Every year, we like to eschew a boatload of Year in Review articles and focus in on what matters: Which men really won 2012? We’ve selected 50 men from all walks of life and varying degrees of fame to determine whom we’d most want to swap places with. You can’t deny the accomplishments or impact these 50 men had this year. These are the 50 Guys We Wish We Were in 2012.
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Bryshon Nellum is a stronger man than you or I. Physically, of course. But what happened to Nellum in 2008 proves that he’s got emotional courage beyond his years, too. Nellum was shot in the leg during a drive-by near USC, which he attended after a high school career ranked as the #1 sprinter in the nation. But rather than wilt under the potentially career ending wound that required three surgeries and four months in a hospital, Nellum persevered. His journey culminated in a silver medal at the London Olympics for the men’s 4x400 relay and the honor of being a flag bearer for the US’s closing ceremonies.
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John Mulaney may not yet be a household name. But the 30-year-old stands as good a chance as any young working comedian to get to that place. Mulaney debuted his critically acclaimed one-hour stand-up comedy special New In Town on Comedy Central this year. He also writes for Saturday Night Live, even co-creating beloved character Stefon with Bill Hader. Prepare to hear a lot more from him in 2013.
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After a good run of being universally beloved, Inman found himself under assault in 2012 from a dubious lawsuit by the proprietors of a Web site who republished Inman’s comics without his permission and a bizarre, underreported Buzzfeed hit piece. But where Inman succeeded was his ability to avoid backing down. Inman raised $200,000 – that he donated in the most “f you”-ish way possible to the American Cancer Society – to spite the lawsuit. He also returned Buzzfeed’s report with a slam piece of his own. Not to mention that Inman is making bank off of material that brings joy to a lot of people. How can you not love that?
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It’s official: Michael Strahan has replaced Ryan Seacrest in the battle to be named “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” Strahan’s post-retirement work with the NFL on FOX helped get him the coveted spot replacing Regis Philbin on Live with Kelly. The two jobs basically mean that Strahan is either working or traveling seven days a week. Whether you like his work on both shows or not, you can’t knock the hustle. I bet Tiki Barber would trade at least two of his prestigious flag football gigs for Strahan’s life.
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How do you turn a site built around cat pictures into a political reporting powerhouse? It’s still hard to say how exactly it happened. But the important thing is that it did happen. Now, Buzzfeed breaks scoops in addition to its viral aggregation while also raking in approximately $20 million annually from its non-traditional ad sales (helping the company to a reported $150 million valuation this year). Peretti is the “mad scientist” behind it all and now his company is positioned to be a significant player in how we view modern digital media in 2013 and beyond.
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Imagine you’ve been jailed for withholding information to protect your employer who has done a fair amount of shady things in the past. Now imagine you come clean and the world says, “Good, we’re glad you learned your lesson,” and you get a $104 million payout as a result. That’s a pretty strong case for the universe being just, right? Such is the story of Bradley Birkenfeld. Granted, he wasn’t exactly squeaky clean during his time recruiting clients for UBS – allegedly smuggling in diamonds to win the business of one potential client – but he did rise to the occasion, resulting in a $780 million fine for the Swiss bank to avoid criminal prosecution. The hope is that Birkenfeld’s story will make more people do the right thing. Nine figures isn’t a bad way to grab the attention of potential do-gooders.
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Nate Naylor’s not exactly the average Joe, allegedly holding a net worth over $2 million along with a lucrative career as an advertising creative director. But he did accomplish one thing that very few regular men have: Dating an A-list celebrity, let alone one as coveted as Scarlett Johansson. I don’t care what he does the rest of his life; We’ve all seen the pictures. This is aspirational stuff right here, kids.
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Spoiler alert: CM Punk isn’t the highest ranked wrestler on this list. But he is the more influential in his industry and, frankly, the cooler of the two. Perhaps his year-plus reign as WWE Champion isn’t as notable an accomplishment in a scripted sport as other athletes on this list. But WWE is a fickle organization with an audience who has a microscopic attention span. Punk being the focal point of the company for such a stretch of time is a testament to his talent as a performer and, yes, the cult of personality he exhibits weekly on the flagship ratings powerhouse Monday Night Raw.
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Community may not be as beloved by its network as it is by its fans, but McHale’s role as the centerpiece of the show hasn’t gone unnoticed. After years cracking one liners on E!’s snarky recap show, McHale’s used Community to springboard into other hits, such as summer comedy blockbuster Ted and a stint on FX’s hit Sons of Anarchy. It’s the life Greg Kinnear always thought he deserved.
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The math here is simple: Millions of self-shots + hundreds of thousands of pictures of food and mediocre landscapes / a dozen filters = $1 billion company. But joke all you want about the social and fiscal merits of Instagram, there’s no denying that it’s a cultural phenomenon that isn’t often captured. Cashing out to Facebook this year makes the proposition even sweeter. There’s a good chance these guys will have a big say in how the social mobile Web looks moving forward and, if Instagram is any indication, the future is bright. And perhaps tinted with sepia to make it look deep
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Here’s all you need to know about Jeff Zucker’s run at NBC: In five years running NBC Universal, his biggest accomplishment was rehiring Jay Leno to take over The Tonight Show. But with a slight rebound as the executive producer of Katie Couric’s syndicated show Katie, Zucker found himself at the helm of CNN as it attempts to win back some audience from its cable news competitors. Maybe he doesn’t deserve another shot. But you’re telling me you wouldn’t want to fail, then immediately get another chance to fail in a prominent place almost immediately thereafter? Please. This is a guy we all wish we could be. Perhaps minus the relative incompetence.
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Ignoring their bubble gum music and their inorganic good looks, what’s there to be mad about if you’re actually one of the guys in One Direction? “Oh no, which of us is going to date Taylor Swift this week?” Are you kidding me? You look pretty, have girls scream at you, perform some stuff you didn’t write, go backstage, maybe introduce some (hopefully legal) girl to the art of ineffective boy band love-making and call it a day. Hate all you want but these guys are living the life. More importantly, they’re a decent influence on society; One Direction fans banded together to stop a fellow teen fan from killing herself. It’s the exact opposite of 98 Degrees.
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For all intents and purposes, Hunter Moore seems like a scumbag. His newest venture, HunterMoore.TV, seems like a step even worse – planning on incorporating personal information with the nude photos that were an Is Anyone Up? staple. But there’s a candor to Moore’s reprehensiveness that I find admirable. If you’re going to live your life as The Joker of sexting photos, then why not go all the way with it? Moore does just that and his legions of followers are a tribute to how he’s both marketed and commoditized it. Fear him, hate him, just make sure to keep pictures of your genitals only in trusted hands.
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Greg Smith was just an average Goldman Sachs drone when he decided the world needed to know all about the sordid goings-on in one of the world’s largest investment banks. The reality? Smith didn’t really have a whole lot to say. Goldman Sachs treats clients poorly, they have a secret culture of entitlement that everyone would expect anyway, hardly revelations. But Smith put himself out there as the face of what we all knew. Will Goldman Sachs change because of his book Why I Left Goldman Sachs? Probably not. Will the book matter a month from now, if it’s even relevant now? No. But Smith wrote a book telling us all what we wanted to hear and got paid $1.4 million for it. Seems like a good year to us.
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The reality is that DiCaprio could probably be on this list every year somewhere around number 1. But that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? So let’s just say this: DiCaprio plays an interesting character in Django Unchained, he’s also the titular Gatsby in the widely-loved-book-turned-highly-anticipated-movie The Great Gatsby, and he had $3 million worth of champagne at his birthday party. The sun will rise, you will pay taxes, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s life is better than yours. These are just facts.
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Channing Tatum spent 2012 being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive and he also had a movie, Magic Mike, that women lined up in droves to see because he played the role of a stripper. Is he the most talented guy in Hollywood? Probably not. Would I kick you in the groin right now to trade spots with him for a day? Yes. Yes I would. And that’s what gets him in at #35.
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Bleacher Report was founded by a group of friends who had a cool idea. Several years later, the company sold to Turner Sports for around $200 million. Much like Instagram’s founders, Bleacher Report took a business idea that turned something fundamentally worthless – in the site’s nascent years it was littered with SEO-enhanced barely literate musings from idiots – to something somewhat respected and certainly profitable. Do you need to read every article? Probably not. But for a group of guys with no business experience and an idea to sell their baby to a huge media company with sports heavily in its DNA means they did something a million other sports bloggers couldn’t do. Has to count for something.
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You won’t know the 33-year-old Ferdowsi by name but you may recall his attention grabbing red, white, and blue Mohawk that appeared during August’s Mars Rover launch. Ferdowsi seems like about the most down-to-earth NASA Flight Director you could hope for. But, more than anything, Ferdowsi’s modest fame from this big moment in American history is what got him on this list. America is finally innovating again, all thanks to the power of one man with a the stars and stripes etched into his hair.
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Fantasy sports, football in particular, are now so commonplace in popular culture that you could probably strike up a conversation about LeSean McCoy and get a competent response from five out of 10 people. Berry has been the personality best able to capture that seismic change. Not only does he write about fantasy for ESPN.com – his weekly Love/Hate column is one of the site’s most popular – he also hosts one of ESPN’s most popular podcasts, contributes to ESPN telecasts, and serves as a host on ESPN’s weekly fantasy football-focused pregame show. There is no other personality online as synonymous with the game than Berry. His fans follow his every move and trust him implicitly…up until they’re cursing his name on Twitter the few times he’s wrong. Still, not a bad gig to have if you can get it.
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Sepinwall has been a TV critic and recapper for over a decade. He’s currently one of the key personalities on entertainment site Hitfix.com where his blog, “What’s Alan Watching,” is among the most active sections. His timely reactions to popular TV shows are often a crucial part of digesting the latest happenings on popular TV shows like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. Sepinwall’s years of experience covering TV for Hitfix and the Star-Ledger led him to self-publish his second book, The Revolution Was Televised, a fantastic read about the evolution of modern television dramas. Sepinwall’s influence is obvious across almost every TV recap you’ll read online – including those on this site – for good reason.
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Why do men seek power in their lives and careers? To be well-paid and respected. Sometimes, to be feared. At just 25 years old, Jon Jones has accomplished all of those things and more. His May drunk driving arrest didn’t help his perfect image, but it doesn’t matter when you’re the #1 fighter in all of Mixed Martial Arts and universally regarded as the baddest man on the planet. Jones is also the first MMA star to ink a global marketing deal with Nike, a testament to his mainstream success and skill at his craft. When Jon Jones fights, people have to watch. It’s brutality as art and Jones does it as well as anyone to ever try it.
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No, this isn’t a lifetime achievement award for Pattinson’s work in sexy vampirism. But rather a tribute to what he can now do. Pattinson’s work in Twilight -- a movie franchise Pattinson could barely hide his contempt for – is now fully completed and he’s free to seek more meaningful employment. The whole Kristen Stewart cheating fiasco this summer probably sucked but something tells me ol’ Bobby Pattinson could have rebounded from that effortlessly if he wanted to. I’m curious to see what’s next for him and I bet Pattinson is too.
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There are few shows in history that are as hotly anticipated as the final season of AMC hit Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse Pinkman on the show is no small part of that. With another Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Paul has shown that it’s not just Bryan Cranston or creator Vince Gillian who deserves credit for the show’s rise. Additionally, Paul is one of the funniest and most self-aware actors on Twitter, making him even more beloved by his fans. He still has a lot of career ahead of him and things are looking bright.
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Don’t know Xander Corvus? There’s no shame there; adult film acting is dominated by its female performers, obviously. But it can’t be bad to be Corvus. Corvus was named AVN’s Best New Male Performer in January and is frequently referred to as “stud” during articles about his work. Corvus also got married this year and subsequently “retired” from adult films, a fact that made women – yes, women – sad across the land. There are certainly worse things to be known for.
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On any given week on the Internet, Jimmy Kimmel’s show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, will churn out three or four certified viral video hits. With almost 800 million YouTube views on the show’s official channel, there’s no denying that Kimmel is the most effective at creating content for the Internet age. Even better? The buzz around Kimmel’s show has been so strong that ABC moved Kimmel into direct time slot competition with late night stalwarts Jay Leno and David Letterman.
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How can you top being a multi-millionaire, multi-platinum recording artist and cultural magnate who’s married to one of the most attractive women on Earth? By somehow making the borough you grew up in one of the most famous in the country. Beyond just selling out a week’s worth of shows to kick off Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center stadium, Jay-Z has made headlines for his role as a minority owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. He may lack the billions of the Nets’ majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, but Jay-Z’s presence has been felt more than any other person in the organization.
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People say baseball’s a dying animal in the sports world when compared to the pop culture notoriety of peer athletes in the NFL or NBA. But Justin Verlander’s mastery on a baseball mound puts him in a must-watch class all his own. Even better? Verlander has been reported to be Kate Upton’s boyfriend for the majority of 2012 with the SI cover model even taking temporary residence in Verlander’s work town of Detroit. Throwing a curve ball is one thing. Convincing a supermodel to take a time share in a city that actually resembles Robocop? Now that’s a skill.
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Zack Bogue is no slouch in his career, previously working as a lawyer of note and currently serving as a managing partner at Bay Area venture capital firm Data Collective. But even better? He’s married to possibly the most powerful woman in tech -- former Googler turned new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman, let alone one whose accomplishments would dwarf those of 90% of society. The two also had their first son in 2012, baby boy Macallister Bogue. Sounds like a good year for anyone. Zack Bogue, we salute and envy you.
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How impressive is RG III? He’s played in the NFL for three months and the vast majority of sports fans know him by just five letters. It’s justifiable; Griffin has been universally hailed as the most exciting athlete in all of professional football. With his Redskins currently in first place in their division after finishing in the basement in 2011, Griffin stands to be an icon in Washington for decades to come.
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The Dark Knight Rises may not have been the most beloved of Nolan’s three-film series of Batman films. But with over $1 billion in box office receipts and a fitting capper to a decade of bringing his vision to the previously stagnant Batman franchise, you’ve just got to tip your cap and give him his moment in the sun. Nolan’s next project is work as a producer on 2013’s Man of Steel. Call it a hunch, but I bet that one could get some attention.
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Every time you see a viral image of President Obama, you’ll see Souza’s name attached to it. Along with Souza’s skill in capturing several iconic images from the Presidency, the White House’s openness on the Internet – easily accessible via their official Flickr page -- make Souza’s photojournalism some of the most important work of the last five years.
Photo credit: YouTube/White House
When you’re the creative force behind one of the biggest grossing films of all-time, it’s hard not to make this list. But Whedon goes one step beyond: He lives and breathes the material he brought to the screen. After years of slogging it out with beloved shows and movies that never completely found mass appeal, Whedon struck it big with The Avengers, a comic book geek’s wet dream. An orgy of visual mastery, the film also packs a surprising amount of heart. More importantly, with the film’s +$1 billion haul, Whedon can now control his own future and continue doing work that speaks to him. That’s something we all dream of.
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In the last five years, Gawker has gone from beloved Manhattan chronicle of the influential and elite to a global force in both reporting and Internet culture. The man steering the ship is Daulerio, moved to the role of Editor in Chief after serving the same role at Deadspin. Despite only a year at the helm, Daulerio has overseen some of the site’s biggest news hits ranging from Hulk Hogan’s sex tape to Daulerio’s reporting live from protests in Cairo. The take-no-prisoners attitude of the new Gawker has made it even more of a daily must-read than any other incarnation and Daulerio’s the one to thank. Unless you’re Hulk Hogan or his many lawyers.
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McFarlane spent years working on FOX’s Family Guy, a show that went from cult hit to bonafide money maker and pop culture staple. He’s also the creator and producer of semi-hit American Dad. But 2012 saw McFarlane turn Ted,a movie about a talking teddy bear, into the highest grossing R-rated comedy film of all-time. McFarlane hosted SNL and was named the host of the Oscars in late 2012, capping off a year that not only made McFarlane an even richer man but cemented his place amongst Hollywood’s elite.
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Nate Silver makes stats look sexy. Not because of an ability to weave them into a sensual narrative but rather because Silver made every single political pundit look like an idiot during November’s Presidential election. Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election coverage included a perfect prediction of how each state would vote in the Presidential election, something never before recorded by a media outlet. After making a name with his work in sports statistics, Silver singlehandedly undid decades of “gut feelings” by pundits with his flawless statistic modeling of the election. And with book deals and extremely lucrative speaking engagements, Silver is set for years to come.
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When Alan Schaaf founded Imgur, he was just a regular Reddit user who wanted an easy way to browse images uploaded by users of the site. Now, three years later, Schaaf is the CEO of a company that clocks over one billion pageviews a day and serves as one of the centers of the Internet. It’d be an amazing accomplishment for an entrepreneur of any age but it’s even more impressive given that Schaaf started the company while an undergrad at Ohio University, all without raising a dime from investors.
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As a man leading a company, Dana White did not have an amazing year. For whatever reason, the UFC was besieged by injuries that ravaged multiple pay-per-view cards and controversies such as cover boy Jon Jones’ unseemly DWI arrest. But despite the adversity in running his business, White is a force to be reckoned with. White eschews the common lies and rhetoric that other CEOs and sports commissioners often fall into. His extreme accessibility to fans on Twitter – and willingness to occasionally get into flame wars with them – is refreshingly genuine. His flagship TV show The Ultimate Fighter is still a top draw on FX, even on the deathly Friday night slot. As boxing continues to fall out of the public consciousness, White stands to be the most powerful man in combat sports for the foreseeable future.
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Do you remember your 25th birthday party? If it’s not a whiskey-infused haze, your memories probably don’t involve selling a record-setting $47 million mansion in Miami. But that’s the life of Oren Alexander, a hot shot real estate agent with wealthy clients and a portfolio of exclusive properties worth over $130 million. But what does he do that others don’t? Alexander lives like his clients do, spending “New Years in St. Barts, goes to the clubs his clients frequent, and dresses like them, too.” Sounds rough.
Photo credit: Oren Alexander, Instagram
Maybe you wouldn't want to be Vince Gilligan in 2012. The creator and executive producer of AMC hit Breaking Bad is currently undertaking the unenviable task of trying to wrap up one of TV’s most beloved and well-reviewed shows of the last decade before it’s July 2013 airing. But given the art that Gilligan has made out of a show about a cancer survivor turned meth dealer, it’s safe to assume that the last hurrah for the show will be as brilliant as all the moments that have built up to it. When Gilligan’s work is done, the show will be remembered as one of the best of its generation. And that’s why he’s a guy we wish we were.
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Maybe Daniel Craig’s interpretation of James Bond can’t universally be called the best performance (though it’s certainly one of the two or three best). But Craig does have one honor the others don’t: 2012’s Skyfall is the highest grossing Bond film in UK history as well as one of the top 20 grossing films of all-time. While the Bond name carries weight, Craig’s interpretation of the character puts butts in the seats, too. Craig’s an A-list actor bringing new life into a beloved character that represents a lot of the tenets of manliness.
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John Cena’s a handsome, newly single multimillionaire (pseudo) athlete. Those are more than enough reasons to earn a spot on this list. But more important than Cena’s livelihood and bachelorhood is his commitment to charity. Cena’s work with charity Make A Wish has spanned his entire career, culminating in Cena being the first person to fulfill over 300 wishes in his career. In 2012, it’s easy to forget that athletes and celebrities are supposed to be role models. John Cena should serve as a reminder that some of them still are.
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Joe Lueken is a 70-year-old grocery store owner in Minnesota. What could possibly earn him a top 10 spot on this list? It’s simple: Joe Lueken is a better man than you or I. Lueken has donated to charity throughout his entire life, including large donations to the Sanford Health Foundation and local Bemidji State University Foundation. But Lueken’s final act for his employees is his biggest: Lueken and his family are turning over control of his Village Foods company, which includes three stores, to its employees. Stock will be given to employees based on time spent in the company as of January 1, 2013, and a former janitor who rose through the ranks since 1998 will take the helm of the company as its new CEO. It’s a beautiful thing by a good guy that should inspire us all to be just a little better.
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Even if you don’t know Rob Delaney, odds are you’ve seen some of his pieces of Twitter comedy come across your life, always accompanied by his ubiquitous picture of himself shirtless and bearded in a banana hammock. Delaney self-released his own hilarious stand-up special Live at the Bowery Ballroom. While Hollywood tries to figure out what to do with him after filming pilots for Comedy Central and bit parts on Key and Peele, Delaney will continue to excel on Twitter, bringing absurdist comedy and surprisingly poignant political views to his army of followers.
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Facebook went public in 2012, making a lot of people rich beyond their wildest dreams. One person who didn’t cash out is Mark Zuckerberg, the leader of the company who saw its price drop almost 50% from its IPO to today. After months being raked over the coals for items ranging from not treating investors with enough respect to not wearing a suit to meetings, Zuckerberg has done the one thing he wants to do: His job. Facebook is what it is…it’s fashionable to hate it but it’s a connecting fiber between so many segments of society. But regardless of the changes the company makes or the moves it undertakes, Zuckerberg is on the front line doing what he thinks is best not just for short-term financial windfalls. He could walk away tomorrow and live out the rest of years in luxury. But he’s there, grinding every day. Be angry at the new algorithms or stupid apps. But you have to respect this man.
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Ryan Reynolds dialed it back professionally after a 2011 in which he bombed in Green Lantern and put out a serviceable but unspectacular comedy in The Change-Up. But Reynolds did nice work across from Denzel Washington in Safe House and rebounded from Scarlett Johansson (!!) to get married to her peer in camera phone photography Blake Lively. But here’s why Ryan Reynolds is so high on this list: There is genuinely never a bad time to be Ryan Reynolds. Good-looking, great with women, successful enough that he doesn’t have to sweat it out every year. I will always want to be Ryan Reynolds and you should, too.
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Michael Phelps looked to be dead in the water going into the 2012 London Olympics. And while his doucheful teammate Ryan Lochte looked to seize the spotlight from a moribund Phelps, Phelps did what the great ones ranging from Michael Jordan to Jay-Z did when challenged: Crushed the opposition. Four gold medals and two silvers in London along with a total of 22 medals overall in his Olympic career cemented Phelps place in history. And now, he’s retired; a conquering hero at age 27. Maybe you won’t remember his accomplishments any time when the torch isn’t lit. But Phelps personified greatness in 2012 in a way that few have ever experienced.
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Louis CK is another guy who you could put anywhere on this list every year and feel completely good about it. But this year, Louis CK was a conquering hero. He booked his first time hosting SNL. His show, Louie, went to all sorts of interesting and bizarre places while continuing to be one of the most compelling series on TV. And his 2011 comedy special, Live at the Beacon Theater, proved to be a massive hit in early 2012, earning Louis CK millions in sales – most of which he generously kicked back to staff and charities. More than anything, Louis CK is an example that the cream sometimes does rise to the top. And when it does, we’re all the better for it.
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on the cusp last year but 2012 was the year he really blew up. Between his big part (no spoilers) in The Dark Knight Rises -- and potential future movies – an interesting and financially successful turn in sci-fi hit Looper, a part in Lincoln, and every actor’s dream of playing a bike messenger in Premium Rush (maybe not that one), Gordon-Levitt was prolific this year. He’s also probably the most universally lusted after actor currently working today, just ask your girlfriend. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is like a Ryan Gosling for all of us, not just women. And that’s why he’s in the top 3.
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LeBron is a rich man beyond any of our wildest imaginations. But is there any price you could put on the opportunity to silence critics not once but twice in the span of two months? By winning his first NBA championship in dominant fashion, LeBron James silenced a decade of criticisms about his heart, skills, intelligence, and any other insult you could hurl his way. By winning an Olympic gold medal months later, he did his country proud while cementing his place as an international icon. Even more, in 2012 LeBron James realized his potential as a man. There was no unnecessary showmanship, no trash-talk on Twitter. LeBron did his job in the way basketball purists waited for since he entered the league. LeBron became a man. He became The Man. He lived the dream.
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Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to agree that there’s no man you’d rather be in 2012 than President Barack Obama. The job isn’t easy – his speech at Sandy Hook is an example of that – but someone has to do it. And with a resounding victory in 2012, even with a lot of the “Hope” of 2008 long forgotten, President Obama had a lot to be proud of. But the reason we all should want to President Obama in 2012 isn’t because of what he’s done but more because of what he can now do. The gloves are off for his next four years as he stands to dictate the immediate future of our nation. The most powerful man in the world, always unflinchingly cool or poignant, with a world of opportunity before him. That’s why he’s the man we most wish we were in 2012.
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