The Wonder begins as a nurse, Mrs. Elizabeth “Lib” Wright, travels to a tiny village in the remote “dead centre” of Ireland in the 1860s. Lib, who describes herself as a widow, is one of the legion of female British volunteers who responded, some years earlier, to Florence Nightingale’s call to join her in Crimea, to care for wounded and dying British soldiers during the Crimean War. That harsh novitiate—compounded of the horrors of the battlefield and Nightingale’s relentlessly strict oversight—changed Lib’s life. Her training has made her, in the middle of the Victorian era, a new sort of woman: professional, in control of her emotions, knowledgeable, scientific. What happens to her in Ireland will remake her again.

The past year has been a mesmerizing one at the movies, at least for the independents. Usually, the Oscar contenders premiere at Christmastime, with the buzz surrounding the best performances fairly predictable. But this year was different: We were more impressed with the smaller releases 2015 had to offer throughout the year, and our list of top picks reflects that. The range is immense.