Jersey MoviesI live in New Jersey -- go ahead, get the jokes out of the way now. ("Which exit?" Heh heh heh.) After all, for much of its history, Jersey's been the butt of jokes, not just because easy targets like Chris Christie and Snooki live here, but also because of a tradition of unflattering portrayals in movies and TV shows. Lately, however, a more complex picture of my much-maligned state has emerged, thanks in part to movies like those released 10 years ago this week: "Garden State" (on July 28, 2004) and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (July 30, 2004).

The turning point actually began earlier, on TV, with the 1999 debut of "The Sopranos," which found in the Jersey suburbs inhabited by its fictional mobsters a metaphor for nothing less than the state of the American Dream at the turn of the millennium. A decade later, reality shows like "Jersey Shore," "Jerseylicious," and "Real Housewives of New Jersey" made the state look like the place where the American Dream had come to die, or maybe just to dye.

The movies, though, were somewhere in between. "Garden State" showed Jersey as a place where even a depressed, struggling actor could meet and romance a girl with a sparkling personality and the beauty of Natalie Portman. "Harold and Kumar" depicted Jersey as a stoner's nightmare, a labyrinth of twisted highways, twisted weirdos, hostile wildlife, bookish nerds, and Neil Patrick Harris, but with glorious tiny fast-food burgers waiting at the end of the rainbow.

If anything, those movies tapped into a long-lived strain of ambivalence about New Jersey, one familiar from the films of John Sayles, Todd Solondz, Tom McCarthy, and of course, Kevin Smith. Neither heaven nor hell, New Jersey in movies is a limbo, trapped between past and future, cosmopolitan New York City and primeval forest, ocean spray and hairspray, suburban complacency and highway restlessness, the Atlantic City of the "Monopoly" game board and the gritty/tacky A.C. of reality, Sinatra and Springsteen (and Bon Jovi), lush greenery and industrial wasteland, corruption and redemption.

Here, then, are the movies that have made the most of New Jersey's contradictions. Please hold on to your tickets until you leave the turnpike.

The Wedding Singer Movie Poster
The Wedding Singer
Based on 21 critics

Set in 1985, Adam Sandler plays a nice guy with a broken heart who's stuck in one of the most romantic... Read More

Garden State Movie Poster
Garden State
Based on 37 critics

After many years away, television bit part actor Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) returns to his small home... Read More

The Wrestler Movie Poster
The Wrestler
Based on 36 critics

Aging wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is long past his prime but still ready and rarin'... Read More