HOLLYWOOD─I truly wanted to wait for 2019 to end before I highlighted some of the best flicks of the year. I am not about to go about the approach that everyone else does and talk about their top 5 or top 10 movies of the year. I actually have three, which are all different in their own respective right. Ranking in at #3 is Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” The moment that I heard that Scorsese was returning to the big screen with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro I was all in. I mean Pacino and De Niro in the same movie I’m all in.

With that said, the tale about gangster Jimmy Hoffa and the guy who claimed to have whacked him is immersive to say the least. What does that mean? It’s a long movie people and it takes a bit of time for one to get invested into the movie. That has always been a problem with any Scorsese flick, they tend to be long, and this one is one of the longest of the year clocking in over 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Yeah, movies of this nature tend to lose the audience after the 2 hour mark, but if you can invest in the time you will watch a master at work. Not to mention witness phenomenal performances from De Niro (best I’ve seen from him in years), Pacino (proving why he was a mastermind at the height of his career) and Pesci returns to the screen in a blaze of glory delivering a performance that is pure Oscar buzz. “The Irishman” is classic Scorsese and fans of the director will love the movie, but even those who are not fans, can find this tale about Hoffa where we’ve heard rumblings, but no one truly knows.

Ranking in at number two is Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” This is what you call the quintessential drama that is gripping, powerful, heartbreaking and some of the finest acting by a cast I’ve seen in a long time. Adam Driver is perfection in the role of man realizing his marriage is crumbling and his fight to try to repair it. Then we have Scarlett Johansson, who has been continuously overlooked as an actress. Johansson, shines and I means shines in this movie as she comes to grips that she is no longer in love with her husband, but she is also aiming to keep her family intact.

“Marriage Story’ is about divorce and the thing about divorce is that shattering for any family. Do I believe this is a tale that is vital in America right now? Hell yes, divorce is like the biggest breakup that anyone can encounter. For those in love it’s a gut –punch, for the kids involved its challenging, foreign and sad. As someone who saw his parent’s divorce at an early age, it placed me and my siblings in an odd place.

There was this battle of do you want to live with dad or do you want to live with mom. That notion of being forced to choose is not fun for a kid, not at all, and “Marriage Story” is a reminder of that emotional rollercoaster that kids endure. We also have a powerhouse performance by Laura Dern as a viper of a lawyer representing Johansson’s character. There are layers that are fun to watch, and Dern’s character is a treat, as she continues to evolve as the narrative reaches its peak. She is not so much concerned with that is best for the family core, but winning in the courtroom.

I see plenty of acting, writing and directing accolades coming “Marriage Story’s” way, but it has a big foe to face, which is the movie that I consider at the top of the chain of the best of 2019. That honor goes to Warner Bros. “Joker.” This movie was an enigma, it haunted me and it excited in me a way that I’ve never witnessed in the cinematic universe. For starters, I did not think anyone could top the performance of Heath Ledger as ‘The Joker’ in “The Dark Knight.” However, what Joaquin Phoenix does with this character was astonishing.

This is acting at its best people. Its transformative, gripping and damn impressive. Not only does Phoenix embody this character who is spiraling in front of our eyes, there are shear moments of brilliance that just pull you even deeper into the movie. As a viewer you are constantly guessing as to rather what is being depicted on the screen is real or is it a figment of Arthur Fleck’s imagination.

That is a testament to the smart script, but also director Todd Phillips ability to bring the viewer directly into this world of chaos. The social commentary behind “Joker” and mental illness, unemployment and a world driven by violence is so palpable is scares the hell out of you. Gun control is a major issue, and who knew this movie would place a magnifying glass on the issue during a year where we had so many mass shootings it was unspeakable.

“Joker” did something that unnerved me as I watched this flick in the theater. I was scared! I honestly thought something crazy might transpire in real-life as I watched the film. That has NEVER happened to me as long as I’ve been watching movies in my 30 plus years of life. On top of that the movie felt like propaganda. Yes, I know that sounds hard to believer, but I feared the notion of people being inspired by this movie, especially at the vicious level of violence that transpired during the third act of the movie. Was it anything crazier than what has been seen in countless horror flicks of the 80s? No, but the realism and visceral punch the movie delivers is why it’s so haunting.

So “Joker” a movie about an iconic comic book villain takes the prize of the best movie of 2019 in my opinion. It was smart, wild and just immersive. One can only hope we see just as polarizing and exciting flicks for 2020.