. L. James’s baffling use of the phrase “double crap.” It was so entertaining to hear them on the radio, or read them in the respectable weeklies, trying to sound sophisticated by dropping references to The Story of O. Nobody has read The Story of 0 in approximately 40 years. Wal-Marts across America do not sell The Story of O. They do sell 50 Shades of Gray, and they can’t censor it, because if they did the whole trilogy would be about ten pages long.

11 & 12. Japandroids, Celebration Rock / Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory
I don’t know everything about the revolution-that-is-to-come, but I know this: it won’t use the word “revolution.” Rolling Stone gave Best Album of the Year to Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball, an album that struck at injustice with the force of a…oh, who are we kidding? Springsteen’s album said very little and changed absolutely nothing. You can’t merely sing the right words. You’ve got to give people hope. That’s what Springsteen’s old albums, about cars and girls, used to do. They made people believe in the power of desire and escape. That’s what the new Japandroids album is all about: noise, desire, and escape. (Their first album was basically about those things, too, but it didn’t have nearly as many sonic booms.) The Cloud Nothings deserve a mention here, too, on the grounds that they made the first honest-to-God punk album I’ve heard in years. Unlike the Japandroids, the Cloud Nothings do not seem to have escaped from hell. But they don’t dumb it down and they don’t give up. If Celebration Rock is a mixture of Born to Run and Nevermind, then with the release of Attack on Memory, the Cloud Nothings have countered with their own version of In Utero.

13. Bitcasa Infinite Cloud Storage
On the Internet, everything is a free sample. Take cloud storage: the big deal about cloud storage, as everyone knows, is having somewhere to put your songs and your videos. Yes, it’s nice to have backups of your documents, and it’s nice that you can create those for free (on Dropbox, Google Drive, etc), but people have already been doing that for years by emailing things to themselves. Thus, a couple gigabytes of free cloudspace is essentially a free sample of what you get When You Go Premium. Which We Would Really Like You To Do.

Unfortunately, going premium is expensive. For example, Dropbox offers 100GB of cloud space for ten bucks a month. I’d bet that most of their 100GB users actually use 20% of their quota or less. Sure, you put up a couple videos. You store a few albums. You have enough photos and PDFs to feel uncomfortable with just 2GB. But you can’t do anything really impressive with 100GB. You can’t backup your whole hard drive. You can’t archive TV show boxed sets. Once you get around 80GB, things get mighty claustrophobic, because retrieving all that data from the cloud takes forever.

Thus you become, in plain English, a cloud addict. The cloud no longer delivers the “high” of secure backups and mobile access, because you don’t have enough space for big new uploads. Soon an increasing number of files sit around on your hard drives, not backed up anywhere, just like in the old days. You could pay Dropbox/Microsoft/Google for a big cloud drive, but it would cost nearly as much as cable TV, which is ridiculous given the service’s inherent limitations (above all, your bandwidth) and assorted other problems — SkyDrive isn’t widely integrated, Dropbox won’t stream, Google Drive crashes, Box limits file size, etc. Yet you can’t really stop being a premium user, because it would take months to duplicate what you’ve already handed over.

Bitcasa hasn’t solved all of these problems. It’s hard to install. Uploading to its cloud is a mysterious, hermetic ritual. Big transfers burn up processing power. But I have to give them credit for trying to do everything, including streaming and mirroring, while simultaneously offering truly infinite storage space. The other day I was frustrated because, despite a dozen attempts, I hadn’t once completed a total backup to my Bitcasa cloud. Then I realized that I already had uploaded 480 GB of movies, music, and documents. Once words gets out, super-premium brands like SugarSync are going to find themselves losing customers. It’ll change the whole market for the better.


Ah, 2012. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.

More soon. -Kugelmass